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.
Interview with Jake Haupert
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 travellers in their journey of self-discovery and reveal how personal transformation results in global transformation.