The pandemic has surely taught us one of the biggest lessons ever! - The fact that 'life is uncertain'. Once you get to hit the roads again, no matter whether you plan a trip to a quaint Himalayan village or escape to Bali to soak in the beach vibes (or maybe somewhere else in the world), you can choose to travel meaningfully and maximize your experience. None of them would cost a lot of money, and you’ll learn so much more about the people, places, and customs along the way!
"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us". - Robyn Yong.
Gone are the days of carefree vacations and impromptu travel plans. The coronavirus has essentially turned our lives upside down with quarantines and canceled plans, lockdowns and isolation, fear and uncertainties, and above all: anxiety & stress. However, with an effective vaccination drive across the world, we’re all hopeful to step out of our homes and wander, all over again.
The pandemic has taught me that traveling is an essential human activity and once we have the privilege to explore the world, how about being a responsible traveler? To be honest, it’s essential that we travel meaningfully, not just to gain unique experiences but to change our perspective and look at life differently.
So, what exactly is ‘Meaningful Traveling’?
Well, it’s a common belief that meaningful travel is essentially about opting for a volunteering vacation, but you’d be surprised to know that there are many ways to make your travel meaningful. To put it in simpler words, a meaningful journey is when you indulge in discovering deeper ways of traveling and get engaged in some sort of learning experience, exploring the world more purposefully by contributing to a local business/community, reduce your carbon footprints or choose to spend ample time at one place in order to know more about the culture, heritage, and people. At its core, meaningful travel means enriching your own life as well as those around you in some way or the other.
Here are some easy ways to add purpose to your trip while you travel meaningfully and gather unique experiences.
1) Research about the place you plan to visit.
It’s not always about preparing an itinerary, booking your stay, or making a checklist of the places to explore – but a lot more than that! The first step towards meaningful traveling is to research about the place you’ve planned to visit, that’ll help you to forge a deeper connection with a land and its people prior to your arrival. You can flip through the pages of travelogues or scroll down the blogs written by travelers who’ve been there already, or watch movies, documentaries & vlogs. I always pick up the Lonely Planet magazine before I travel to a new country, as well as read through articles on the internet. Understanding the history, culture and traditions of your destination can really enhance your trip and help you to add some values to the journey.
2) Go for a longer holiday and travel slowly.
When you think of a ‘vacation’, it’s mostly about a quick escapade – but a meaningful journey is when you go slow, soak in the vibes of the place you are, and take a longer holiday. I understand that you’re always tempted to squeeze a couple countries or cities into your weeklong adventure, but I’d suggest you consider traveling more slowly to really get a feel for the destination. To truly experience a city — its people, its culture — take your time, and don’t rush. Having said that, I also know there are a lot of things that are to be taken into consideration – budget being one of the most important ones, but once you plan effectively, things automatically fall into place. There have been times when people get surprised when I tell them that I’ve explored Bhutan for a month or spend as much time in Kenya and often, they ask – “What did you do there for a month?” – All I could do is share as much as possible through my words, but what I experienced was unique & can’t be paraphrased.
3) Stay, eat and shop local in order to support local business.
Yet another amazing way to make your travel meaningful is by effectively contributing towards the local economy – and what can be better than staying at a local homestay or opting for an Airbnb, eating at the local eateries and buying ‘home grown’ souvenirs? Using those credit points at 5-star hotels around the world is a great way to save money and redeem rewards on travel, but staying with a local family will give you an opportunity to get a sneak-peek of their lives – their culture and traditions, how they live, what they eat, etc. And you’d surely agree that eating at the hole-in-the-wall restaurant or a local café would give you a chance to savor the taste of the authentic delicacies, rather than hitting a McDonalds, while you’re traveling! Hire a local guide when you go out exploring, and they’d tell you the most incredible stories. Shop from the local markets, and you’d get superb deals there. Precisely, while you help the economy of the place you’re visiting, you’ll gather unique memories.
4) Make an effort to learn the local language.
