The hottest buzz words in the tourism world today are ‘transformative travel’, as cruise lines, hotel and resort companies, and tour operators strive to capture our attention with exciting new, educational, adventure-packed, horizon-expanding experiences designed to both entertain and change us.
Many of the life experiences that have dramatically altered my world view happened while I was in another country and another culture – in places where the language was different, the usual rules didn’t apply, and everything tasted, felt and sounded strange and wonderful. When travel challenges demanded new approaches, strange paths and new possibilities, I jumped in. When wonderfully welcoming hosts introduced new foods, I tried them - not always loving everything but certainly appreciating the spirit of the offer. When guides assured me I could surf (well…sort of…), ski the steepest double black diamond runs (ummmmmm……), drive a Land Rover down the side of a sheer cliff (there’s a special gear for that…) and jump off a 40 ft. platform (hooked up to a cable, of course), I gave it my best shot. When safaris and wilderness tours offered the chance to see lions, rhinos, elephants, giraffes, whales, polar bears, narwhals, giant tortoises and more in their natural habitats, I crouched in hides, floated in Zodiacs, and hiked jungle paths, mesmerized and grateful for the twists of fate that made that all possible. Travel has changed me in ways I could never have imagined, making me more open, less afraid and more eager to stretch the boundaries. That’s one side of the important transformative travel coin.
Here’s the flip side.
If we are sensitive to preserving and protecting the places we discover – both ecologically and culturally - we have the power to make a difference. Though sustainability and preservation are by no means a new concept, as you’ll see when you read our article on UNESO World Heritage sites in this issue, the concept of average travelers taking part and contributing to that cause is vital.
The natural disasters of 2017 were devastating – particularly for many of our favorite warm-weather destinations. From the hurricanes and flooding that pummeled Houston, Puerto Rico, Louisiana, Florida and many parts of the Caribbean, to the earthquake in Mexico, last year was heart-breaking. China and South East Asia also experienced horrific flooding, as did Peru while a massive landslide claimed hundreds of lives in Columbia. Though we contributed to fund-raising efforts, didn’t we all wish there was more that we could do to restore these places and help the friends there to rebuild their lives?
There is more. We can do more. We can return.
Instead of abandoning our usual beach-in-the-sun winter plans and heading for destinations spared by the bad fortune of 2017, we can return to favorite beaches and cruise to familiar, well-loved islands. We can spend our time and our vacation money there, helping to rebuild economies and lives. We can show our faith in the power of renewal and believe that the destinations we’ve always loved will rebuild and rebound, with our help.
The most powerful medicine any recovering destination can receive is an infusion of loyalty supported by vacation dollars – and that is the flip-side of transformative travel at its very best.