Transformative travel is described on this website as “travel that changes people.” If done right, it transforms the people you meet on your journey through life, through your donations of money, goods, time or skills. Done mindlessly, donations of money or goods can go wrong. I recall a Canadian NGO that spent a year building a plumbing system for an African village, only to discover that the villagers (men) dug up the copper pipes immediately after the NGO volunteers left to sell the pipes for money for booze. Bad. Done right, the donation of money, computers, cameras and other useful tools can change an entire village for the better.
But who are the people doing these kinds of journeys? My own experience shows they fall into two separate and distinct groups. First are the 18-25 year olds that want to “make the world a better place.” They often volunteer and work in poverty-stricken countries where their time, skills and education are valuable. They are Peace Corps workers, grad students, members of NGOs and individual travellers. Given their age, they are often backpackers. They stay in the villages for which they work, or in hostels. They don’t have much money to spend.
The other category is the complete opposite. These transformatives are older, often retired, with both time and money to spend. Many have been travelling much of their lives. Certainly they don’t sleep in tents or in hostels. They are usually well-educated, often wealthy, executives or highly skilled. They are members of what I like to call the “5 percenters,” that small section of the global population that don’t ask about price or worry about costs, because they can afford to spend $5,000 and up on a trip. Many of these people have “been there, done that.” They have experienced fine dining, 5-star resorts, adventures and experiences from safaris to scuba diving. They are looking for something better and deeper than a vacation. They want an emotional experience from their travel.
Of course there are many people who don’t fit into either of these categories, but for the sake of simplicity let’s focus on these two. Better yet, since many of the 18-25 year olds don’t have much money to donate, for the purpose of argument, let’s focus on those that do. “Voluntourism” is an excellent way to see the world and make it a better place, but it is not the same as transformation. To make a huge change in the world, you need to have the means to do so. Yes, you can dig a well, but building a school requires more funds and tools than just a shovel.
In a feature story I published in Canadian newspapers, I referred to the wonderful organization known as Pack for a Purpose. (www.packforapurpose.org). Log on to that website and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of hotels and resorts around the world that support charitable projects in their own community. At first PFAP listed school supplies as a basic need in developing countries. The projects have now spread to health, child welfare, animal welfare, and socio-economic development. Clearly there are many ways the traveller can get involved, and Pack for a Purpose has made the task of research as simple as a mouse click.
As an example, in Kingston, Jamaica, where I travelled recently I was offered the opportunity to visit the Alpha Boys School, where a teacher informed me that the local boys had only three or four options in life; join a gang, go to prison, go to the morgue or – maybe if you were lucky – go to school, if you had enough money. Near Ocho Rios, Sandals Resorts could show you how to help save baby Hawksbill turtles from being killed by animals on their trek from the sand to the sea. I also visited several primary schools where I was able to meet the students and make a donation. None of these options were closely related, but they all touched my heart.
Transformative travel is all about emotion. You cannot buy joy; it has to come naturally. It has to come from giving. Making other people happy will make you happy. Changing someone’s life will change your own. Transformative travel is for people who have gone past the simple pleasures of typical tourist attractions and want to experience something deeper than mere satisfaction, or fear, or adventure. Transformative travel is not on anyone’s “bucket list” to be checked off like a grocery list, of destinations visited and sights seen. It’s all about people. Buildings are interesting, but people are fascinating. You can visit the great museums of the world, or you can take time from your relaxing holiday at a fine hotel to wander down the beach, beyond the barriers, over the fence, and along the road to where reality resides. Reality! What a concept. It may change your life.