The Transformational Traveler

I've been trying to describe, define, and justify my belief in transformational travel for about 5 years now. My answers to inquiries have changed, evolved, and grown but the questions tend to stay the same. It always seems to boil down the question of what makes a trip, a destination, an itinerary different enough to label it "transformational?" With people being so varied in their interests, abilities, and desires; with all the different blends of backgrounds, histories, personalities, privileges, and challenges that make us unique individuals, how could one safely sell any given experience as transformational? I finally settled on a short answer to that: one can't. So if you find yourself skeptical of a travel product that claims to be transformational in and of itself you are rightly so, but this brings us to the distinction that makes transformational travel so different from the common conversation around travel that we have to ask different questions to get at the heart of it. 

The initial question presumes that the transformational element is a property of an experience, an activity, or perhaps the destination and therefore that transformational travel must be about somehow wresting from those things some yet untapped power that will change us. Here's the shift, the power of transformational travel actually lies in traveler. Travel, yes, is the catalyst, the inspiration, the vehicle. Travel can be incredibly beautiful, powerful, magical. How travel is designed, where you go, what you do there, who you meet, whether you go slow enough, or push your boundaries enough to make new connections, all of those things matter. All of those things are important. All of those things can influence the result, the feeling of the trip, the opportunities there are to grow. But even with all of its amazing ability to move us, it should be made clear that transformation is created from the inside out. Travelers create transformation. Change and growth, in order to be lasting, to be durable enough to be considered transformation, must be a property of the traveler, not the trip, not in the least part because it must manifest through action into the life of the traveler and the greater world. A trip can inspire change, but we must do the transforming ourselves. 

You'll see this in the Transformational Travel Council's definition of transformational travel:

Transformational travel is intentionally traveling to stretch, learn and grow into new ways of being and engaging with the world.  

It's a verb, an action and process, instead of a noun, because the important missing element in how we all too often have looked at travel is the traveler. We've left the traveler out of the equation so often that we forget to even consider them, and what they bring to the table, when we're talking about travel, even life-changing travel. It's time we start thinking about how travel can be used intentionally as a force for good in this world, and to do that realistically we need travelers to be a responsible and an active part of not just the experience but the outcomes and effects of that experience. If you're curious about how to leverage the lessons of a vast array of travelers and travel professionals alike into creating transformation in your own life as inspired by travel feel free to explore the Transformational Travel Journal. There is a kickstarter going on now if you'd like to get a discounted early release copy. 

By Eric Rupp

Author, The Transformational Travel Journal 

In Collaboration with The Transformational Travel Council