Last month’s U.S. Tour Operators Association Conference centered around the theme of transformative travel. While those in the travel industry are deeply aware of just how transformative travel can be, the term itself is part of a trend of travelers looking for something deeper and more meaningful in their vacations and getaways. For many, it’s no longer satisfactory to simply go lie on the beach for several days. Instead, travelers want to walk away from their destination of choice changed for the better.
At first glance, transformative travel as it’s come to be known may appear a luxury. As Skift so adeptly put it when identifying travel focused on personal fulfillment as one of its “megatrends” for the year, “personal fulfillment is the new ultimate luxury.” After all, not everyone can afford to visit an exotic destination to mediate in silence for three days, or to hire the tour guide necessary to trek into a lesser-touristed region of a foreign country that doesn’t sit highly on the most-visited list, where the thrills are plenty but so are the dangers.
However, others argue that transformative travel doesn’t have to be expensive, luxurious or even that out of reach. Instead, travel has always been transformative at its roots; we’re just getting back there after spending several decades indulging in travel that lets us completely check out as we check in to a five-star resort, where our every need is anticipated and then filled, where our opinions and wants are never challenged and where we leave just as we came, albeit a little tanner and perhaps our livers worse for wear.
Those who see transformative travel as a movement back to travel’s roots rather than a mere trend have come together to form the Transformational Travel Council, which provides resources and guidance for both travelers and the industry, in the hopes of continuing the popularity and appreciation for transformative travel.
To the Council, transformative travel puts each of us on our own Hero’s Journey, with three parts:
– Setting out on our journeys with openness and mindfulness
– Engaging in an experience that challenges us in some way
– Reflecting on those experiences and interpreting what they mean in our lives
While the above mandates are vague at best (they certainly won’t help you get started if you’re sitting at your computer skimming Hotwire, trying to find a deal on transformation), many of us in the travel industry have answered the demand and are providing more and more products and experiences aimed at transformative travel.
One of the key components of all packages offered on Authentic Vacations is the opportunity to engage with a local, whether it be for a tour, a meal or just to learn about the local’s line of work. For example, a local-hosted dinner with traditional foods and storytelling gives the traveler the opportunity to engage with the destination more intimately and provides a window into the daily life of the locals. But, still, the responsibility of making the experience transformative lies on the traveler. If you don’t approach the experience following the Transformational Travel Council’s three guidelines, you really just have experiential travel, which is hardly anything new and more of a precursor to the transformative travel movement.
Other travel options are more direct with the transformational aspect, practically forcing participants to get out of their comfort zones and, well, transform. Wellness travel is on the rise and promises a traveler the possibility of evolving personally while enjoying some of the best destinations on the planet. A traveler will gain life-changing perspectives as they look inward while experiencing a new way to travel. Experts in mindfulness, mental performance, nutrition, lifestyle innovation and other topics lead the way in this emerging new style of travel.
It’s no wonder that millennials are driving the transformative travel movement. Rather than investing in the long-term with purchases like real estate, they’re more apt to invest in themselves and one way they do this is via travel. A generation focused on accumulation of experiences versus possessions, those who do not have the funds to make their transformative experience luxurious don’t quite mind it as much as previous generations, and those who do, are changing the industry with their dollars, funding entire travel agencies and vendors exclusively geared toward transformative travel.
Meanwhile, older generations are skeptic of the millennial take on transformative travel, saying that an itinerary can hardly bring about the serendipity which creates true transformation while on the road.
In a Washington Post article from earlier in the year, travel writer Rolf Potts notes, “Travel is almost inherently transformational — if one embraces its uncertainty. I don’t think something called transformational travel that comes with six days of travel, an itinerary and boxed lunches is bad, but when you open yourself up to serendipity and blunders, I think it’s a much more meaningful experience.”
Regardless of how you feel about the movement, one thing is for sure. In a world that faces increasing barriers and divisions, a little introspection and human connection could do every traveler some good.
About the Author
Allegra Lynch is the President of Authentic Vacations. Her tourism career began with creating consumer travel websites for people looking for unique and Authentic experiences in new destinations. She’s a strong believer that everyone should have access to local inside knowledge when traveling. She’s also a self-proclaimed Star Trek geek.