While English is widely spoken in the big cities of almost every country across the world, there are various small towns and quaint villages where people still use the local language. Obviously, it isn’t easy to learn a new language in a short span of time, but knowing the basics will definitely help you to bond with the natives of the land. Trust me when I say this, it’s very special to see people’s eyes light up — and smiles widen — when you attempt to say even a word or two in their language. As I traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, I downloaded the Google Translate app which helped me learn how to say – good morning, hello, thank you, and a few other words in the local languages of the respective countries. It’s not necessary to nail every word, but your emotions to connect with them through the basics will make your journey meaningful. I remember how the kids I volunteered with in Kenya helped me learn Swahili as I taught them English, and in no time, I could sense the warmth in their hugs as I said ‘Nakupenda‘ (which means I love you).
5) Reduce plastic usage and check your carbon footprints.
As per data, tourism was responsible for 8% of the world’s total carbon emission in 2019, which is roughly 815 million tons of carbon dioxide a year! Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Well, now it’s entirely on us to be more conscious about how we travel in the post-pandemic times and check our carbon footprints. Some of the best ways to do that are – opting for direct flights rather than hopping ones, choosing eco-friendly stays, walking or cycling more often than taking a cab, etc. Simultaneously, we also need to be conscious of plastic usage while traveling. By avoiding that mineral water bottle or choosing not to use those plastic carry bags while shopping can make a lot of difference. The world is already polluted enough, and we don’t really need to add more to that!
I had once read somewhere – ‘It’s just a straw, said 8 million people!’ – and that has stuck with me since forever. On my part, I always ensure to carry my own water bottle whenever I’m traveling, avoid throwing litter especially when I’m on a trek or exploring a heritage site, making sure to do my bit to save the world, and I hope you’d do that too!
6) Go for a trek and connect with nature.
It’s gonna be the easiest way to maintain social distance while traveling, if you opt to go for a trek once the Corona chaos gets over! For millennial travelers like us, embarking on a meaningful travel journey is synonymous to stepping beyond our comfort zone and doing something different – of which, trekking has become immensely popular. No matter whether you choose to hop from one beach to another or walk down the hidden trails of the mountains – there’s surely no better way to connect with nature, other than this! Not just that, but setting out for a trek would also offer you the chance to tune off, detach from the digital world, soaking in the silence to clear your head. Seeing nature’s wonders – be it the breathtaking sunsets by the beaches or the gushing waterfalls, the lush greenery of the forests or the blue skies painted with white clouds – you’ll always be reminded of how beautiful this world is!
7) Travel back to your roots.
Yet another interesting way to indulge in meaningful traveling is by going back to your roots and knowing where your ancestors came from, what’s your origin, etc. As we keep planning to explore new places every time we travel, it’s immensely important that we travel back in time and understand where our journey started from – and trust me, you never know what secrets you will discover! I’ve known that my grandmother came to India from Bangladesh back in 1947, and it has always been a closed chapter. But given a chance, I would love to go back to the village where she spent her childhood, meet people from that land and know what life is like for them. I’m sure it’s going to add some incredible values to my life and I can’t wait to set out for that epic adventure!
8) Volunteer for a cause.
Having said all of that, volunteering for a meaningful cause and making a difference in someone’s life is surely one of the best things that you can do while traveling. Volunteering as a way of travel would allow you to spend from a few weeks up to a couple of months in a foreign land, where you will have the chance to improve small communities, interact with locals, gain priceless experience and meet some like-minded people from different parts of the world. You can even become a volunteer in your country as well – join the drives to plant trees, clean up parks or organize music festivals, work at a food bank, etc. Whatever you choose, remember that an act of kindness made for someone else will immediately boost your happiness and eventually, a volunteering journey will change the way you look at life.
If I have to put it simply, meaningful travel doesn’t only fuel your wanderlust but it also provides you with an incredible opportunity to make a difference in your own small way, and develop a deeper understanding of the world around you.
It’s perhaps the only way to embrace new & enriching experiences while you’re on the go, and also be mindful of yourself, as you explore the world.
Would you care to travel meaningfully the next time you plan a trip?