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The Ultimate Guide to Transformative Travel

A girl holds up the Wakeful Travel Journal in the middle of four mannequins in Guatemala

By Harley Burland.

For those seeking unforgettable moments and experiences that leave lasting effects, Transformative Travel is the only way to go. For the adventurer with an open heart, 5-Star resorts stays will never compare to the experience of travelling to remote locations and exploring unbeaten paths. 

But Wakeful Travellers be warned: this isn’t a vacation. Transformative Travel comes with the kind of growth you can only experience through discomfort and new challenges. If you’d rather wake up before dawn to hike a remote mountain trail rather than sip pina coladas from a swim up bar, Transformative Travel is exactly what you’re looking for. 

What is Transformative Travel?

We talk a lot on the Wakeful Travel Blog about authentic living. Part of that includes growth and self love. Breaking out of our comfort zones and taking on new opportunities is a great way to shift from who we are to who we are meant to become. It’s in these moments of discomfort that we unlock our inner strength. We’ve all experienced those scary moments we feel we can’t possibly get through (remember when you took your tried solo-traveling the first time?), only to reach the other side and think, “wow, ok, I did that.” It’s these moments we reflect on with pride and admiration for how far we’ve come and what all we are capable of. It’s these moments that transform who we are and the moments we keep in our hearts. Transformative travel focuses on these self-reflective and self-discovery moments that make life so special. It’s kinda like experiential travel but more intense and with more personal growth that can be incorporated into everyday life. Sign us up!

The trend began in the travel adventure sector, with those wanting more than just a set itinerary, bottomless food and drink and a resort that you never step foot out of.

The Transformational Travel Council, founded in 2016, defines transformational travel as "intentionally traveling to stretch, learn and grow into new ways of being and engaging with the world."

According to the 2018 Skift Report, the Council aims to create a movement around traveling like a “HERO”. This means “traveling with Heart; seeking Engagement; having the Resolve to work through challenges; and leaving your heart, mind, and soul Open to the unknown.”  The idea here is that by following the HERO approach, you’re more likely to have a life changing travel experience.

a maloka at the Sentinel retreat centre near Kaslo, BC 

Why Will Transformational Travel Become a New Travel Trend?

For us, this is a no brainer. Being able to explore a new place and simultaneously take in the new culture, traditions, music, foods, and scenery WHILE working on our inner-self a dream come true. By leaving behind our usual routine and exploring new places, we are able to connect with our deeper selves and engage with the present moment. As our lives become more involved, more engaged, and more online, it can be hard to press pause. For many of us working towards our goals, the work-life balance can feel like a myth. By booking that trip, putting down our phone, and diving head first into adventure, we can escape the hustle and realign with our inner self. Transformative Travel will become the next new travel trend because it pairs the thirst for adventure with our need to reconnect with our inner-self. 

In What Locations Can You Have a Transformative Experience?

The great thing about transformative travel, is that you can plan these kinds of trips in practically any location. The goal of transformative travel is to reconnect, restore, and grow. You can achieve this through exploration of the world around you, or reflection of the world within. Transformative travel can take place on a gruelling 10 day hike to the peak of a mountain, or through the calm and peace found only by meditation. According to Jake Haupert, cofounder of the Transformative Travel Council, these experiences range from unplanned exploration, to wellness restoration, to making the effort to connect with your local flora and fauna. 

If you’re looking to start your journey with Transformative Travel, we suggest planning a weekend outdoors. Sleeping under the stars, building a fire, and immersing yourself with nature will help to ground you in the moment. Be sure to read the backcountry backpacking article if you're new to these type of adventures, or want to download our travel backpacking checklist.

For those looking to take their experiential travel to the next level, we recommend pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Or being open to being on your own and asking for help. Jenalle, founder of Wakeful Travel, says that some of the most transformative experiences have simply been when she’s alone and difficult situations come up. 

“I got lost in Saigon in Vietnam on Christmas Eve. My phone was at 1% and I didn’t have the address of my hostel written down (this was before I created the Wakeful Travel Journal ha!). So many moto-taxi men were calling me out, pressing that I I needed a ride. I kept walking. It was two in the morning and I was pretty scared. Then, a young Vietnamese man came up beside me on his bike and asked me if I was lost. He could probably see that I was worried. I told him the name of the hostel but he didn’t know where it was from the name. I showed him the address on my phone, he nodded assuringly, and my phone then died. He dropped me off at the hostel, and I thanked him like he had just saved my life. I opened my wallet to grab some money, and he shook his head. ‘No,’ he said, ‘Merry Christmas’. That, to me, was transformational. And it wouldn’t have happened if I was on a guided, set tour for a week."

