Transformational Travel

There’s a certain magic that happens when you travel to an exotic, or beautiful, destination, explore ruins from ancient history, or have an exciting adventure. It’s even more magical if you step outside your comfort zone when you’re there and engage with a local, learning about a different culture. You can even take this another step further and use travel as a catalyst for change and growth. This is called transformational travel.

What Is Transformational Travel?

We all know that travel has the power to really move us, but what is transformational travel? According to the Transformational Travel Council (TTC),

“Transformational travel is any travel experience that empowers people to make meaningful, lasting changes in their life. Ultimately, it’s a new philosophy on travel that connects travelers to their truest self and to others, cultivating a sense of purpose and belonging.”

Jake Haupert

The TTC continues by noting three key elements for tranformational travel:

  1. Traveling with intention, openness, and mindfulness
  2. Engaging in challenging physical and/or cultural experiences
  3. Taking time for personal reflection & meaning-making

It’s more than just the destination, although that can be a key part of it as well. It’s about how you approach your journey and what you do there.

How Is It Transformational?

When you travel, you’re in a new environment, which allows you to see things in a new light. If you do something there that pushes you beyond your comfort zone, you may realize new insights about yourself and/or others. Furthermore, by taking time to reflect on these insights, and nurturing them, you can turn them into intentions to create permanent change in your life. Essentially, you use travel as an opportunity to open your mind and then make a conscious effort to keep it that way.

There’s nothing wrong with flying off to an exciting destination just to have fun and escape the everyday stress of life. But with a few steps added in, you can also make it an opportunity for growth. And it can still be fun!

How To Make Travel Transformational

The opportunity for transformational travel often starts with a feeling that something needs to change. Maybe it’s a voice in your head, or a feeling in your gut, that says there must be something more, or that something’s not quite right. Maybe you feel disconnected, unchallenged, or a myriad of other possibilities.

The beginning can be as different for everyone as the journey itself is. And if you don’t feel a specific call to action, that’s OK too. Maybe you just want to open yourself up to new possibilities and see what you learn.

1. Travel Intention/Plan

With this intention in mind, you create a journey to foster insights. Follow your instincts on which type of trip is right for you. Make sure, however, that there is some element that pushes you beyond your comfort zone or challenges you emotionally, physically, or mentally.

It may be traveling to, and immersing yourself in a destination or culture dramatically different than your own. Then having meaningful engagement with the locals there, learning a different culture with different norms and values.

Riding camels while visiting the pyramids can be a transformational travel experience.
Exploring The Pyramids

Or maybe you want to try something physically challenging, like trekking mountains, or learning something altogether new, like skydiving, surfing, or yoga.

The Freefall at Skydiving in Wānaka
Skydiving in Wanaka

Alternatively, transformational travel can be a spiritual journey, or pilgrimage. Or, you can challenge yourself by volunteering for those in need or to help a community or location. I spent a month working as a volunteer teaching yoga at a Yazidi refugee camp in Serres, Greece. A very transformational trip for me.

How you set up the trip can have a big impact on the results. Consider going solo, or with a friend, or small group, as the distractions and highly structured nature of organized group travel can limit personal insight.

One way to really experience cultural differences is to stay with a local. You can do this through Airbnb, HomestayIn, or at least stay at a hotel or hostel owned and run by locals. If you think about it, you’re not likely to have any deep ‘aha’ moments by staying in a western hotel and not interacting meaningfully with locals. If your not sure if it’s owned by a local, ask.

Another way to really experience the culture is to visit places where tourism is not fully developed yet. At the very least, avoid highly touristic locations, as they do not reflect real life experiences. If you really must, however, you can minimize this by visiting off-season.

Of course, always read travel advisories on your home government’s website first. If there are concerns, book with a travel company instead of independent travel. If you do, consider companies that set up trips with transformation in mind.

In addition, small tour companies run by locals are also fantastic. I booked a trip with a small company owned by a Mongolian. He put together a home-stay with nomadic eagle hunters, followed by a trip to their annual Eagle Festival. The trip was fantastic! And there only two other travelers in my group, providing a lot of time for questions and insights into nomadic life.

