How to Use Travel to Spark a Personal Breakthrough
Travel has the power to refresh your life. Here’s how to create a truly transporting trip.
The ultimate getaway is one where you uncover personal insights and take your revelations and experiences home.
“When we leave our everyday environment, we remove the distractions and habits that are connected to it, and this makes us more open to new situations that have the potential to inspire transformation,” says Karina Stewart, a co-founder of Kamalaya Koh Samui, a luxury health resort in Thailand, and a master of traditional Chinese medicine.
If you approach your trip in the right frame of mind, the experiences can help you unearth old passions, explore new interests, reconnect with your life priorities, and permanently change your perspective.
“No one trip will magically reinvent you,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology, and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. “But studies have shown that there is power in your own interpretation of your experiences. You can use travel, along with meeting new people and trying new things, as an opportunity to reevaluate the values and beliefs that you normally take for granted.” (Related: How to Scare Yourself Into Being Stronger, Healthier, and Happier)
To turn your next vacation into a transformative one, make your approach strategic. Here’s how.
Before You Go: Set an Intention
“If you want to make changes, it’s important to understand your why before you even leave home,” says Michael Bennett, the chief adventure officer of transformational travel tour operator Explorer X and a co-founder of the Transformational Travel Council.
He suggests writing down or just thinking about what you’re hoping to get out of the trip: new adventures, a deeper understanding of yourself, renewed motivation. Having a clear idea of your hopes and goals makes the difference between having a moment pass right by you and letting it inspire you to take action.
On the Trip: Push Yourself
Vacations that send you out of your comfort zone are the most likely to create a change because they compel you to think and act in completely new ways, Bennett says. Experiencing a different culture, for instance, can feel exhilarating as you navigate a city where you don’t speak the language, eat unfamiliar foods, and strive to understand new customs. This makes it easier to gain fresh perspective of yourself and others.
A getaway that requires you to challenge yourself physically can also be life-changing, sparking a sense of newfound strength and capability. Sign up for an activity-based tour that’s focused on something you don’t regularly do, like kayaking or bouldering, or take an extended trip around an activity you engage in only casually, like a weeklong biking or hiking trek. (Check out these adventure travel trips for every sport, location, and activity level.)
Spiritual retreats that focus on yoga and meditation or nature-based getaways also have the potential to send you in a new direction. “An adventure is anything that challenges us and invites us to shift perspectives of self, others, and the world,” Bennett says. “A weeklong meditation retreat can be just as intimidating and exploratory as climbing a mountain.”
Back Home: Cement the Change
Stewart suggests making notes, in your phone or a journal, of especially meaningful moments, along with some specific changes you’d like to take home with you. If you went on a group bicycling tour, for example, you might write down when you felt powerful (like on the morning of day two, when you got back on the bike despite your tired legs) or especially serene (quiet early-morning rides).
Return to your notes when your vacation high and motivation fade, and you start to forget why you wanted to make all those changes to your normal routine. (While you're at it, consider starting a gratitude journal too.)
“It helps you reconnect to the situation that triggered the transformation, so you’ll keep going,” Stewart says.