Transformative adventure travel experiences

One of the superpowers of traveling is its power to transform us. As we often have to talk about transformation and traveling, we realized the best way to explain what exactly transformative travel is by giving examples of such inspiring change or causing a shift in mindset adventures. So we asked fellow-travelers to share their transformative travel experiences.

In this article, we’ll share those transformative experiences that have to do with travels to extraordinary places and adventurous activities that brought transformation. In separate articles, we put together volunteering, studying, working, and living abroad travel experiences and transformational solo, couple, and family travel experiences.

Iceland, road trip, places to visit, guide, Reynisfjara, sunset

Canoeing in the remote Missinaibi River

Mikaela | Voyageur Tripper

One of the most transformative experiences of my life took place on the Missinaibi River. A Canadian Heritage River, the Missinaibi connects Lake Superior with the see waters of James Bay, spanning more than 800 km. In 2017, I had the opportunity to guide eight teenagers on a 520 km portion of the river for 24 days.

A remote river in Canada, we encountered no other groups nor a bar of cell service, except for one little town along the way. I love canoe camping, especially in remote areas, because it promotes a deep connection between you and your fellow paddlers and environment. I’d just finished a year of business school and had spent the better part of the year with swirling thoughts, bouts of depression, and a general lack of meaning. But then I got on the Missinaibi River and I felt transformed. I taught youth how to paddle through crazy whitewater rapids, I completed the longest portage I’ve ever attempted and I learned a ton about what it is I want in life (basically more of this).

And the wonderful thing is that you don’t need to be a whitewater canoe guide or even have much experience paddling to do something like this (my campers sure didn’t). There are guiding companies in Ontario that will outfit you with all the gear you need and provide a certified whitewater guide to teach you how to paddle and canoe camp. I can’t speak highly enough of an opportunity to spend a prolonged amount of time in the wilderness, especially one with canoeing.

Transformative travel experiences: Canoeing Missinaibi River

Traveling to Antarctica

Pam | The Directionally Challenged Traveler

Traveling to Antarctica is like traveling to another planet completely untouched by humans.  Achieving my goal of reaching seven continents changed me more than I ever expected. When I first walked on the island, I knew I could achieve anything I put my mind to. Exploring the untapped nature of the ice continent was a dream come true. 

Only 40,000 people visit Antarctica every year, yet I learned that humans are still having a huge impact on the environment down there. Climate change and water temperature rising impacts the entire world. The Amery Ice Shelf broke off in the fall of 2019, creating an iceberg larger than the city of Los Angeles. Not only is the water and ice being impacted, but also the animals that call Antarctica home. Penguins have seen a huge decline in population over the past 35 years. 

Seeing the landscape and getting up close to nature really impacted my desire to work against climate change. I always recycled and tried to use eco-friendly products, but since traveling to Antarctica, I’ve done more. Lobbying for environmentally friendly legislation, buying an electric car, and working with my company on “go-green” initiatives are some of the ways I’ve committed myself to helping our environment.  

Traveling is transformative in many ways. I truly believe that once you see the power and beauty of Mother Nature, you’ll be ready to protect it as well.

Transformative travel experiences: Antarctica

Walking the Camino de Santiago

Laureen Lund | My Fab Fifties Life

When I was thirty, if someone had told me I would walk nearly 500 miles across Spain I would have laughed heartily. But that is exactly what I did, halfway through my 57th year. And it changed me forever.

Walking the Camino de Santiago Francis route from Saint Jean Pied de Port in Southern France to Santiago Spain was one of the most difficult, uplifting, enlightening, and fun things I have ever done. It transformed me from someone who didn’t think she could, to someone who knows she can. She can do anything.

There are many books written about how to walk the Camino. We used the popular Brierley Guide. It helped us train, pack, and find lodging on our 41-day journey. Over that 41 days, we walked 37 days and rested four. We suffered blisters, sunburn and aches and pains, lost a lot of weight, and made new friends. We asked nothing more of the Camino than a unique and once in a lifetime experience to strengthen our 35-year marriage and find comfort in our middle age. We found all that and more. 

