Transformed by Travel: Transformational Travel Takes Off

In the last couple of years, there’s been an increasing amount of buzz about something called “transformational travel.” Take last year’s buzz about experiential travel and then take it deeper, to a place where you can return with a changed world view following self-reflection and interaction with a new culture and nature. At least, that’s how I see it. It’s loosely based on the teaching of the thinker and writer Joseph Campbell and I first encountered it in the Seattle area with a young guy named Jake Haupert, the Founder of Explorer-X, which offer small group and private tours in the Western US, Canada and Alaska. Haupert is also the Co-Founder of The Transformational Travel Council (TTC) , along with Michael Bennett of Muddy Shoe Adventures, Kurt Kutay of Wildland Adventures and Don Mankin of Adventure Transformations. In short, he’s the ideal person to shed some light on this movement.

What exactly is transformational travel?

The Transformational Travel Council defines Transformational Travel (or TT) as any travel experience that empowers people to make meaningful, lasting changes in their life.

We’ve conceived a book/journal, HERO “A Seeker’s Guide to Travel” that guides the work and reflection travelers can do from pre-departure, during the journey, and through the weeks after their return. This includes a framework for travelers to process their experiences and turn their thoughts into purposeful action, by Traveling like a HERO. A Hero “Travels With Heart, Fully Engaged, Practicing Resolve, And Wide Open To The Unknown Within Every Journey.”

So how did you get involved with it?

Thanks to my globetrotting grandparents, nurturing dad, and Reiki master-mom, I’ve always sought out the unknown. That’s resulted in an inside/out approach to my travel practice where the mystery of travel satisfies my curiosity and the inner journey feeds my soul.

A few years ago, when faced with an extremely challenging time in my business and life, there were a series of events, eye-opening experiences that forced some introspection. With that reflection, I realized that had lost connection with my inner compass, my soul’s purpose. My business was no longer fully aligned with what I care most deeply about or why I fell in love with travel in the first place. That led to a climb up Kilimanjaro and a safari in the Serengeti that ultimately reconnected me to my purpose.

And then something magical happened. Along with my best pals, upon reaching the summit, we broke down crying, and that crying turned into an inconsolable sob. We couldn’t quite understand why it was happening, but it was, and we rolled with it, and it just went viral in the group, one after the other. For whatever reason, we all released. After reflecting on that moment, the clarity I was seeking came shining through. It was a glimpse into why we travel and what we’re ultimately seeking when we embark on a journey. Since then, I’ve made it my life’s work to facilitate and support seekers in discovering, unlocking, and living the transformational power of travel.

What is the role of the teachings of Joseph Campbell?

More than anything, Campbell’s book, “The Hero’s Journey, is about growth and passage. The journey requires a separation from the comfortable, known world, followed by an initiation into a new level of awareness, skill, and responsibility and then a return home. Each stage of the journey must be passed successfully if the initiate is to become a HERO. To turn back at any stage is to reject the need to grow and mature.

At TTC, we believe in and embrace The Hero’s Journey as the path and process that we all go through when we choose to break out of our comfort zones and travel the world. We feel called to adventure. We set forth into the unknown, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. We experience challenges and trials and tribulations. We learn and grow and shift our perspectives as a result of our travels. As a result, we transform who we are and how we are living.

But isn’t all travel transformational to one degree or another?

No, travel is not transformational. Just by relocating yourself from one point to another doesn’t transform you. You’ll have experiences, you may or may not learn something new, but until you’ve applied meaning and taken action, you have not changed.

Transformation requires that we explore ourselves even as we explore the world. When we recognize that our perspective defines our experience, our participation matters, and by setting intention, being mindful, reflecting, and applying the benefits back home, travel becomes transformational.

Give me an example of a transformational travel trip.

The transformational travel experiences that we covet cannot be designed or sold as such. It’s not something that can be planned for or contrived, it’s an intensely personal experience, one that often surprises us. That’s what makes it so transcendent.

That said, based on the research and framework provided by the TTC and Evergreen Escapes, our new brand, Explorer-X, is the first travel company on the planet to be entirely built to support travelers in their pursuit of transformation. We’re integrating the TTC Guiding Principles, engaging clients more holistically, providing them with a HERO Guidebook, and ‘consciously-designing’ itineraries by slowing the pace. We’re giving time and space for unplanned exploration, integrating timely peak experiences, restorative wellness activities, and ceremonial or celebratory beginnings and ends to the journey. It’s our expectation that by committing to this framework, our custom-crafted trips will amplify the possibility of transformation.

We created an itinerary called “Life in the Bush – An Immersion into the Communities and Conservation of Zimbabwe’s National Parks.” It really embodies what we’re trying to achieve with our transformational trips: deep cultural experiences, active & remote excursions, and thought-provoking interactions.

