By Aikta Suri

Let’s start with what it ain’t! (Sorry grammar nazis) 

There are many ways to visit a travel destination. Some people like to create a top-ten checklist of famous landmarks, with the simple desire to take a selfie in each iconic location. 

These “top-ten hotspot” trips typically involve little interaction with local communities, pack in a lot of travel time so you can ‘hit every destination’, include high-impact on the local environment, and sometimes don’t offer local cuisine. (I know, crazy, right?!) Instead these trips are intentionally designed to keep the traveller ‘safe’ in their own protective bubble of comfort. 

Journeys with these whirlwind checklist itineraries can leave you exhausted and often the only aspect of the culture that is brought back are souvenirs. After returning from such a trip, travelers might find themselves quickly back to their busy lives without feeling renewed, inspired, moved, or personally connected to the place they just spent their hard-earned money to visit.

Don’t get me wrong, even at that fast pace or a more superficial visit of a destination, the power of travel can have its way with you. Unfortunately if it is experienced in such a protective bubble, where we never challenge ourselves to see the world again with beginner’s mind, you may not allow yourself the space, perspective, or time for the deeper and more powerful insights travel can offer.

So, exactly how do I define Transformative Travel? Here are some of the most potent aspects of any journey that have proven to be most transformative in my life. As I continue to grow and evolve, I am sure this list will as well. It is these aspects of travel that are powerful transformative elements to my entire way of being. In other words, after experiencing them, there was an internal growth in which I was never ever the same.

1. Re-Aligning My Body and Mind to the Natural World and its Cycles. The connection between the mind, body, and our environment is more profound than most people realize. The connection is actually ancient and can be traced back throughout the lineage of our species. The human brain and body have literally evolved together within the natural world to ensure our survival and ability to thrive. It is for this reason that spending time in the natural world can literally create the experience of “coming home”. 

Now let me tell you, I did not come from an outdoorsy family. We never went camping, hiked, or really engaged in outdoor sporting activities. I grew up completely afraid of all bugs or spiders and believed in the false idea that we humans are somehow separate and superior to the natural world. It is only because of my travels that my entire world perspective and relationship to the natural world has grown and evolved. So much so that  I eventually lived in a tent, before graduating to a mud house, just outside of India’s oldest tiger reserve – home to 50 different species of mammals (including tiger, leopard, and wild boar to name a few), a generous amount of reptiles including pythons and king cobras, and almost 600 species of birds annually. After years of personal travel and growth, I happily and with deep gratitude lived without electricity, and learned to sync my body and daily activities with the sun. (Trust me, if you try living without electricity for an extended period of time, you will quickly understand why people have worshipped the Sun since the beginning of time. Your entire day quickly begins to revolve around the sun!)

This personal evolution happened over time for me. Starting with small camping trips with friends in my late teens and early twenties, to experiencing endless shooting stars in the French Alps, to exploring the profoundness of the Ocean, or laying in the grass at the sacred grounds of megalithic tombstones in Ireland, to eventually visiting remote areas of India, where people still happily live in complete harmony with the natural world. Spending time in the vibrations of a natural environment has proven to be healing by providing a feeling of wholeness and growth to my entire existence.

Also important to note is the confidence that comes from physical activity in natural environments. Like I said earlier, I was not an outdoorsy person growing up. I never thought I would be capable of the hikes and treks I have made during my travels. My husband Misty, who has spent 18+ years guiding folks in the outdoors says, “People are always pleasantly surprised by the adaptability of the human body. I have seen endless travelers gain so much confidence in their physical body when asked to navigate a new landscape. The newness of an area and the incredible adaptability of the human body gives us a chance to go beyond what we normally feel capable of in our home environment.”

2. Reciprocity, Heart to Heart connection, and Authentic Cultural Exchange. Many many moons ago, my dear friend Robin Peel shared with me a quote she had read that greatly impacted her. It was spoken by a female Aboriginal Elder to the Christian missionaries who had come to convert and ‘save the souls’ of the Aborigines of Australia. This quote has left an indelible impression on my own soul and life journey, AND it is one of our founding philosophies for Transformative Travel.

“IF YOU ARE COMING HERE TO SAVE ME, YOU ARE WASTING YOUR TIME. IF YOU ARE COMING HERE BECAUSE YOUR LIBERATION IS TIED TO MINE, THEN LET US WORK TOGETHER.” – Aboriginal Elder 

My travels around the world, particularly to remote villages in the Himalayas, have often introduced me to people and communities that function entirely differently than the American suburban life I grew up in. The people whom I’ve spent time with and connected with often live without electricity, may have never been in a motorized vehicle, and most definitely don’t own a laptop, a tablet, and an iPhone! They are often lucky if there is any cell phone reception in their area at all.

