What Is Transformational Travel?

What Is Transformational Travel?


A new way of thinking about and experiencing the world takes your vacation to the next level.

On a trip to Dehradun, India, I met a Canadian woman in her 30s traveling through the country alone. She had an amazing back-story. The year before, she had a lucrative career working at a hedge fund and all the trappings that came with her job—beautiful, modern home; luxury car; and so on. A random, nearly catastrophic stroke left her entirely paralyzed in a hospital ICU, unable to speak. She overheard the doctors tell her parents that she would never have a normal life, feed or bathe herself: worst-case scenario. She promised herself at that moment that she would function again because she always wanted to go to India. After a long journey of physical therapy and rehabilitation, including many painful setbacks, she booked her trip, and committed to doing as much as she could out of her comfort zone, from meditating with monks in rugged cave temples to embarking on a long train journey to the country’s remote corners. At a gem shop we happened on, she bought herself a beautiful sapphire ring as a reward for reaching her goal—ending up fit, confident, happy, healed, and ready to help people in need back home.

We all have some inkling of travel as the hero’s journey, as depicted in wildly successful memoirs such as Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love or Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. You know something needs to change, so you set out on a quest … and you get somewhere, stronger, wiser, better. A new movement in travel seeks to codify this type of journey as Transformational Travel, or TT. It’s about going with intention, diving into the experience, and opening to change rather than simply ticking a destination off your bucket list.

“Transformational Travel is any travel experience that inspires people to make meaningful, lasting changes in their lives, go beyond their comfort zones, and challenge themselves culturally, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually,” says Michael Bennett, executive vice president of travel operator Nomad Hill and cofounder of the Transformational Travel Council. “TT is about people becoming the hero of their own lives, and helping to transform the world around them at the same time.”

The Transformational Travel Council (TTC) was founded in 2016, when a group of travel experts—tour operators, guides, travel-marketing gurus, and industry pioneers—formed a collective based on the impact of their own personal journeys. Far and wide, they want to share the ethos that travel can make your life better. “Intentionality brings travel to a new level,” says Bennett. “It demands that you look at your trip as a unique opportunity to learn, grow, change, and transform yourself.”

Where to begin? Although the journey is as much within as external, you must have a plan. The experts at TTC work with clients to curate experiences that create fertile ground for the traveler’s desired goals to flourish. There are also hundreds of retreats: curated opportunities for enrichment at hotels, resorts, and on select cruises to choose from if more guidance or community is required. Whether you are ready to dive into something bold and epic or wish to begin with something small, “you can’t simply go and ‘let the mountains speak for themselves,’ as the old adage goes,” says Bennett. “You need to bring a new kind of mindfulness and consciousness to your travels to include experiences that will challenge and inspire you to travel like a HERO—with heart, engagement, resolve, and openness.”

From seeking better health to healing an emotional rift, the travel experience can empower you to face obstacles head-on or see things from another point of view. According to Bennett, there is a method to traveling with intention, outlined by the Transformational Travel Council as seven types of travel experiences. Here, he shares them with Journey to Renewal.

1. Travel with purpose or feel the call to adventure. Go seeking something new, different, and better in life (even if you don’t know exactly what you are going to find).

2. Travel with a sense of openness. Being open-minded and open-hearted allows you to truly engage with the experiences, people, and places in a much deeper and more meaningful way.

3. Cross the threshold of adventure into a zone unknown. This can lead to a critical psychological disconnection from the ordinary world and routine at home and can open up channels of creativity and imagination and freedom.

4. Take on cultural and physical challenges. Push your comfort zone and see how resilient, resourceful, and powerful you are.

5. Engage in meaningful conversations. Listen without judgment and share thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and life stories.

6. Reflect on your experiences. This can be accomplished through journaling, prayer, meditation, art, or some combination of the above. Find time to make sense of what you are seeing, doing, and experiencing. Process it all, and explore how you might be able to apply what you learn to your life.

7. Take intentional action beyond the actual trip. When you get home, make desired changes in your life inspired by shifts that took place on your journey. Create what you want in life.

Martine Bury is a writer, travel and lifestyle expert, and culture-obsessed globetrotter based in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in outlets including Sunset, Forbes Travel Guide, and Travel & Leisure.

“A quest is a journey towards something specific, with a number of challenges throughout … You must become a better person than you were before you started. You must improve throughout the journey.” 

— –Chris Guillebeau, The Happiness of Pursuit​

Three Trips that can Change Your Life

Oahu, Hawaii

Tucked into a lush oasis on Oahu’s west side, Kahumana Organic Farm and Retreat offers bold vision and relaxation in a holistic program that gives guests a chance to eat well, practice yoga, embark on a healing journey, learn about organic farming, and volunteer on the farm, which supports multiple local, community initiatives—from community supported agriculture (CSA) and championing sustainability to providing enrichment for the mentally disabled to addressing the problems of food deserts, hunger, and poverty. Two retreat homes feature 17 rooms that comfortably house groups or individuals, and also provide a nice launching point for exploring the island’s most serene beaches and epic hiking trails.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

A safari introduces you to the wonder of wide-open spaces, wildlife, starry night skies, and ancient cultures as you base your days around nature’s rhythms, like the rising and setting of the sun. The vast, labyrinthine water world of the Okavanga Delta and the untamed Moremi Game Reserve is the perfect place to connect with self. Jacada Travel’s Digital Detox Safari literally helps you unplug your devices—and get out of your comfort zone—on a luxe, nine-day journey that includes six days, untethered, on a mobile safari followed by three nights at iconic Jack’s Camp.

Carlsbad, California

Aviara Wellness Academy at Park Hyatt Aviara offers an unconventional approach to traditional resort activities via curated, multiday retreats that infuse a mindful enrichment ethos to guests’ interests like improving your golf game at the Golf Academy, mastering your swing at Tennis Camp, cooking, and learning to surf with Executive Chef Pierre Albaladejo. All of these experiences can also be added, a la carte, to the onsite VeraVia integrative retreat, which helps guests achieve wellness goals through a customized program of counseling, guided meditation, nutritional seminars, private fitness classes, hikes, and nature

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