But the itinerary is only one part of our transformational travel process. We strive to inspire transformational experiences by engaging our clients before, during, and after their actual trip. This includes helping them set intentions for their journey, challenging them to get out of their comfort zone, and guiding reflection after they return, so that they can integrate their discoveries into their everyday life.

We also incorporate “Calls to Adventure” into each of our custom itineraries. These “Call to Adventures” or CTAs, are designed to encourage our clients to explore their destination in novel ways or to provoke deeper thought about the places they’re experiencing. For example, here is a CTA we included for a recent client’s trip to New Zealand’s Mt. Aspiring National Park: “Challenge yourself to learn and be able to identify three new plants, and three new birds in your destination. Knowledge can be the key to understanding, and understanding the gateway to connection. Once you connect with a place, a little piece of it stays with you. For a more tangible souvenir keep a journal list of regional flora & fauna. You can draw, take photos, or maybe press a leaf or flower if the park rules allow it. Please remember to be courteous to the land and leave it as you left it or hopefully better.”

Where do you see this fledgling transformational travel movement heading?

We sense a fundamental shift in how we travel and we’re daring to disrupt, game change and revolutionize travel. Travel, at its purest, shifts perspectives, unleashes imagination, inspires understanding and cultivates empathy, which in turn promises peace. These traits are what the world needs today and by bringing travel to life we will shift, and empathy, understanding and enlightenment will sweep across the planet, one HERO at a time. We’re not inventing anything new, we’re just reclaiming travel and that means we need to look back to look forward, learn from the indigenous, the mystics, the explorers that blazed the trail before us, dare to look inside/out, find new meaning, bring back the mystery, guide and support our travelers in their journey of self-discovery and reveal how personal transformation results in global transformation.

The ALIVE Experience was a Success!

It’s an incredible feeling to develop an idea into a tangible action and have it come to fruition, then watch others experience it and see the impact it has on them. It truly is a magical feeling, and this is why we as entrepreneurs, do what we do despite all the crazy ups and downs of owning and running our businesses.
Over the past 20 years I’ve created multiple companies, each has been fulfilling and rewarding in their own way. They have served a purpose and provided me with many rewards and lessons learned. I am so grateful for each and everyone one of them. And, it’s time for the next chapter to begin…

Last week I hosted a group of new friends and old friends for the very first ALIVE Experience. It was an awesome week that I carefully curated to share with them the very best that Costa Rica has to offer. It was amazing to watch each person in this group have their own unique first time experience and see how lit up and alive they were. Some people conquered their fear of heights, some learned to slow down, relax and be present and all of them opened up, shared and connected with one another.

I had an intention and a desired result for this trip, what it produced and the impact it had on not just the group, but also myself, far superseded my expectations. To say it was a great success would be an understatement! It was awesome in so many ways and I truly believe and know that this is the impact that I want to have on people.

This photo was taken after we wrapped the the Passion workshop during the ALIVE Experience. You can almost feel the happiness and positive energy through the photo and smile 

I will be hosting the next ALIVE Experience in Whistler BC, June 29th – July 6th. If you are interested in joining and would like more information visit www.thealiveexperience.com or email me at z@zarkfatah.com

Pura Vida!

The Pura Vida Life

It’s hard to put into words the vibe and energy of Costa Rica. I guess the best way to describe it is “pura vida”. If you’ve every been there you’ve heard this said over and over again and I’m sure you will also agree. I have compiled footage from my 3 trips to this amazing country to capture the vibe, culture and people of Costa Rica. Watch the video here.

Of the 60+ countries I’ve visited, Costa Rica is definitely at the top of my list for favourite places to visit. From the first time I visited, I knew I’d be back many times again.

It’s truly a special country where the people are friendly, the country is safe, the food is healthy & delicious and adventure is everywhere. Zip lining, diving, surfing, hiking volcanoes and swimming in waterfalls, there is no shortage of awesome things to experience.

I love the raw beauty of Costa Rica. I enjoy the fact that it’s still a developing country and many parts still feel untouched. Over the past 2 years I’ve visited 3 times and have explored the country from coast to coast. There are many difference sides to Costa Rica and each town has its own vibe and attraction. Some parts have become very touristic like Tamarindo aka Tamagringo and Jaco. These places have become quite commercialized and don’t have the same vibe as other towns like Samara, Nosara and Santa Teresa.

Samara is a small beach town with a very chill vibe with lot’s of North American expats who have traded city life for beach life.

Nosara has an infamous stretch of beach that has perfect 4 foot waves rolling in from sunrise to sunset. It truly is a surfers paradise with dozens of hotels and hostels lining the beach front with lots of great restaurants and bars to enjoy post-surf.

