064 | Does Travel change you?

Does Travel Change You
Being from a small town in rural Wisconsin, I viewed travel as my gateway to new and different experiences. But does it actually change you? Heidi dives into this question to discuss different types of travel and how or if travel universally changes people for the better.

I recently read this article from Nomadic Matt and given my reaction I thought it’d be worth sharing and talking through, as well as sharing ways to explore the world of travel differently.  https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/travel-change/

“We often believe travel is some sort of panacea for one’s thoughts about the world and the people in it. Go abroad, get exposed to different cultures, and then, bam, suddenly you’ll have more empathy for people around the globe and stop seeing them as some ‘foreign, scary other’ Books upon books about travel expound on the belief “I went traveling and became a better person with a deeper appreciation and tolerance for others.”

First as a young American woman, I naively prescribed to the belief that we were the greatest country in the world.  I was trained to believe that other places weren’t safe.  

I had several experiences to challenge this paradigm.  As a summer camp counselor working alongside International staff from countries I didn’t know of; hosting foreign exchange students; my own mini-exchange experience changed my paradigm about travel.  

My definition and understanding about safety and security continues to evolve today and I rarely find much value from internet stories about location based safety.  My threshold for safety is based on the network of people I am with and the relationships I have connected to that location.  I know the mechanism behind internet news and the lack of context in the creation of stories or the details that get lost in the game of telephone gossip.  

Being from a small town in rural Wisconsin,  I viewed travel as my gateway to new and different experiences.  To meet people with backgrounds different from my own.  To see nature beyond the boundaries of our backyard or hometown, to understand the expansiveness of the globe, ecosystems, and environment that contributes to the place and culture building phenomenon.  

Over the years I have witnessed and experienced different types of travel.  

What is the impact of travel?

Large travel brands impact on small businesses and the soul of a community.  

Travel can change us in meaningful ways, but it’s not a universal declaration. 
– travel changes us when we are outside our comfort zone
– deep empathy and in gratitude for those who serve us

Given the way our system of 2 weeks of vacation leads to all inclusive escapes and deluxe resorts hidden from local people in tropical locations, I don’t know that travel has any impact on how people see or interact with the world.  It can offer exposure and escape from daily life, but I don’t know if that leads to change for most individuals.

Which is why I hesitate to say that travel is the secret to a fulfilling life.  I have chosen to use the word adventure intentionally to invite you to step to the margins of your comfort zone.  To consider slowing down and learning about people different from you or places you are familiar with.  WHat if instead of exploring the most popular places, you began exploring the least popular place.  

If this intrigues you I invite you to explore travel from a different lens than a traditional tourism mindset.  

  • How might we Incorporate generosity into our adventures?
    About 3 years ago it started with the kids writing thank you note and drawing pictures for the airline staff. It has extended to looking for ways to support the locations we go or leading with generosity when meeting a new host, driver, or stranger on the street. We’ve had some great life lessons through these experiences. There are also service-based experiences that you can search to travel and intentionally engage in service work.  Since I am an Executive for a Private Foundation and have been working in Philanthropy for over 10 years I have some insights about mission trips that I won’t go into.  I will say, you do not need to go to a third world country to have a generous or service based experience.  I have plans to feature more examples of these experiences in upcoming podcast episodes.
  • How might we explore different means for travel?
    With the car rental shortage we had experience with apps like Turo over the past 4 years, but even that was tough. So then we explored car dealerships, and camper rentals. We ended up finding a local company that had a 1996 conversion van available for rent. It was a non-traditional way to travel and most people might turn up their nose to a 1996 van, but it gave us some serious local cred and allowed us to adventure more comfortably. After we confirmed the conversion van we decided to camp instead of reserving formal lodging accommodations.  We camped on private property using the Hipcamp platform. It’s like Airbnb but for camping and allows for tent camping, car camping, and RV camping (although Hawaii is not suited for RV camping like the mainland).  While hotels offer predictability, I don’t enjoy hotel accommodations and most time hotels are run by large brands that may not be closely connected to the community.  I prefer finding solutions that offer triple win to the community – customer – and business. 
  • How might we try local foods? 
    Roadside food stands. We don’t eat out very often but we are curious about local foods and flavors. We tried many different local foods and dishes for a fraction of the price of local restaurants. Our kids are slightly picky eaters so having the flexibility to try things on our terms and then prepare a back up plan if they don’t like it has always been a better fit for us. We do require a “no thank you try” (Learn more about our no thank you try approach in episode 021)
  • How might we discover “locals only” hangouts?
    When you build relationships with locals and come from a place of generosity not expectations, they will peel back the onion and share some of their favorite often hidden places that they don’t want tourists to know about. We had at least 4 different experiences with some “local secrets” from the best beaches, to a quiet cove where a rare breed of shells are found, a hike unknown to many tourists, a cliff jump location that was perfect for kids and what time of day to go for the best experience. As with any relationship, the more they trust you the more they are willing to share and let you into their tribe. BUT this must be authentic!

