Meaningful travel can be hard to come by. Many people want their trips to inspire, enlighten and transform them, they want to travel with purpose rather than simply tick destinations off a list. But, despite this growing demand, current popular travel culture is almost entirely focussed on consumption, forcing travelers onto a conveyor belt of what to see, eat and buy next without allowing them to have meaningful travel experiences.
With tourism-as-usual offering little to people who are seeking some kind of significance in their short-term travels, how can you gain more from your travels? What makes meaningful travel experiences that feed your soul and provide an escape from treating the world as a theme park?
What Makes a Meaningful Travel Experience?
Meaningful travel experiences are gained from creating connections, allowing growth, stepping away from consumption, busyness and FOMO, and into the interactions that take place in front of us. They are created when we travel with purpose and when we practice learning led-travel. They come from seeking the knowledge of local experts and leaders, listening and learning from people who are different from us. Giving yourself something worthwhile to travel for; skills, relationships, connections, makes for more meaningful travel experiences.
What is Learning-Led Travel?
Learning-led travel isn’t just an activity, it’s travel with purpose. It is a movement.
Learning led travel is learning about peace building in Lebanon, spiritual ecology in Columbia or conscious food systems in Guatemala. It’s allowing yourself time to explore ideas on how to human better, to practice skills, acquire knowledge, and learn from locals. Learning led travel is meaningful travel, jumping on a plane with purpose and objectives to work towards. Instead of choosing travel experiences based on a destination and its amenities, the world is narrowed down by the skills and knowledge you’re choosing to learn.
Traveling to learn starts with being present, in the here and now. When you travel with purpose, you acknowledge that less can be more. When you travel 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 and to learn.
3 Ways to Travel with Purpose
Local guides are a wealth of knowledge about the culture and custom of a place – talk to them, ask questions and be curious. Dig deeper into the information they give you and explore the bigger picture. Initiate conversations with your accommodation hosts, with the experts who run experiences you attend, street vendors, taxi drivers. Take every opportunity to learn more from the people who live in the place you’re temporarily calling home.
Find The Changemakers
Organize a site visit to a social enterprise or nonprofit organization. You can find a list of organizations on idealist.org and reach out to see if they offer a tour or workshop or other ways you can learn from their expertise. Local publications for foreigners often have a section listing changemakers as well. However! Avoid organizations that primarily serve the needs of children. Ethical travelers don’t choose to visit random schools or treat children as exhibits to see. Meaningful travel experiences should not disrupt the lives of children who cannot consent to their participation.
Get Into The Community
Create your meaningful travel experiences by getting out into the community and attending local events rather than those created for tourism. Find the events section of the English language newspaper or magazine as this publication is usually written by, and published for, English speaking foreigners, and can usually be found at the trendy coffee shop or bakery or juice bar. These publications often have a section on local changemakers to check out as well. You can also search Facebook for public community events to attend.
3 Benefits of Meaningful Travel Experiences
Meaningful Travel Experiences Allow 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 becomes meaningful travel filled with meaningful connections in place of fleeting exchanges.
The more time you spend with someone you are interested in, the more significant the connection can become. Spending hours, 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 With Purpose Leads To Growth
Many of us live in a culture that tells you, “I don’t understand this, therefore it is wrong.”
We forget that 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 newness and integrating it into what you think you know – you have to change.
To travel with purpose is to intentionally seek out people who are different from you, specifically for their know-how, advice and wisdom. By doing so, you acknowledge that another’s experience is as valid as your own. By taking on new knowledge, opinions, and beliefs, you can’t help but grow to absorb your new learnings.
Meaningful travel experiences require you to tell yourself over and over again that the experience is different, but that 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.
Through meaningful travel, your reaction to difference can shift to “I don’t understand this, I wonder what I can learn.” This practice can transform the way you view the world, while abroad and also at home.
Traveling To Learn Has A Positive Impact
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.
When you travel with purpose, you learn from people in places typically viewed through a lens of poverty, and this 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 influence 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?
Meaningful Travel Experiences Lead to Deeper Appreciation and Understanding
As we spend time with local people, immersing ourselves in their lives and learning from them, our appreciation and understanding of the moment deepens. This depth extends into life away from our travel experience, as we incorporate it into life at home, our relationships, connections, and the way in which we view the world.
At Actuality Abroad, we want to move toward a world that is more responsible, sustainable, ethical and equitable. We believe that meaningful travel experiences, in which we choose to travel to learn from others and to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and into growth, is a step in the right direction.
We would love for you to take that step with us.