Travel With More Meaning – Part 4: Saarah’s Sanctuary

 

As part of our series on meaningful travel, I have been asking friends to share their stories on special experiences they have sought out in foreign places. From working in water security to volunteering at a permaculture farm, to studying European art history, there are many enriching experiences to be found abroad. Craving the opportunity to travel solo for the first time before a family vacation in Turkey, Saarah escaped to The Sanctuary, a wellness retreat on Thailand’s Koh Phangan.

As part of a larger focus on self-growth this year, Saarah went for a five-day course on meditation and yoga. In addition to finding relaxation, Saarah learned about asanas, pranayama (directed breathing), and chakra meditation. “I also met some amazing people who prioritize spirituality in their lives,” she explains.

Following on the advice of a friend who had gone there some years before, Saarah was seeking a learning experience. Especially memorable were the surroundings: “Beach, jungle, amazing food, great weather, and an awesome teacher.” While raving about the setting and recommending the venue to others, she still notes that this type of escape isn’t for everyone. “ You have to be interested in spirituality, self-growth, and alone time.”

Although she’s not sure what’s next, she wants to return to the Sanctuary someday. Her advice for making travel more meaningful? “Carry a diary to capture the memories, do your research, and pursue activities that promote self-growth, whether that be museums or just beautiful attractions.” She also knows the value of a good review. “I talk to friends to get ideas for the best places to go.”

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Travel With More Meaning – Part 3: Avanthi’s Advice

Next up on our series on travel with a purpose is my friend Avanthi, who put her freshly minted engineering skills to use working with World Vision in Lusaka, Zambia in 2008. Creating proposals for well projects, her research led her to learn about the demographics of the country, and had her travel to remote areas to better understand the rural lifestyle and the kind of jobs that people could create for themselves using available resources.

It was an eye-opening experience for her: “It’s a completely different world over there and it made me appreciate what I have even more – healthcare systems, access to education, almost endless possibilities. I also started to question the need for all these ‘things’ we spend our money on in North America, and question whether they really enrich our lives.”

Photo credit Avanthi WIlliams - reproduced with permission

Photo credit Avanthi WIlliams – reproduced with permission

Working in a country is different from a pleasure vacation, she explains: “While I did get to do some fun safari-type trips with my dad, it wasn’t a trip where I was constantly eating out or paryting with friends. It was more about living like a local, learning about a different culture, and seeing the realities of how a large part of the world lives, well outside of our comfortable Canadian bubble.”

While the experience was memorable, Avanthi is well aware of the dangers of voluntourism: “Make sure that the work you do develops the skills necessary to sustain the project, so that the local population is not relying on outside support indefinitely. I’m pretty cynical when it comes to charities and voluntourism – it was an amazing trip for me, but I did notice that some people I met were in it for the right reasons, while others weren’t. Continuous foreign aid can sometimes create more of a dependency, so it’s important to look into the NGO, and make sure that they money raised is going to the right places.” She recommends lending your skills as a valuable eye-opening experience, but strongly suggests you do your research first. She points out that some types of international volunteer work might make more sense than others, citing projects like Habitat for Humanity and Doctors without Borders, which are well suited to short-term interventions.

Avanthi plans to discover more of her roots by travelling to Sri Lanka, visiting the northern areas that were erstwhile inaccessible during the Sri Lankan Civil War. Her advice for making travel more meaningful: “Spend time with locals as much as possible, learn about the history of the country, and venture off the beaten path.”

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Travel With More Meaning – Part 2: Andrew’s Adventures

As part of our series on meaningful travel, I’ve invited some of my globetrotting friends to share stories of when they either learned something, shared something, created something, or undertook a challenge, against the backdrop of a foreign place.

First up is my friend Andrew. After taking a year’s leave of absence from his technical desk job, Andrew not only made travel with meaning part of his lifestyle, he’s made it his full-time mission to find meaning in all corners of the globe. Most recently, he has been in India, volunteering at Sadhana Forest. He spent about a month living and co-operating in a sustainable community with up to 100 volunteers from around the world, planting trees in a degraded ecosystem using permaculture techniques for water conservation. Andrew is the one who tipped me off to the helpxchange database I used in France, and he in turn found this opportunity through a friend of his who volunteered at the forest two years ago. Another resource for finding similar opportunities is WWOOF – Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms.

Photo credit: Andrew Lee (reproduced with permission)

Photo credit: Andrew Lee (reproduced with permission)

He eagerly shares what makes this experience a keystone life event: “Meeting and being around amazing people from around the world – fellow foreigners looking to give back, and learn an alternative way of living…eating vegan food every meal, learning about sustainable ways of living, participating in workshops put on every day by volunteers on subjects ranging from yoga, to meditation, to non-violent communication.”

Andrew especially liked the fact that it’s a non-consumer experience – volunteering to offer something instead of consuming. But he warns that other experiences may not be as altruistic: “There are many organizations that offer opportunities to travel and volunteer, that are seeking your money in exchange for a catered experience. You should do your research and trust recommendations from people you know.”

Having a nomadic lifestyle has helped Andrew cultivate a global network of friends and peers. He’s now in Italy visiting with friends, and plans to spend the next few months hitchhiking around Europe. His key to finding meaning in travel, even though it’s now his full-time occupation: “Taking more time to properly enjoy and appreciate the places I visit, spending less money, sacrificing expensive comforts for challenging experiences that expand my comfort zone and make me vulnerable to the spontaneity and kindness of others.”

Kind as he is, he allows others to live vicariously through him, thanks to his well-written blog: All I Need is my 2 Bare Feet. Warning: his blog is likely to inspire a little bit of envy. We hope it also inspires you to travel.