Other experiences that have shaped Jenny’s transformation through travel include booking an Ayahuasca retreat in Costa Rica with 45 strangers. Trekking up Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu. Booking a solo one-way ticket to Bangkok. Volunteering at a run-down dog shelter in Northern Peru. Hiking volcanoes at sunset and having a breakthrough at a yoga retreat in Guatemala. Visiting the war museums in Vietnam. Getting a tattoo in Railay Beach. Visiting the killing fields in Cambodia. Cliff jumping 45 feet and tearing a bunch of ligaments between her ribs. Exploring Bagan, Myanmar before Instagram made it famous. Journaling her insights, dancing barefoot in the rainforest and taking notes from speakers like Paul Staments in Costa Rica. The list goes on.

No matter where you go, go with an open heart and intention of growth and wander.

someone holding up a wakeful travel journal

Is There a Difference Between Transformative Wellness Travel and Experiential Travel?

While experiential travel allows you to connect with a new destination, transformative travel takes it to the next level by reconnecting with yourself. 

It’s different from experiential travel where you’re going to a place, checking out the local hikes, surfs, foods, nature and culture. You might invest in ecotourism activities too. Transformative takes travelling to the next level. It’s becoming a part of your surroundings and submerging yourself into the experience. You don’t just come home with some great photos and new memories, you come home as a changed version of you. 

An interesting Transformative Travel Stat?

According to a 2018 survey, 32% of travellers reported having a transformative travel experience that changed their lives in a positive way. With retreats, wellness workshops, medicine ceremonies, trekking adventures, and coworking experiences making way in the travel sector. We predict that number will only go up from there.

In What Way (pre COVID-19) Was Social Media Influencing Young Travellers Around the World?

an African American girl in a dress walking down the street

 Like almost every other aspect of our lives, influencer culture has altered the way we see travel. We’ve all seen the BTS videos of ‘Influencers in the Wild’ getting the perfect shot, sometimes with cues behind them waiting to get the same shot. Who of us hasn’t felt inspired to plan a hike or day trip because one of our friends shared some phenomenal views on their story? But social media does more than direct us to where the most likeable backdrop is. It also highlights the best places to eat, stay, and things to see.

Social media acts as a living list of top tens and sheds light onto hidden gems for any place you would want to go. It even makes places that once felt far off feel more accessible to those looking for a more authentic and unique travel experience. 

But geo-tagging has been a kind of… controversial thing lately. The New York Times published an article explaining that the Jackson’s Hole Travel and Tourism Board asked visitors to stop geo-tagging when they post their photos online. This is because the amount of people hiking up to Delta Lake skyrocketed, thus, ruining the small trails and damaging the environment.

Sadly, it isn’t just happening in Wyoming. All around the world tourism has increased, and oftentimes, the people who see the photos don’t exactly prepare correctly, realize how much work is involved, or respect the environment the way they should, to get that perfect Insta shot. So, to keep these fragile eco-systems and hidden gems still beautiful, try to keep that in mind next time you visit a rad place.

In What Ways Can Both Travel Companies and Those Who Travel Encourage Transformative Travel?

A lot of travel companies already encourage transformative travel through their sustainable travel practices. Travel companies can take this a step further by working with local tour guides and companies that are connected to the culture and landscape of a destination. By partnering with hostels, local retreats, and even national parks, travel companies can ensure they are providing the most authentic connections for travellers. Promoting this kind of exploration and marketing these sorts of adventures encourages Transformative Travel. Those who travel can do so by booking these sorts of trips. Travellers can also share their experiences on blogs, through their social media, and with their friends. First hand experiences are very valuable and by sharing their experiences it can inspire others to take these kinds of trips as well. 

 a girl stands in between 5 weird mannequins holding a wakeful travel journal over her face

The Wakeful Travel Journal’s Part In Transformative Travel

The Wakeful Travel Journal is the perfect companion for Transformative Travel. It allows you space to write and reflect on your experiences while also providing escape through colouring and yoga prompts. You can record your adventures and remember important details as they happen so that the experiences stay fresh.There are also reflection questions you can journal about too. The journal allows you to really go beyond and provides a comfortable place to explore your deeper self and discover new growth. 

Transformative Travel is quickly gaining popularity – and for good reason! Sure, you can book a week at an all inclusive resort and bus into town to see the commercialized tourist spots and pay that weird guy on the beach $20 to get a photo holding a parrot. But that’s not the kind of Wakeful Travel we seek out here. We want to go where few have gone, see the world’s most amazing views, and embrace the adventure with an open heart.

We want to grow through discomfort and find strength through challenges. We want to explore this planet and dive head first into all that it has to offer and then come back home totally transformed.

We are Wakeful Travellers and we are ready for everything. 


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