Me holding the Kazakhs Prized eagle the day prior to the Eagle Festival
Me in Mongolia With The Eagle Hunters

2. Enjoy The Trip!

Enjoy your trip with a full heart. While there, simply make sure your mind is open to seeing the world, and yourself, in a new way. Once you disconnect from the ‘social noise’ of everyday life, you will start to reconnect internally and start having insights.

Allow the trip to happen without over planning it, saving space for beautiful surprises. You’re looking to have an experience, not to follow a detailed checklist.

Spend some time purposefully engaging with locals. Talk about how your lives differ. The good and the bad. As people in different locations grow up with a unique set of cultures and norms, these can be very eye opening conversations. After reflection, you may find you want to adopt new ideas, or discard old ones. Just because there is pressure from your culture to act, or be, a certain way, it is limiting to believe there is no other way.

If you’re challenging yourself physically, be okay with the fact that your challenge may be, well, challenging. Don’t be too hard on yourself if things don’t immediately go as planned. Take this opportunity to talk to others about their experience. They may have the same fears, concerns, or issues, which can also be full of insights.

Another thing to consider while you’re on your trip is the impact you have on the destination. If you’ve taken a long flight to get there, consider offsetting the carbon footprint. Always respect the people and the culture that you are visiting. Dress and act appropriately for the location. And spend locally whenever possible. Staying, and eating, local is not only more eco-friendly, and allows more opportunity for insight, it also helps the economy you are visiting.

Although taking a cruise can sound exotic, and it’s easy, big cruise ships are the worst offenders here. Not only do they leave a huge carbon footprint, you don’t stay in local hotels or eat in local restaurants, so very few dollars go back to the local economy.

3. Take Time For Reflection

Make sure you leave time for reflection. Take notice of what bubbles up in your mind. Did something really resonate with you? Sometimes self discovery is positive, sometimes it’s not. Be honest with yourself and be open to both.

If you’ve had an ‘aha’ moment, spend time reflecting on it. Journaling about your thoughts or talking about them with a friend can help solidify things. Sometimes profound insights are fuzzy at first. Especially if it’s about something deeply ingrained. You may need to work to flush it out.

If nothing pops up immediately, that’s OK too. It may not be until you’re back at home, and see life from a refreshed perspective, that you have an insight.

4. Transformation

If you’ve done all this, you will likely realize something you want to do differently, or stop doing. If so, and you really do want to change, make a commitment, or intention around it.

Your transformation can be as simple as a renewed passion for life, a greater feeling of connectedness, learning to rely more on your instincts, or more independence. You may also realize that your first world problems are not as bad you thought they were, leaving you in a better position to solve them.

Alternatively, you may decide to make major life changes, like changing your career, surrounding yourself with new friends, or moving to a different city/country. You may have learned what type of person you want to be, separate from the person you were brought up to be, or are expected to be by others. Or you may decide to stop seeking acknowledgement or approval from the outside, relying on your own internal source of wisdom and truth. All very profound.

If you decide to make major changes, bravo to you! Your life will be better because of it. Just remember not to be too hard on yourself with commitments here. If it really is something dramatically different, it may take time to incorporate into your life.

Simple awareness of knowing what you want to do differently can have a huge impact on your life. Especially if you continue to reflect on it. If you do, however, want to make a bigger change and need guidance surrounding that, you can do a search on ‘how to set an intention’.


If all this sounds overwhelming, don’t stress too much about it. Being open to change and pushing your comfort zone, in itself, is more important than following a set of steps.

I know this as I was experiencing transformation from travel long before I knew the term, or understood what was happening. After learning about it, however, I found that I was able to start embracing the concept in a more purposeful way, making it even more powerful.

At the very least, if you approach your trip with an open mind, you will gain a much broader perspective of the world, develop a new appreciation of diversity and a better understanding of the true miracle of life. All of which bring great joy, which is what travel is really all about!

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie


  • Linda Howell

    Loved transformations. Travel for me is all about the experience, however never been as brave as you. I do little research and although I use Intrepid the element of surprise remains.

    • Julie

      Hi Linda,

      Thanks…you’d be surprised how easy it is to travel solo. it really opens you up in a different way. If you use a group, however, Intrepid offers great trips. Did a 6 week camping trip with them in Africa that was amazing! One of those things I could not experience solo…

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