Travel appears on many bucket lists for a variety of reasons. For some it is simply a time to reenergize your batteries, while for others it’s to experience things first hand or disconnect from the stresses at home. For me, and many others who choose take it one step further and travel deeper, it is because it has the ability to enrich your life in some way, shape or form.
You return a different person than when you arrived.
Though many people associate having meaningful travel experiences strictly with volunteerism, there are many different ways to travel deeper, exploring the world purposefully and making your ventures matter more. You are the only one that can determine what type of travel experience will make a difference in your life, but here are 9 ways that can help to make your travels more meaningful:
1. Immerse Yourself in the Culture
When many arrive to a foreign destination they make the mistake of visiting without ever really leaving their own world. They choose the route of being a tourist looking from the outside in, essentially sitting on the sidelines taking in everything going on around them yet never really participating.
They are spectators of the city’s people.
On the flip side of the coin, others gain a better understanding and have a more profound experience by being immersed in the culture, which is really just a just a matter of leaving the comfort of your hotel and being engulfed into the world around you. The deepest travel happens when you integrate into a community by actively participating, opening yourself to interact with the locals and understanding the way others live. This can be as easy as actively participating in their rituals, eating traditional dishes from the region or learning the history that makes the city what it is today.
Tips for Immersing into a Culture:
- Learn some basic phrases in the foreign tongue and look for opportunities to interact with the city’s people.
- Get off the beaten path, drink at local pubs and frequent local hangouts.
- Stay away from the tourist traps, but if you are there ask the workers at the souvenir stands the right questions. Ask the real questions about how it is to live, work and eat in their town. Where are their favorite places to go?
- Be patient if you are traveling to a foreign country, as English is probably their second language. Interact with a curious, loving spirit – a willingness to learn.
2. Connect With Nature & Wildlife
Many brushes with nature are brief escapes from an otherwise stressful day; you may pause for a moment to look out your office window at an afternoon rainbow or spot a deer in the fields across from your child’s school. For an instant, the accidental encounter energizes and calms you at the same time, but you may not be sure why. Connecting with nature means more than simply getting a little fresh air, rather it has the potential to make us aware of an existence bigger than the latest Apple product, and possibly even ourselves.
Traveling gives you many opportunities to be among nature and consciously connect with it in its natural environment, not at a zoo or animal park. Look for places that allow you to interact with dolphins in the wild, participate in turtle protection programs or spot birds in natural habitats; visit national parks, sanctuaries and UNESCO World Heritage sites.
3. Give Back
Just like the old adage says “it feels better to give than to receive”. Though giving should be a selfless experience, it is both beneficial for yourself as well as the recipient. Research has shown that there are incredible benefits to humanitarianism; it builds relationships, profits people less fortunate, strengthens communities and helps you gain a different perspective.
Simply put, giving feels good.
Whether you center an entire trip on helping others or add a few volunteer aspects to your itinerary, there are plenty of opportunities to be charitable around the world. There are several organizations that create itineraries where you can join a development project trip, like GVI, Projects Abroad or Global Volunteers. Or try Go, Eat, Give which organizes trips with the perfect blend of culture, food and community service.
There are also some simpler, less time consuming projects as well, like Pack for a Purpose, where you leave a little room in your suitcase to pack items needed for community projects or lend money to a future entrepreneur through the Kiva.
4. Push your comfort zone
Just as I mentioned that one of the benefits of settings goals with a bucket list is its ability to push you to step outside your comfort zone, expanding your boundaries is also another way to get the most out of your travel experience. Each time you try something for the first time you will grow, a little piece of the fear of the unknown is removed and replaced with a sense of empowerment.
You should walk away from a trip saying, “I can’t believe I had the courage to do that”.
On an international trip, many things will break you out of your comfort zone; dealing with the language barrier, navigating the streets and ordering foreign food. But, also make it a point to do something that scares you just a little. Schedule something new and a little uncomfortable every day of your travel itinerary. Eat something bizarre, try an adventurous activity, and explore the secret nooks and crannies of a unique city.
5. Travel Solo
Let’s face it, sometimes you are the best travel companion for yourself —you can do what you want, when you want to and it makes planning so much easier when there aren’t other opinions of what to do. Also, you are more open to meeting new people when you are alone; we tend to stick with our travel companions otherwise.
Though many people, especially women, will put their travel dreams on hold because they do not have the perfect companion who has the same available time, money or desire to go on an adventure. By doing so, you will not only miss out on what the world has to offer, but more importantly the feeling of empowerment you get from relying solely on yourself while on the road.
6. Share an experience with someone special
Have you ever been somewhere, seen something truly incredible and wished there was someone there with you to share that experience with? Just like traveling solo can be an enlightening experience, traveling with someone special can create cherished memories as well. A sunset that spreads over the water in Bora Bora, throwing tomatoes at the La Tomatina festival in Spain or a wine pairing dinner in Argentina set atop a hill overlooking the city can be more magical when shared with someone else.
Traveling together builds bonds.
Traveling together can strengthen your relationships by building trust and creating the opportunity to learn more about your companion. A tandem bungee jump in New Zealand can bond a relationship. A girl’s trip to Las Vegas can be one for the memory books. A weekend get away with a parent can be their most special memory.
7. Learn something new
Travel is one of the best educations you can have, it teaches you things that no textbook ever could. It is not difficult to learn something new, as many travel situations will force you to have to figure things out in a foreign destination. You’d be surprised how long it took me to learn how a Japanese toilet worked! But, where the real magic happens is when you are learning something new about a culture, a cities history and people of the land you are visiting, or even something new about yourself.
Look for deeper learning opportunities on your travels; take a cooking class in making a local dish, go on an historical tour of the city or learn to do the local dance.
8. Support the locals
Many small businesses, especially in developing countries, rely on tourism for their economical survival. Spending your dollars at an international hotel chain and its restaurant is only partially supporting the natives of a destination. These companies do create local jobs, but a substantial portion of the profits may go to the large corporation owners and not the region’s people.
Further supporting the locals in the cities and countries you travel to would mean booking tours with local guides, eating at mom and pop restaurants, staying at an independently owned hotels, shopping at the street markets or buying souvenirs directly from the craftsman that makes them. Have the travel globally; think locally mentality and it will pay you back two-fold in experience.
This will not only help the local economy, but also create a more authentic experience.
9. Nourish Your Body, Mind & Spirit
For some a true vacation means pampering themselves with deep-fried foods and glasses of sugary cocktails, plus pulling all nighters while dancing on the bar at the hottest new club. The only real physical activity is walking from their room to the pool to the bar and back. Vacationers typically return home from these types of trips needing another vacation, their body feeling tired and their belly with some extra rolls. They may have had a good time, but they’ll be paying for it for the weeks to come.
The opposite feeling occurs when you have just spent the week nourishing your body, mind and spirit. This could be as simple as practicing meditation in Bali, going to a silent retreat in India or attending a detox retreat in the Philippines. For me it was spending a peaceful week at a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. These types of trips feed not only your body, but also your soul. You return home feeling refreshed and revived, a better version of yourself.
. . .
People travel for a variety of reasons and there are several different ways to get more out of your travel. With that said, the most important thing is that your experience makes you happy. If it is bringing you into a positive frame of mind that you otherwise would not be in with a boss hovering over your shoulder or children needing dozens of time-outs than that may be enough meaning for you.