Recently, while engaging in pleasant conversation with our friend Bonnie while water walking in our retirement village swimming pool, I was delighted to notice how effortlessly we connected. Bonnie is a Hindu woman from India. I am a Christian man from Wisconsin. We are united in our devotion to daily meditation and we both credit travel as the transformative element enabling our smooth connecting.

Most of us value travel, at least partially as an educational opportunity. We visit new locations with new cultures. We keep in mind the wisdom of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery comes not in visiting new lands but in seeing with fresh eyes.” Of course, we strive to open our minds and hearts to new perspectives as we visit new locations.

Travel as education involves learning that may or may not change us in any substantive way. Travel as transformation is defined as a thorough or dramatic change in our entire being that results in complete or major change, so we and our lives are improved. We could call it “heart change.” Let’s explore eight types of travel that may be transformative as well as educational.

Transformative Travel

Health — Immersion in a wholistic health spa for a day, a weekend, a week or longer guarantees some type of transformation for most people. Silence and solitude may spark new awarenesses. Our visit to such a health spa in Sedona, Arizona awakened drastic changes in our self-compassion, exercise, plus diet beliefs and practice. Health Travel could be a bicycle tour of Vermont, running a marathon, participating in a pickleball, disc golf or tennis tournament. Maybe a healthy cuisine cruise!

Volunteer — How about combining volunteering and travel? Some organizations offer free travel as an incentive. Try World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF); Turtle Team; Conservation Volunteers, Australia, and New Zealand; Appalachian Travel Conference, USA; or Peace Corps. You might enjoy working with kids, teaching English, construction, animal care, or conservation. Visit the internet for myriad volunteer travel opportunities.

Spiritual — Religious or spiritual travel will likely create some level of transformation. When we visited Santiago de Compostela in Spain, we were amazed at the joyful transformation evident in those pilgrims who had completed the thousand-mile, thousand-year-old walk from France to Spain. In El Santuario de Chimayo, a contemporary pilgrimage site and a National Historic Landmark located just north of Santa Fe, New Mexico we experienced a distinct spiritual presence that remains with us today. Visit Mecca, Jerusalem, or Medjugorje. Maybe become a lay missioner working in your lifelong profession.

Education — Some education travel contains participation events that become transformative. In Costa Rica we were transformed with white water rafting, horseback riding, mud baths, and zip lining. Experiential learning activates our senses to install body memories. Maybe hang gliding or rappelling is in your future!

Skills — Skill acquisition travel might involve learning or strengthening skills in playing musical instruments, sports, crafts or just about anything you can imagine. Certainly, studying abroad is a classic example. We attended a yoga camp in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.

Relaxing — Perhaps the most challenging type of transformative travel is “Do Nothing Travel.” This is counter cultural. We are “human doings” rather than human beings. Most of us are so busy doing, doing, doing. Maybe Relaxing Travel is a more suitable term. It means taking time to think, reflect, meditate. We did that on a trans-Atlantic voyage aboard the Queen Mary II. They had multiple Cosmos shows onboard which elevated our thinking about living on a tiny Blue Dot in an ever-expanding universe.

Local — Sometimes we may fail to explore local travel opportunities that are historically significant or life changing in some manner. In our hometown in Wisconsin a founding father built an Octagon House for his intended bride. It is now a museum with the family’s original furnishings intact. I am always amazed at the horsehair chairs and sofa! People come from afar to marvel at this historic site, but the locals may miss it!

Armchair — We must not overlook being transformed by staying at home with moving movies and books plus virtual tours on television and from companies such as Road Scholar. During the pandemic we zoom traveled with Road Scholar to Glacier National Park and the Lewis and Clark Expedition. We recently revisited “The English Patient” and it is just as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is eternally alive. We are capable of heart changing transformation while sitting in our favorite armchair. We need only to open our hearts and minds so wide that we are propelled into action. People will notice that we have changed. We are different in some way.

‘Seeing with fresh eyes’

Senior travel can take many different forms. We may opt for traditional, educational tourism or we may choose more transformative travel which may be life changing. Whichever route we choose, we will hopefully grow in appreciation of what we have at home and in our hearts. Seeing with fresh eyes will hopefully gift us with greater wisdom, empathy, resilience, adaptability, compassion, and confidence. No matter our age or physical status, transformative travel invites us.

Dr. Jim David is a retired psychotherapist in Silver Spring. He now does personal, spiritual and executive coaching. Visit his website or email at [email protected].

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Dr. Jim David is a retired psychotherapist in Silver Spring. Currently busy with personal, spiritual and executive coaching.