Meaningful travel can be hard to come by. Many people want their trips to inspire, enlighten and transform them – but it is increasingly difficult with the current popular travel culture focused entirely on consumption. It can feel like you are on a conveyor belt of what to see / eat / buy next.
Sadly, tourism-as-usual offers little but a shallow experience to people who are seeking some kind of significance in their short-term travels. How does someone escape treating the world as a theme park and instead have encounters that feed the soul?
The answer lies in traveling to learn.
Traveling to learn allows for connection.
In order to connect with someone you have to care about them. Even in fleeting moments, something about them must strike enough of a chord that you become interested. When you frame someone (or something!) as your teacher, even informally, the energy in the encounter shifts.
It starts with being present, in the here and now. In order to create connection, you have to earn it with your attention. When busyness and FOMO and the cult of consumption creeps into our travels, it steals our focus away from the interactions in front of us.
Instead, when you travel to learn you acknowledge that less can be more. When you go about your travels with the expectation that there may be something valuable to learn here, you pay close attention. You show up with enthusiasm, ask curious questions and listen deeply in order to understand.
The more time you spend with someone you are interested in, the more significant the connection can become. Spending hours (or days or weeks) in a specific learning environment like a workshop or seminar gives you the opportunity to develop actual relationships with people who live in the place you are visiting.
Traveling to learn leads to growth.
Many of us live in a culture that tells you, “I don’t understand this, therefore it is wrong.”
Yet, humans are meant to grow.
Growth only happens when you are introduced to something new and it challenges what you believe. In the process of considering this new-ness and integrating it into what you think you know – you have to change. When you intentionally seek out people who are different than you for their know-how, advice and wisdom, you acknowledge that another’s experience is as valid as your own.
Traveling to learn requires you to tell yourself over and over again it is different but it is also important.
It is different but it is also delicious.
It is different but it is also beautiful.
It is different but it is also human.
The reaction to difference can shift to “I don’t understand this, I wonder what I can learn.” This practice can transform the way you see the world, while abroad and also at home.
Traveling to learn has a positive impact.
Right or wrong, people care about what privileged travelers think is important. How you choose to engage in a place as a foreigner sends a message to the locals, the region and also to anyone with whom you share your experiences. You get to vote for what is valued in our culture of travel with your time, money and storytelling.
Learning from people in places that are typically viewed through a lens of poverty can be a radical act. By declaring with your actions that THESE people are worth learning from, you are challenging the racist, classist and colonialist systems still in place.
The stories you tell upon returning home have influence on what people in your own community value and seek out. Social media has made us all promoters. What you did on holiday will be represented in the photographs you share and how you recount travel experiences. What are you promoting?
Learning-led travel isn’t just an activity. It is a movement. We want to move toward a world that is more responsible, more sustainable, more ethical and more equitable. Traveling to learn is a step in the right direction.