Can travel change you?

Transformative Travel

Purist travelers will tell you there's a difference between travel and tourism. And that difference may actually affect how much transformative power your trip can offer.

According to noteworthy literary historian Paul Fussell, tourists visit "pseudo-places" -- airports that look like every other airport, hotels that look like every other hotel and stores that hawk pseudo local goods. They're fed the familiar, even while they travel to a different country. On the other hand, travelers visit real "places," which are "odd and call for interpretation," says Fussell [source: Fussell]. Travel, as opposed to tourism, delivers misadventure and a heady dose of the unfamiliar.

If we go by Fussell's definitions of travel and tourism, then in terms of transformative power, travel packs more of a punch than tourism. While misadventure and discomfort afflict the traveler, they don't necessarily afflict the tourist, except by accident. And, according to the experts, the more alienation, panic and solitude one feels on a trip, the more likely he or she is to be changed by it [source: Evelein].

If you're looking to design a trip with the power to change you, consider including the following elements:

  • a destination completely different from your home, where you engage in completely unfamiliar activities
  • lots of engagement and conversation with people who live in the host country
  • going alone -- by removing yourself from your usual influences, you can experiment with new behaviors
  • time for reflection each day on what you've learned -- perhaps by talking with a group or by journaling about it
  • post-trip activities that help you to continue to reflect on what you learned on your trip

If, for example, you travel to a foreign country and settle in with a host family for home-cooked meals and conversation strained by a language barrier, you'll be stretched in ways you may not anticipate, and you may begin to see your home society and your host society in a new light [source: Ross]. Learn more about how travel may change you on the next page.