Close your eyes and take a moment to think of a recent trip. What comes to mind?
Is it the excitement you felt at the airport, ready to discover a new destination? An enlightening conversation you had with a tour guide or the clarity after a long hike through nature? It could be a situation that didn’t go as planned but turned out to be even more memorable or the determination to change your routine when you came back home?
In one way or another, we always take something home from a trip. No, not just a physical souvenir like a fridge magnet or a new t-shirt, but a memory, a feeling, a new insight. A little something that influences the way we see, think and feel. And, it’s exactly this little something that is accentuated and brought into the spotlight by the trend of “transformational travel”.
More than just visiting a destination, travellers today are looking for more meaningful experiences that help them grow and transform their lives – in ways often unimaginable. According to a 2018 Skift report on ‘The Rise of Transformative Travel’, created in collaboration with the Singapore Tourism Board, personal fulfilment is one of the biggest travel trends in the industry. In fact, one of the surveys showed that more than half of the questioned travellers ranked the importance of transformative travel at 7 out of 10 or higher, and 52 percent believe that this style of travel is becoming more and more important.
What is Transformational Travel?
As defined by the Transformation Travel Council (TTC), an organisation that encourages travellers to change their lives through travel, “Transformational Travel (or TT) is any travel experience that empowers people to make meaningful, lasting changes to their life.”
An extension of experiential travel – one of the biggest trends of the last decade or so – transformational travel goes beyond tailor-made experiences and is distinguished by a shift in perspective and a personal transformation, long after the trip is over.
Based on the research of TTC co-founder Michael Bennett’s doctoral study as well as the work by the author Joseph Campbell, the organisation identified three stages that constitute most transformative travel experiences – called ‘The Hero’s Journey’. These phases include: the departure – the time the hero leaves the familiar environment and enters the unknown; followed by the initiation – the period in which the hero is challenged physically or mentally, pushing the boundaries of their comfort zones; and ends with the return and rebirth – the hero returns to the familiar with a fresh perspective of the world and new knowledge, transforming not only their lives but consequently also impacting their community in a positive way.
What makes an experience transformative?
From finding your balance on a rejuvenating escape in Bali or getting to know a local family during a homestay in Laos to witnessing the eclectic pop culture of Japan – transformational experiences can come in all shapes and forms and largely depend on what the individual is looking for.
Whilst travel in itself can already offer life-altering experiences, TTC’s research highlights three elements that, combined, will increase the chances for travellers to have a transformative adventure. Number one is about the right attitude and emphasises that “travelling with intention, openness and mindfulness” will make travellers more receptive to life-changing experiences, whilst “engaging in challenging physical and/or cultural experiences” and “taking time for personal reflection” will also help transform an ordinary travel experience into a transformative one.
To find out more about what made a certain experience transformative, Skift carried out a follow-up survey in 2018, which showed that 52 percent of travellers ascribed it to gaining a new perspective. This was followed by 44 percent who said learning something new and 30 percent who believe reflective moments were essential to create this personal shift.
Among the external factors that contributed to making the experience transformational, 39 percent of the respondents found that their experience was greatly influenced by the people on the trip. More than a third answered that a spontaneous, serendipitous adventure led to a transformational moment, closely followed by food, arts, culture and entertainment.
Benefits of transformational travel
Transformational travel offers numerous benefits, extending from the individual to local communities and the environment. On a personal level, it could be anything from a deeper sense of self or a newfound passion to new relationships. Living with more empathy, changing career goals, the inspiration to study abroad or, simply, the appreciation of what they already have in their life.
But the positive impact goes two ways. In a recent interview on transformative travel, Richard Ludwig, Buffalo Tours’ Product and Marketing Director, explained that “transformative experiences should be mutually beneficial for the traveller and the locals.” Transformative experiences can lead to a personal shift in travellers, which in turn, often inspires them to leave a positive impact themselves. Whether it’s supporting locals’ livelihoods through community-based tourism projects or donating to environmental sustainability efforts – once the seed of transformative travel is planted it quickly spreads its roots into many directions.
Ideas for a transformative trip
Whilst any trip can be transformative, forward-thinking travel companies have created specialised products that cater to travellers looking to tap into the local culture or deeply immerse in nature. Here are three Buffalo Tours’ examples that will help travellers go beyond the ordinary.
This three-day experience gives travellers a deeper insight into daily life in a rural Cambodian village. From joining the local villagers in their day-to-day tasks, including craft weaving and rice farming, to learning about local cultural customs, this experience will not just leave travellers with a lasting impression but also supports local community development and education.
Adventure seekers will love this three-day tour to the remote Da Bac community-based tourism project. The experience includes hours of meditative trekking through the scenic countryside of northern Vietnam as well as homestays in ethnic minority villages, allowing travellers to learn about the life and culture of two of the country’s main minority groups.
Meditation is known to have a calming effect, so what better way to seek a transformative experience than to be introduced to this ancient tradition by a Japanese Zen monk? Travellers will be guided through the process of quieting the mind and body, which they can continue to practice long after they’ve left Japan.
If you’re looking for a meaningful experience, reach out to Buffalo Tours and let our experts help craft your tailor-made transformational travel experience in Asia .