By Michael Bennett, Ed.D.
When I was 19-years-old, I traveled abroad for the first time, visiting Costa Rica for 6 weeks as part of a study abroad program through the University of Delaware. Over that month-and-a-half, I managed to get hit (and almost killed) by a car, fall in love for the first time, learn how to communicate in a foreign language, and change my perspectives of the world, myself, and my life.
Inspired by my experiences in Costa Rica, travel became my passion: I climbed mountains in the Pacific Northwest, scaled volcanoes in Guatemala, hiked the Great Wall of China, mountain-biked through the Swiss Alps, and lived in Denmark for 5 months, among other experiences.
Each time I traveled, I would notice myself growing in incredible ways: I learned to appreciate and enjoy cultural differences rather than criticize and mock them. My social and political views became more expansive and educated. And my views of who I am and what I want to do with my life continued to evolve, develop, and gain clarity.
My adventures taught me that getting out of my comfort zones, pushing personal limits, experimenting with new ways of being, and taking time to critically reflect on who I am and what it is that I really want in life are just some of the benefits of travel.
Above all else, my adventures taught me this: Travel is pregnant with the possibility of transformation.
Inspired by these experiences and insights, I set out on a quest to research and explore exactly what it was about the experiences that I had had that made my adventures so transformational. My research – which analyzed the experience of a dozen other adventurers that had self-described life-changing experiences – identified eight critical steps that can make an adventure truly life-changing:
1. Travel on Purpose.
The first key is to travel with a purpose or goal in mind. Perhaps you want to explore new career options, bond with a loved one, or simply give yourself time away from the chaos of life to reconnect with yourself so that you can come home refreshed, re-energized, and rejuvenated. Regardless of what it is, have a goal in mind before you leave home—and stay focused on that goal while traveling!
2. Go Someplace Completely New.
Exploring new places creates an important and powerful psychological disconnect: Free of the roles, responsibilities, and expectations we face at home, we are free to begin thinking, acting, and living in new ways – ways that are more aligned with the real you! The more different a place is from what you’re used to at home, the more disconnected you will feel … and the more powerful the experience will be!
3. Explore with an Open Mind & Heart.
Unexpected people, places, and events are going to happen—you can count on it! So do your best to be open to whatever your adventure is throwing your way. Roll with the punches and say YES to experiences, events, and people that you might normally shy away from at home. For example, talk to the stranger sitting next to you on the train, get lost while going for a walk around the city (without freaking out), or spontaneously decide to change plans so that you can attend the concert of a favorite local musician.
4. Immerse Yourself in the Experience.
Do your best to live like a local. If you’re going to Paris, find an apartment for rent on AirBnB or VRBO rather than staying at a posh hotel. If you’re traveling to India, make a game of exploring the many varieties of local cuisine. Doing so will give you a more authentic experience of the people, place, and culture while opening you up to opportunities for personal exploration and discovery.
5. Push Your Comfort Zones.
Intentionally seek out people, places, and experiences that you are unfamiliar with and that will really challenge you physically, culturally, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Go for a long solo hike in the Alps, try eating some guinea pig in Peru, or dance with reckless abandon in Spain. While sometimes uncomfortable at first, these experiences can be the catalysts for incredible insights, reflection, and personal transformations!
6. Have Meaningful Conversations.
Taking time to engage in powerful conversations about what you are experiencing is a critical ingredient in the transformation process. Whether you travel with someone or happen to make a new friend along the way, sharing your experiences allows you to hear new perspectives and challenge your ways of thinking.
7. Reflect on Your Experiences.
All of these things are lost if you don’t take time to reflect on and make meaning from your experiences. My favorite activity is to grab a journal and begin writing about what I learned, what was surprising, and what really challenged me. Then, I use those learnings and lessons to help examine and reframe my existing perspectives and points of view!
8. Make an Action Plan.
Finally, come up with a plan for how you can use what you learned to make your life – and the lives of those around you – better. See how you can apply what you learned and your new perspectives to challenges or opportunities you are facing in your life. Examples range from starting a new business or moving across the country or world to making a conscious decision to volunteer at your local shelter more and being more present in and grateful for your beautiful life each and every day!
Armed with this incredible information, I launched Muddy Shoe Adventures is 2012 as a way to make transformational travel accessible to more people. Our mission? To inspire, empower, and foster personal transformations through adventure-based coaching and retreats. We are now proud to offer a series of programs, including our Outings, Getaways, Expeditions, and customized adventure retreats.
Whether you go on an adventure with us, head out on your own to explore the world, or travel with friends or loved ones, following these 8 simple but powerful steps is a great way to make your next adventure a life-changing experience.
About the Author | Michael Bennett, Ed.D.
Michael is the founder and Chief Adventure Officer at Muddy Shoe Adventures, where he helps create and deliver handcrafted, life-changing, adventure-based coaching and consulting programs around the world. In addition to his work at MSA, Michael is a life and career coach who helps people find their passions and follow their bliss so that they can live more purpose-driven lives. His background includes 5 years in higher education administration and 6+ years as an organizational development consultant. Michael earned his BS from the University of Delaware and his Global MBA and his Doctor of Education degrees from Pepperdine University. Michael's doctoral research explored the critical elements of travel experiences that lead to transformational learning in adults.
Follow Michael on Twitter at: @Muddy_Shoe