Altering one’s perspective, growing, and actually changing is a challenge. Our habits, likes and biases are generally formed early in life and typically deeply set. Having an experience that shifts our personal beliefs, the way we think and operate sadly doesn’t happen as much as most of us would probably like.
Within our day-to-day lives finding an outlet for profound change or encountering radically different examples of life and how to execute is extremely rare. We’re typically surrounded by the same people, pushing paper the same way, eating the same food and traveling the same route to/from work, each and every day. Outside of enacting formal study or taking on books with specific change themes and really implementing, there are few ways to reevaluate one’s place in the world and gain perspective as effectively as traveling does.
With a strong bias to travel in Asia, due to operating Southeast Asia tours with Smiling Albino, a recent conversation with a grad student about my experiences in the travel industry got me thinking about some of the core themes we’ve incorporated into our tours. One that came up was Personal Growth, something we hold near and dear and have always tried to ensure plays a key role in our experiences. During our talk I was reminded just how valuable a role travel can play with respect to gaining personal perspective, and our idea that this can be so is as valid today as it was when we first set out to create our business back in 1999.
Personal Growth via traveling broadly means something new is experienced: new food, new sights, new experiences, new ideas, new perspectives, new friends, which allows people to see themselves, others, and the world differently. For some this may mean doing something they never expected to do, small or big. It’s always been our mandate to provide guests with the opportunity and stage to step in to such situations and take them as far as they’d like, then perhaps a wee bit further. The result is generally a powerful gain of perspective, different for each individual, and the impetus equally varied.
For some travelers it’s riding a mountain bike twice as far as they have before or learning to drive a motorscooter, then navigating through the mountains of the Golden Triangle. For others it’s stepping beyond their comfort zone and trying new foods, perhaps even deep fried grasshoppers or bamboo worms. One of the most powerful opportunities for personal growth and perspective while traveling is interacting with locals from a variety of backgrounds. Sharing a few minutes talking with a villager while hiking through hilltribe country, taking a photo together and admiring it, or sharing a beer (or two) with a shopkeeper, provides some great insight into their lives, but also allows you to reconsider important (or what you think are) needs in your life back home.
It’s reflection during a trip that has the most immediate impact on personal growth and generally excites most. Perhaps you’ve just spent the morning cycling through the Cambodian countryside, popping in to villages, got the opportunity to see the inside of a Khmer home and realized their lighting systems are not adequate. This kind of experience can lead to a self-realization of how many consumer goods you have and how unnecessary most are, leading you to hold off on that 100-inch TV purchase. What happens upon returning home is often the hardest to implement but if done can have the biggest long-term impact.
Experiences like the above can stay with a traveler for months and years, sometimes sending their life in a new tangent. Perhaps you meet someone who specializes in low-cost LED lighting at a cocktail party a year later and decide to plan a trip back to Cambodia to put better lights into 100 homes with the money saved from not buying that new TV. This is where personal growth via travel can have its biggest impact.
Personal Growth is certainly not a required part of traveling, but the industry is currently seeing a trend of guests who are committed and interested to taking their holiday time to a new level: learning, investigating, pondering and changing themselves as they make their way along.