Traveling is an investment; it’s taking off time from work or school, it’s financing flights, hotels, and activities. It’s stressful. It often involves being that guy, running through the airport to catch a connecting flight. It takes us out of our comfort zones and often makes us feel lost. So why do we do it?
I think most people have a desire to travel so that they can collect memories to put in their pocket, or to put a stamp on the end of their life that says it was a life well lived. This isn’t a bad thing, but are those really the best intentions? If you love to travel, really think about why you do it. Is it to tell people about the cool places you’ve been? Is it to upload a ton of photos on Facebook to make your friends jealous? Is it an instant gratification thing, an escape from the drab and dull normal routine of life? Or maybe you have a genuine passion for experiencing culture, learning how the world operates outside of your backyard, and introspectively shaping your view on societal norms because of your personal experiences.
Though I love looking longingly at pictures of Bora Bora when I’m bored or want to get away from my everyday routine, I have to stop myself and ask, what is it I want to get out of that experience? Does a family vacation in Rome build bonds any differently than a road trip to Fresno? Do vacations actually bring families any closer together? Or do you just want to kill each other by the end and go back to your jobs and school. Obviously this is an over exaggeration, but I’m sure everyone has thought this at one point or another on their family vacation. But what if travel were intentionally planned with the thought of a specific outcome. What if instead of traveling to Cozumel to lie on the beach, you realized that you really want to learn about wines, and instead went to Bordeaux or Napa. What if instead of that next family cruise where the kids end up on different ends of the ship and the parents at different adult pools; you focused on connecting with your family members through a camping trip, where you may be forced to interact, but your outcomes will be stronger. Even better, what if you decided to do something that not only you find meaningful, but others do as well.
This is what we call traveling with the right intentions. This is not travel to collect a stamp on your passport. It is not to simply collect experiences to show off a life well lived. It is purposeful travel with the intent to learn about and add to society. This doesn’t mean you have to physically help anyone with your hands while you vacation, although I would encourage you to try, but if you are traveling with an open mind, open to ways of thinking and doing things in different countries and can appreciate their view points, you will become a global citizen. A global citizen is one that looks for the best way, not just the way they’ve grown up with, and can bring back that knowledge and apply it in every day life. The travel may not look any different, but the intentions are. Maybe learning about a new culture will help you to better handle your relationships with others at home or at your job. Or maybe it’s possible to see business conducted more efficiently elsewhere and bring that knowledge to your company. The key is to learn and reflect, and put some thought into your intended learning outcomes before you go.
How can you make your travel more purposeful? Here are some steps:
Ask yourself these questions:
If you don’t know where to go:
• What do I really want to learn about?
• What would be the best personal outcome from this trip? Is it relaxation? Is it bonding? Is it experiencing?
• What cultures excite me?
• What really inspires me?
• What would I spend my time doing if I didn’t have to worry about money?
If you already have a destination picked out:
• What can I learn from this experience?
• What can I do while I am there that fits with my learning goals?
• How do I want to be different when I come back?
• How do I want to think differently when I come back?
• How can I help others through this experience?
• Is there something I can do while I am there that benefits others?
• Are there opportunities for me to volunteer?
Once you return:
• Reflect: did I meet my travel goals?
• What did I learn?
• How will I take this with me through the rest of my life? Don’t just forget about the trip; take one thing from it that you can carry with you, a mindset, a world outlook, or appreciation.
• Are there opportunities to use what I’ve learned to help people?
• How can I use this experience to positively impact my job, my family, or my community?
• Do I want to do something like this again?
• Would I like to do something even more purposeful next time?
Asking these questions will help create more rounded experiences and help you to get more out of them. As I mentioned earlier if you want to make an even bigger impact with your travel, think about volunteering. This can be an entirely volunteer based trip, or can be a combination of adventure or leisure travel with volunteering. This is commonly termed voluntourism. Voluntourism allows you to travel and have the free time to do and see what you want, with the ability to also directly impact a global community. Voluntourism trips are set up differently in that they know you have different reasons for traveling, and you have a desire to do good in the world while balancing a desire for seeing and experiencing new things, and combine these for you in programs that allow you to do it all. Think about how you would feel if instead of just seeing Antigua, Guatemala and taking pictures and collecting souvenirs, you were also able to build a family a home. That outcome benefits that family, and it will benefit you too. If you don’t believe me, give it a try, I promise it will be better than any collection of postcards you will ever own.