  • How might we experience pristine and untouched landscapes?
    You have to go off the beaten path for these experiences and they will challenge you and your family. We drove nearly 1 mile off any main road and had a pristine camping location on the side of the ocean. It is the only place where we saw the sunrise and sunset from the same spot in my life. It has forever changed our definition of an “ocean view.”
  • How might we recreate an experience we hear or see about?
    We found an Airbnb experience that seemed intriguing but out of our price range, so we did a little extra research and DIY’d the experience on our terms. The experience was to swim in the hidden warm pools, where the fresh water natural pools are heated by lava beneath the surface of the earth. It was definitely a memorable experience for all of us. We didn’t pay for a single tour in our 3 weeks in Hawaii.  Again, much like I stated in my comments about hotels.  I am not opposed to tours, my point is to be intentional about what you want to get out of the tour experience.  I have a friend in Nashville who runs a food tour company and is on a mission to invest $1M into the local restaurant industry, she is very particular about the restaurants she chooses and the food must be made from scratch.  There is a mutual benefit to that tour. I have purchased tours and later didn’t feel great about what my money was supporting.  Like the Hollywood Homes tour- why did I really need to know where a bunch of famous people lived?  A dolphin cruise or whale watching experience, it’s neat to see but I have heard stories from the locals that left me questioning if that tour’s intentions are good for the community. 
  • How might we connect with local families?
    One of our accommodations was a stay with a host family. When you find people around the world who have similar likes and interests and you nurture relationships with, you have different options. I grew up staying with family members when we traveled. I know that isn’t easy to expect when we travel as a family of 5 so we have built a network of other families who are open to hosting and experiencing adventure.
  • How might we learn what is unique about the culture of the location you are visiting?
    Bringing a curious mindset to our adventures allowed us to meet and interact with locals and ended up with a little ukulele lesson. A ukulele is now an item on my son’s birthday list. I can’t imagine it would be on the list without this experience.
  • How might we learning a new skill?
    While ukulele offered a mini skill building experience, my oldest son had a deep desire to surf. This was our second time connecting with locals, using their equipment and building the skill of surfing. Our first was in Florida where we met up with the Family we bought our RV from and the second was from our host family in Hawaii. My oldest is very eager to keep perfecting the skill of surfing (which is going to be tricky living in Wisconsin). When we learn from someone else, we give them the opportunity to share their passions.  One of my favorite things I did for myself was on a horse ranch in Tucson, a local couple would come in and teach glass art.  I took an afternoon class (without kids) and made a glass pendant.  It was the best investment in learning a skill, supporting a local, and having a souvenir to remember that experience by.  

Does travel change us?  I think that is up to you to decide.  As with many things in life Envy can be the root of deception and entice people to more luxurious, more remote, epic views.  The impact of travel comes back to purpose.  What is the purpose of travel in your life?

Beginners Guide to Untourism. https://ordinarysherpa.com/untourism/

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