All travel is meaningful travel. Whether you’re on a business trip, traveling for relaxation, or on an epic adventure – something inside you shifts when you’re exposed to a new place, ideals, and mindsets. That said, some trips mold our thinking more than others. Read on for my top 7 most meaningful travel experiences, and comment about your most meaningful travel below!
Spending a Childhood Summer in Germany
When I was 15, my mom prepped a “special” outfit for me for the long plane ride (a hideous blue track suit and fanny pack) and shipped me off to spend the summer in Frankfurt, Germany. Despite the outfit, I was excited – but had no idea how much this trip would impact my life. I went to school with my cousins, made friends with their friends, went out for ice cream, visited street festivals, and lived a normal German teenager life.
While there, I kept a notebook of all the things that were different in Germany vs home. An entirely new world outside of Texas was opened and left me with a crazy desire to see what else was out there. My path towards traveling the world was set.
Studying Abroad in Vienna
After catching the travel bug, I wanted more. I studied abroad twice in college starting in Vienna, Austria. During this semester, I backpacked around Europe – sometimes with friends but most times on my own. While traveling, I encountered train strikes when I needed to get back for an exam, had to budget, figure out on the fly how to get around and where to stay, and made interesting friends. This was meaningful travel as it taught me how to rely on myself, to be persistent, and how to get things done despite obstacles.
Visiting Vietnam Before it Opened to Capitalism
My second semester abroad took me to Singapore, where I traveled Southeast Asia extensively with friends. I have a vividly clear memory of being in Malaysia crossing a busy intersection, when I looked down and saw a brightly colored Marylin Monroe button on the ground. It struck me as so out of place and such a western thing to find in such a place. Right after Malaysia, I headed to Vietnam. At the time there were no American fast food chains or clothing stores, and very few tourists outside the main cities. The stark difference in “westernization” between Malaysia and Vietnam was almost like whiplash. I relished this country for having the gall to be itself.
Feeling Safer in Oman than at Home
One of my favorite countries to visit in the Middle East (maybe in the world!) is Oman. When I returned to the US, many people asked things like “weren’t you scared??, “was it safe?” Oman is actually the fourth safest country to visit in the world with virtually no violent or petty crime. In contrast, the United states ranks much lower and we have one of the highest rates of rape in the western world. It was pretty mind bending to be in a region of the world most people associate with terrorism and feel safer than while at home. Check out my article on travel safety for tips while traveling.
Blowing My Mind in Antarctica
I get asked several times per week what my favorite country in the world is. The answer is that it’s not a country, it’s Antarctica! I went on this trip to hit my 7th continent before I turned 30 and didn’t have high expectations. The first zodiac landing we did on South Georgia island totally blew my mind. Penguins and seals were jumping out of the water all around us to get a glimpse of their strange visitors. When we landed we were pelted by sleet and there were THOUSANDS of penguins all around us – some getting blown over by the wind.
My mind was totally blown! Then the next day we saw a colony of half a million penguins and my mind was blown again. And the next day, and the next, and the next. This meaningful travel experience taught me to keep an open mind to new experiences. Check out the highlights from our trip in this epic-ly bad video (how far camera equipment has come!).
Seeing Communism Through Another’s Eyes in Kyrgyzstan
One of the most interesting trips I’ve taken was through “the 5 stans” in Central Asia. These countries were the glory of the world during the Silk Road days, saw brutal invasions from Ghengis Khan, and in more recent history, were part of the USSR. Though their communist days are long over, the countries are still struggling to integrate into a capitalist world. I went in with a very American lens and thought everyone must be so happy to be “free.”
But when I started to truly listen to the personal stories, I heard a different side. Parents lamented that they had free education growing up, but can’t afford to send their own children to university. Elderly complained about very limited and expensive healthcare. I learned that each person experiences life via very different experiences. As a traveler it is not my place to judge that – just to listen and learn.
Being Treated Like Family by Strangers in India
Before business school I spent a month backpacking in India. I had been working in finance and told a colleague (who I had only met twice!) about my trip. He introduced me to two of his friends in India and mentioned I should meet up with them. All I can say is, wow! These complete strangers took us to see some of the best spots in the city, insisted we stay with their families in our own private quarters, and treated us like princesses.
I also reached out to future classmates of mine. I had never met them and had no mutual connections, but received the exact same treatment! Never had I contemplated that such a level of hospitality existed in the world. I was truly moved by these kind acts from strangers.
These meaningful travel experiences are why I am so passionate about helping others travel more broadly. If you’re new to travel, try stretching your comfort zone just a tiny bit – visit Canada or the UK. If you’re an experienced traveler – visit countries with different or unique cultures. If you have kids – start traveling with them so their perspectives are broadened at a young age!
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