As we close the door on a year packed with relentless absurdity and unthinkable tragedy, most of us long for an escape hatch. We need a vacation. Not a trip where the travel glow fades as the return flight touches down. Like never before, many of us yearn for transformative journeys.
So how can we plan cup-filling travel that leaves us feeling good long after the vacation ends? Can our travels be value aligned while delivering renewal and rejuvenation? And, can we connect to the world more meaningfully through travel?
To answer those questions and more, we turned to travel experts for advice on planning journeys with lasting impact—not only for the traveler, but for the world we encounter along the way.
Leigh Barnes of Intrepid Travel agrees mindful journeys may prove more important now than ever. “The world is at odds between the election of President Trump, Brexit, the attempted coup in Turkey and heightened issues around immigration,” she says. “Travel provides us all with better cultural understanding and appreciation, something the world needs more of right now.”
For those who resolve to travel in 2017, here are tips for engaging in more mindful journeys.
Bucket-list travel comes with bragging rights, but can feel hollow due to overblown expectations and overcrowded destinations. Strive for balance between marquee spots and hopping off the beaten path. If you dream of Venice, go in offseason, then venture north to the tourist-lite Prosecco region. Hike Machu Picchu by a less traveled route, then explore remote areas of the Amazon.
Slow down and seek a sweet spot with activities too. “I think as a culture Americans place a great deal of value on time—time is money after all,” says Steve Weddle, CEO of VolunteerForever. “This premium on time, along with the shorter vacations we tend to have may lead us to feel compelled to jam pack every minute of our vacations with something to do. But, if we’re simply trading one jam-packed schedule for another, are we truly vacationing and are we truly in the place that we have traveled to?”
Ease off the check list, and spend time really getting to know a city or region. Block out whole days for just going with the flow.
Barnes recommends taking a hyper-local and human approach. “Choose homestays over hotels, spend time with the local people whether that be tour guides, restauranteurs, or business owners,” she says. A mindful and impactful traveler will do their best to keep as many of their tourism dollars in the local economy.”
Research businesses that support local communities and pay fare wages. Buy food in local markets. Support local events. Bypass cheaply-made souvenirs by seeking locally-produced art and goods that serve as meaningful reminders of your travel.
To address travel’s environmental impacts, companies are embracing carbon offsetting. Intrepid Travel has become the largest carbon neutral travel company in world by designing tours to be low impact, including integrating low-emission local transportation.
“Any remaining emissions we offset by purchasing internationally certified carbon credits; says Barnes.
United Airlines established the first carbon offsetting airline program in the U.S. in 2007. Spokesperson Charles Hobart says Eco-Skies CarbonChoice encourages travelers to calculate emissions, purchase carbon credits using cash or miles, and select a conservation program to support. Companies like ClimateCare (climatecare.org/carbon-offsetting/) also offer third party offsetting.
Beyond offsets, Hobart recommends checking an airline’s fuel-efficiency ratings and packing light to reduce aircraft weight so the plane burns less fuel.
Conserve and Save
According to EcoWatch, we could circle the earth four times with the amount of plastic discarded every year.
Choose luggage made from recycled plastics from a sustainably minded company like LiteGear and handy reusable bags, which are great for shopping in a local market, from ChicoBag.
To save money while reducing the impact of plastic bottle usage, Hobart travels with a reusable bottle to refill in the airport (after security,) and replenish throughout the journey. If tap water isn’t safe, purchase larger containers and refill small bottles, as needed.
Engage Nature Responsibly
Thanks to more education and understanding, tour operators around the world are evolving practices when it comes to wildlife engagement.
“Intrepid Travel was the first global tour operator to end elephant rides
back in May 2014,” says Barnes. “Since that day over 100 companies have followed suit and the industry is moving towards a much more sustainable future.”
Whether it’s swimming with dolphins or feeding birds, do research and ask questions about impact and sustainability before engaging in wildlife tourism.
Sometimes the best way to clear the mind is to push the body. From hiking the Balkans to running wine routes, planning a trip around physical activity is rewarding way to stay fit and connect with like-minded travelers and locals.
Pre-training trip preparation also means you are likely to meet new people at home and expand interests in a lasting way.
Lend a Hand
Weddle says a transformative volunteer experience working with children in India offered him a deeper understanding of the culture than would have been possible otherwise.
“In traditional tourism, locals try to cater to the needs of the travelers,” he says. “While with volunteering abroad the traveler (in addition to the volunteer organization) must become familiar with the needs of the local community, in addition to the unique historical and cultural factors present that have shaped the community.”
The company recommends asking these 10 questions when evaluating projects.
Be Respectful and Open
Education is key to respecting local customs and avoiding being the “rude tourist.” We’ve all seen the behavior…dressing inappropriately in a sacred temple, asking taboo questions and complaining about local standards.
“We as travelers need to do our research and be respectful when visiting cultural sensitive areas,” says Barnes. She stresses the value of traveling with a local guide for navigating customs and learning context.
Fill your head with knowledge, then concentrate on the heart. “Make your presence felt by approaching the world with an open heart,” says Barnes. Being mindful, requires being open.
And, that’s a place where every transformative journey begins.
Images: Darragh O Connor Flickr CC BY-SA and
Natalie Lucier Flickr CC BY 2.0
Jess Simpson is a full-time digital nomad, part-time dreamer. Follow her travel secrets and tales at Paste as well as on Facebook and Instagram.