Santa Teresa is actually my favourite place to visit in Costa Rica. It really offers the best of both worlds with beautiful, secluded villas with perfect unoccupied beaches near by in Hermosa and many great restaurants and beach clubs located on the one road that runs through Santa Teresa. Many people say that Santa Teresa is what Tulum was 10 years ago. (I really hope it stays this way).

All these towns I’ve mentioned are on the Pacific coast in the Nicoya Peninsula. The other parts of Costa Rica I’ve visited and recommend are Monteverde, Rio Celeste and Puerto Viejo.

Monteverde is located in the middle of the country and is referred to as the Cloud Forest for obvious reasons. The town is located at a very high elevation, literally in the clouds. To reach there you have to drive up through winding roads that cut through the dense jungle. The climate is dramatically different from Nicoya, it’s much cooler and often very wet. The view from the top of Monteverde is absolutely spectacular and it offers a unique experience from other parts of Costa Rica (check out the time lapse of the Cloud Forest I shot during sunset) I highly suggest you try the zip-lining while there. They proudly boast that they have the longest zip-lining runs in all of Central America. True statement, I tried it and half way through the longest one I had more than enough time to think about how long it would take my friends to find me if the cable snapped. Good news, it didn’t.

If turquoise waterfalls are your thing, make sure to add the Rio Celeste Falls to your list. The water is literally turquoise. The water is this colour due to the algae from the river water and the mountain water mixing together. To get to the falls it’s a 30 minute hike in the Tenorio Volcano National Park and once you’re there you can walk the path along the river through the jungle crossing a few bridges (great photo opp).

Puerto Viejo is located on the Caribbean side and offers a different experience. It is about an hour south of Limon airport and only a couple hours north of the Panama border. The town has small stores and restaurants and lower priced hotels and hostels. Personally I prefer the vibe and experience on the Pacific Coast but I do suggest checking it out if you want to see both sides of the country.

I first heard about Costa Rica from my friend Linley Edwards when we met in Miami back in 1997. Years ago I remember him telling me about the magic of Costa Rica and how he spent a month there every year, surfing and living on the beach enjoying the pura vida life. He recently moved to Santa Teresa after spending over 2 decades living in Miami, running some of the top venues in South Beach. Linley decided that he wanted his kids to grow up on the beach so he packed up his life in Miami, built a house in Santa Teresa and opened a beach club called Rocamar on Hermosa beach. While I was there we had the chance to hang out and he told me about the magic of Costa Rica and why he made the move.

Did you know that on our planet there are 5 places that are designated Blue Zones, where people live past 100? The Nicoya peninsula is one of these rare 5 places. What makes this part of the world so special? Maybe its the incredible weather or the lush rain forests?

Maybe it’s the abundance of nature and healthy food? Or maybe it’s just the pura vida energy. I encourage you to find out the answer for yourself and visit this amazing country, I promise you won’t regret it.

I’ve included some travel tips and recommendations for you in the blog article below. I hope you find it helpful and you make it to  Costa Rica.

And if you do stop by Nosara, make sure to drop by the Jungla House and look for the silver haired surfer and tell Jimi that I sent you and ask him to make you a Jimirita ?

How to get there:

To experience the Pacific side I suggest flying to Liberia, rent a car and drive down the coast. It’s easy to get from town to town and if you want do a day trip to the Rio Celeste Falls or hike a volcano in the Arenal National Park, you’ll need a car to get there. From Liberia to Nosara or Samara (yes skip Tamagringo) is approx 3-4 hours.

Another option if you want to end up in Santa Teresa (which I highly recommend), is to fly to Liberia or San Jose and catch a quick flight on local airlines Sansa or Nature Air to Tambor , from there it’s approx a 45 minute drive

To visit Monteverde the shortest route is to fly to Liberia and drive approx 2.5 hours from there.

To get to Puerto Viejo you also have to fly to San Jose and you can catch a quick flight to Limon and then drive south for an hour. We rented a car and drove 5 hours from San Jose to Puerto Viejo. *A word of advice, if you are going to do the drive you definitely want to leave in time to do the drive during day light. The highway and winding roads are filled with transport trucks on route to the industrial town of Chiquita (yes like the bananas). We left late and had to do half of the drive in the dark and got caught in the rain.

Where to stay:

Samara – Casa del Halcon

Nosara – Jungla Beach House

Santa Teresa – Mystical Green Properties

Hermosa Beach – Villa Rancho Cielo

Monteverde – Hotel Belmar

Rio Celeste – Rio Celeste Hideaway

Places to eat:

Samara – Luv Burger

Santa Teresa:

Rocamar Beach Club *Make sure to check out their Sunday sunset party

Katana Asian Cuisine

Koji’s

Habaneros

Burger Rancho

Nosara – Beers & Burgers