Travel is a powerful thing. As we shared in our post on how to be a responsible traveler, the experience provides you with an opportunity to make a positive impact on the destinations you visit. But travel also holds the potential for profound personal growth.

That last post was about how you can change a place. This post is all about allowing a place to change you.

Explore your passion

Regardless of your interests––from marathons to video games––there likely are events that allow you to give back while doing what you are passionate about. One of the easiest ways to be changed by travel is to build itineraries around these kinds of activities.

For us, food and the arts are two major passions. We’ve put together two separate trips to New York City around charitable events that aligned with those passions. In the case of food, the multiday New York City Wine and Food Festival allowed us to donate to Share Our Strength while sampling some of the country’s best cuisine. We left very full––both literally and figuratively.

Another visit to New York City was centered on the annual fundraising extravaganza from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Instead of seeing a Broadway show, we attended the charity’s cornerstone June production. The one-night-only show made for one of the most memorable nights of our lives because of the positive impact we knew we were making on the lives of individuals living with HIV/AIDS and other debilitating diseases.

Eating well and giving back in New York City

Learn something new

On the road, learning experiences abound. If you are looking, you can find engaging programs and educational centers in almost every location around the globe. Whether, for example, you stop by Mercy Corps Action Center in Portland, Oregon, to learn about important global challenges (in an environment that is fun, engaging, and educational), or you visit a National Park Visitor Center for information about the environment, you are bound to leave with information you will carry with you for the rest of your life.

Sometimes these opportunities find you. For example, on our last visit to Glacier National Park, in Montana, we stopped in to the Visitors Center in Apgar. While planning hikes we had a chance to listen to a park ranger speak about more than 50 years of experience working in the park. His tales where so engrossing that we didn’t even realize we were learning about the dramatic impact of climate change on the park’s namesake glaciers.

Other times, you just need to look around to find life-changing travel experiences. Just steps away from Seattle’s iconic Space Needle and Experience Music Project sits the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center. The center enables visitors to explore the connections we all share as global citizens. We make sure to pop in there when we’re hosting visitors, and we always leave with a profound gratitude for the organization’s work and a renewed drive to do more.

Viewfinder Tip: Traveling with kids? Don’t forget to consider the National Parks Junior Ranger program.

See things differently

Visiting a new location requires you to step outside of your comfort zone on some level. New experiences break you out of your routine and allow you to see things in a new light. Therein lies the potential to shake up the way you perceive things back at home. You might recognize that something in a new location moves you, only to realize that the very thing exists in your own backyard; you’ve just been so occupied with your day-to-day life that you’ve never noticed it. We encourage you to allow what you’ve noticed to inform and influence the way you live.

A trip to South Africa and Zambia in 2006 opened our eyes to a level of inequality and poverty that we never had witnessed before. With a new level of clarity, we vowed to find ways to serve as voices for those who have so little, not just abroad but in our own community. That moment set us on a whole new trajectory; we continue to advocate for the less-fortunate today.

Travel can be transformational, whether or not you plan for it to transform you at all. Personal growth is one of the greatest byproducts of seeing the world; it’s up to you to allow yourself to be changed. You, and the rest of the world, will be better because you did. 

How has travel changed you?