I have seen many travelers whom I have guided over the years start their journey feeling pity for the ‘poor people’ in the villages – but then something magical happens. Once they personally meet and spend time with the local people, a change in understanding begins to unfold. They usually first notice that the eyes of these people are so different from most people they encounter in their home countries. There is a soulfulness, wholeness, inner richness, and sometimes most surprisingly, a happiness that is tangible in the light that shines from their eyes. There is also this amazing confidence and brilliant ‘common sense’ that is found in many people in remote areas. This often comes from the fact that they live in harmony with the natural world, and a largely self-sustained life. They are not depending on someone else to provide for them. They have what is tangible, right in front of them. They have strong and resilient bodies and minds, and are not afraid to physically work hard to create their livelihood – from growing their food to creating their homes from local materials. They have ancient knowledge about how to live off of the land, what foods and plants to eat at various times for optimum health. People living in remote areas often live a fully integrated life, where work, family, friends, socializing, contemplating, and enjoying the natural world are literally all happening at the same time. Women working in a field are also gossiping with family and friends, providing therapeutic advice, singing songs, or taking needed rest in a beautiful pleasant spot. It is all part of their daily routine, not as segregated as it is in the western world. I mention all of this to say, prior to travel often we come in with assumptions that the western world has somehow ‘figured out’ the best and most advanced lifestyles, but after connecting more deeply to people who live a very different life than your own helps to start break down those assumptions. Not to say that the western world doesn’t also have its own gifts to offer. That is the best part – the opportunity for real dialogue with people from a very different world experience offers rich and authentic cultural exchange.

 3. Embodied Wisdom through Life Experience When I reflect on things that have literally changed my way of being, it is always what has come to me as embodied wisdom; meaning I have learned something with my own body, through my own experience. For example, intellectually I have understood the need for water conservation for a long time. I was once the Director of Education Programs for the Anacostia Watershed Society (awesome organization by the way – check them out: www.anacostiaws.org), so I was not lacking conceptual knowledge or understanding of the importance of water conservation. Yet it is only once I spent time in India and actually faced water shortages that I truly understood water conservation on a personal level. It sounds so simple but the realization that the 20-30 minute hot shower I grew up taking in the USA to “get clean” can actually happen just as effectively with one bucket of hot water has been life changing. Spending time in remote areas where water sometimes has to be carried in, or dries up seasonally, has given me a much deeper love and appreciation for the importance and sacredness of water. My entire relationship to water has transformed, and I now try to conserve and reuse every drop that I can. It is experiencing life in different locations and trying things in a new way, that has brought a new level of personal evolution and embodied wisdom – becoming a part of who I am.

  1. Experiencing Alternative Realities of Life Expands Our World View. Similar to what I shared above, spending time with people who live life in a way that is foreign to you can help us in letting go of assumptions, and hard opinions about what are the most important elements in life or society. My personal example is that my entire career has been in the field of education, and I believed firmly that education is the WAY! It is the path to everything from financial success to enlightenment! Then as I started spending time in remote areas that now have government schools, I saw children being separated from their families and farming life. This also meant removing them from the ancient wisdom inherent in living self-sustained lifestyles. The education these children were receiving was subpar to say the least, and was feeding them western ideals about life and subtly shaming their own families heritage and traditions. With these western ideals came new feelings of poverty for the current generation, a disinterest or even disgust in their families lifestyles, and hoards of young people leaving these beautiful pristine environments to slog away in overcrowded and polluted cities. I am not saying that education does not offer the opportunity to benefit people, but my fixed ideas and perspective have greatly expanded since I began exploring foreign areas. That is the beauty of travel, it helps us expand our entire perspective on life. Our assumptions become debunked with knowledge from pure experience.  
  2.  Living Mindfully, Sustainably, with Conservation as a Priority. Without hesitation I can say my most impactful and transformative adventures have encouraged me to live in a more mindful and sustainable way. This could be something as simple as traveling with a low to zero waste policy, to using bucket baths to conserve water, or using minimal wood during a campfire. Traveling ‘off the grid’ has provided me with the realities and challenges of limited resources. Also while in pristine areas I start to think twice about the impacts I am making to the environment, from trash to even personal products that might contain chemicals that would contaminate the environment. These types of experiences have brought a new level of mindfulness and awareness to my responsibility to the planet. 
  3. Knowing and Understanding Yourself and the World Around You More Deeply. Finally the most powerful and impactful aspect of Transformative Travel is the opportunity to know yourself and the world more deeply. This happens in a variety of ways. From thought-provoking conversations with people from other parts of the planet, to intentional reflection on your experience, before traveling, while traveling, and after you have returned. I love keeping a travel journal and then diving into it again years later. There is something very special about capturing the insights that have defined me over time. Each stage of my journey offers valuable gems that create lasting changes and expansions to my worldview and way of being in the world.  

Interested in a transformative travel adventure? You can check out some of our featured destinations on our website: transformativetravel.ltd , or click here to set up a time to explore your options: https://calendly.com/transformativetravel

About the author

Aikta has always been a passionate traveler. She has explored the United States, Mexico, Bahamas, Bermuda, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Holland, Ireland, England, and various parts of India, including spending five years living in the remote foothills of the Himalayas, outside of India’s oldest tiger reserve. Her career background includes facilitating transformational experiences for people of all ages. Starting with mastering the art of service-learning while working for Loyola University, to obtaining her Masters in Contemplative Education from Naropa University. She also served as a Transformation Specialist in her personal Brilliant Butterflies tutoring service, and has taught in a variety of classroom settings, University through Elementary School, including providing professional development on various topics for university faculty, in-service and pre-service teachers, hosting retreats, women’s circles, and spiritual workshops, as well as directing educational programs for 2 reputable non-profits focused on the topics of environmental education and human arts and development in Washington, DC. These two aspects of her life, travel and a passion for facilitating transformational experiences, merge together beautifully to create the expertise needed to craft meaningful travel adventures.

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