Today we are appearing on our favourite daytime talk show, The Social. We’re joining the ladies at their Toronto studios to talk to them about meaningful travel. Many people feel that meaningful travel is strictly about going on a volunteering vacation, but there are many ways to make your travel meaningful and we’re going to talk to them about it today. Dave and I have always added meaning into our travels. Be it traveling responsibly, raising money for a cause, stopping at sanctuaries or projects, and interacting with the locals, there are many ways to enrich your travels while making your life and other people’s lives better.
What is “meaningful” travel?
To us, meaningful travel is when travel enriches your life in some way. That could be done by focusing on making your own life better by discovering and learning new things about the world and yourself. It can also be making the lives richer for the people you meet, the communities you visit and the environments you explore. Meaningful travel is about being aware of your footprint, and doing what you can to help the places that you visit.
When we started ThePlanetD.com we originally focused on changing our lives by cycling through Africa, but it evolved to helping others. We decided to ride for Plan Canada and raise funds and awareness for the “Because I am a girl campaign.” We stopped at projects along the way to see the work they did and share it with our readers. The trip may have started with us wanting to do something epic in our travels, but it evolved to become a trip about discovery, education and helping others.
We’ve found that the more we learn about the world and the cultures we visit the more it enriches our lives. The more you give back, the more you feel fulfilled. When volunteering or helping others you expect nothing in return, but it ends up giving you so much. It is the greatest feeling to know that you are making the world a better place in your own little way.
How travel can be meaningful?
There are so many ways to make travel meaningful. While the first thought that comes to mind is to volunteer or to give money, thinking responsibly can make your travels more meaningful too. When we travel, we try to support the local economy by hiring local guides. When we land in a destination, we search for people who run their own companies and have their own small business. Just as we like to shop small and support small business in Canada, the same can be said for our travels. Small business makes the world go round and by shopping at local markets, hiring local guides and eating at small family run restaurants, you will be helping the economy of the place you visit and create a more meaningful travel experience for yourself. We have remained friends with many of our guides and had a more authentic local experience by keeping our travels local and away from the resorts and packaged tours.
Why meaningful travel is beneficial
Not only does it help the communities that you visit, it also helps you. We’ve always said that travel is the best education anyone could have. It breaks down barriers, and strips away prejudice. It opens people’s minds and when you come home, you pass on your thoughts, observations and feelings about the places you visit.
As Mark Twain said “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
So much of meaningful travel helps with sustainability too. When you volunteer or help with conservation, it keeps communities or wildlife reserves from being exploited. So much of meaningful travel is simply about being aware of your environment and respecting customs and culture.
Things to remember when considering “meaningful” travel…
- Think about your impact. How are you affecting the community you visit.
- Will you traveling there enrich their lives?
- Will you have the opportunity to experience the culture, nature, environment? Or will you be isolated and cut of from truly experiencing the destination?
Meaningful travel is not as daunting as people think
When it comes to adventure travel, we always say, start with baby steps. The same can be said when it comes to making your travels meaningful. It may be as easy as asking a local person at your destination where you can volunteer for a day, or where you can visit children or donate money to a school or organization.
Once you take that first step, you’ll learn and discover more opportunities.
Our first foray into more meaningful travel happened in 2003 in Cambodia. We were sitting on a beach and a man asked us if we could come to his class to speak English to his students for an afternoon. He said that while he can speak English, it helps to have the students hear a proper accent. It was one of the most fulfilling things we had ever done and it kick started our desire to do something wherever we went. We learned so much that day. We were humbled, inspired and moved by their stories and struggles. They enriched our lives as much as we helped them with their English.
Ways to Make your Travels Meaningful
Travel for a cause
When we did the Mongol Rally, we drove across 2 continents for the Christina Nobel Foundation. A foundation based in Mongolia that houses and educates orphaned and abandoned children. When cycling the continent of Africa we raised funds and awareness for Plan Canada. By being in the destinations, we could stop at projects and see where our money was going and how funds were being used. It gave our cause more of a purpose to put a human face to the charity. When we saw that they were benefitting directly from the money raised, we felt motivated to help more.
Visit a Charity
It’s easy to find a project to help or visit when you are traveling. Talk to the local people and ask them for advice. In Sri Lanka, we met a tuk tuk driver named Ajith who became our friend. As we got to know him, we visited a charity that he started on his own to donate shoes to local school children. They’d otherwise be going to school bare foot in the jungle, but he raised funds to get them shoes and keeps working tirelessly to help the local economy.
Our guide Makau, in Kenya started a project to empower his own village. We visited his family and friends and he is working to bring water to his village, empower women and give them the means to go to school and he got them a cement maker to build a new school.
When we traveled with Intrepid Travel we always stopped to visit one of their projects. for the Intrepid Foundation. In China we visited a school that helps handicapped children. If you choose your tour company wisely and you’ll travel responsibly, be immersed in the local culture and even visit some of their charity projects if you choose.
Hire Local Guides and shop and stay locally. When we climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp, Mount Kilimanjaro, Gunung Batur, and Mount Kinabalu, we hired local guides after we arrived in the country. It’s a great way to contribute to the local economy and to support small business and we made good friends doing it. We still talk to our guides from Everest and Kili. Plus because we travelled with people from the area, they cared about their footprint, were respectful of culture, and filled with information for us to learn about the destination.
Shop Local – Local artisans make their money through tourism. Instead of buying at duty free or at your resort, go to the market and buy local. It’s cheaper and it’s handmade and authentic. Plus you get to meet the people.
Cooking Courses – Food is the best way to experiences culture and a cooking course is an amazing way to meet locals and learn about their way of eating. We’ve done cooking courses in China, Morocco, Thailand, Italy, Spain and Jordan and nearly every one of them takes you to the market to buy your fresh ingredients. This helps you support the local economy and mingle with the locals. We then normally go back to a private home or kitchen to learn how to prepare. It’s then a feast to enjoy!
Yoga Retreats – Yoga is not only amazing for well being and fitness, it’s popular around the world! Our best retreats have been when finding ones once we arrive in our destination. We spent a month in India with a Swami we met on a beach for $2 a class! While others booked their retreats in North American paying thousands of dollars to take a course from a Western Instructor, we had an authentic experience and learned a lot about spirituality and culture in India while supporting a local business.
Elephant Sanctuaries, conservation areas and national parks are a way to add meaning to your travels meaningful. When local people see that animals bring tourist dollars, they’ll stop over hunting and start conservation. In India, the tiger is nearly extinct, but now they’re working hard to bring it back and National Parks are being set aside to keep them safe. In Sri Lanka and Thailand there are elephant organizations that are helping elephants live in peace. We visited an elephant orphanage in Kenya where orphans are reintegrated back into the wild.
An amazing way to get to know local culture and meet people is to attend a festival. We’ve had some of our most memorable travel experiences when attending a celebration. From the annual pilgrimage up Adams Peak in Sri Lanka, to Thaipusam in Malaysia and Holi in India, it has added new meaning to our travels. Festivals help us to understand the beliefs and religions of countries we visit and helps us make new friends and meet new people.
There are countless ways to make your travels more meaningful. All you have to do is take the first step. Think about what you love and how you want to help and you too will be having a more fulfilling travel experience.
What way do you make your travels more meaningful?