We trained for about a year, some people don’t train at all. Everyone approaches this pilgrimage differently. Everyone comes away from it with something unique.  t is, for me, a highlight of my life and I am so grateful I was physically able to do it with my husband and experience the joy that is being a pilgrim on the Camino de Santiago. You must walk it, at least once in your life.

Transformative travel experiences: Camino de Santiago

Independent trekking in Mongolia

Nick | Into Fly Fishing

One of the most transformative travel experiences I’ve ever had was in Mongolia in 2013. My wife and I plotted a trek from Chuluut Sum to Tariat along the Chuluut River. But we didn’t join a tour, hire a guide, or even follow a sign-posted route. Instead, we opened Google Maps satellite view, found a river that connected two towns, plotted a route, and decided to just go for it.

Upon arriving in Mongolia, we stayed a local hostel and the owner helped put us in touch with some nomads and fishermen who had all been on parts of the river we were planning to hike along and knew a lot about the area. They helped us to perfect the route and figure out exactly how we were going to conquer this 125 kilometer, 8-day trek.

When we finally hit the trail, we were simply dropped off on the banks of the river in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I had packed a good fly fishing rod for the trip as I was planning to do some fishing along the way for food. Seeing just how far we were away from civilization, I was glad to have the extra means of sustenance packed in my bag.

It wasn’t long after we started the trek that we realized that we wouldn’t have needed the fishing rod, or the food we had packed had we ever been stranded in this part of the world. The local nomads were so enthralled by our presence on their land that they would bring us food and gifts almost every day. None of them spoke English, (aside from one young girl who invited us into her yurt to show us how they make cheese and yogurt) but they would bring a gift, lay it on the ground and we would reciprocate with some pens, pins, and stickers from Canada.

At one point, I even taught a local nomad how to cast a fly rod! It was a hilarious sight and he was visibly frustrated, but by the end, he could get the fly out on the water.

By the end of our trek, we were exhausted. Having walked through marshy rivers and along a winding river for 8 days, we were ready for a warm bed and a hot shower. But our packs were full of cheese, bread, and gifts that the locals had given us along the way, and our hearts were filled with the hospitality and kindness of the local people of Mongolia. Never before had a trip brought us so close to such a faraway culture and we feel blessed every day to have been able to have this experience. 

Transformative travel experiences: Trekking in Mongolia

Boat hitchhiking in the Atlantic ocean

Paulina | Paulina on the road

Are you looking for some transformative travel experiences? Well, for a long time, I too was wondering about the same and ended up crossing the Atlantic by Boat Hitchhiking, which is my best trip, until today. You also can do the same, but make sure to do some preparation and planning for such crazy ideas!

From my experience, I would suggest you visit the Canary Islands, between October and December. Specifically, Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and are the places to be. The winter periods are commonly preferred for spending time in the Caribbean.

While starting this hitchhiking boat trip, I had no idea about the transformation that would come into me. But you must be aware of it! You will slowly learn to grip with the design of your new home, get suited to boat toilets, meet a skipper, who will perhaps be helpful and understand his duties well.

Initially, you might even feel impatient, restless, and you can’t focus/think or can’t eat without the anxiety of nausea. Moreover, the Atlantic swell bouncing throughout the islands along with wind acceleration zones; will make you feel uncomfortable as well. But, eventually, you will overcome it and learn to sail in these conditions and hopefully, have a great experience, like me. 

Plus, while traveling across the Atlantic by boat hitchhiking, do your research well about your route/destination, mainly. Additionally, choose a boat of minimum 36ft (like Atlantic Rally for Cruisers), experienced captain/crew to be safe, technical/engineering knowledge onboard, and travel with sustainable gadgets such as backpacks made from recycled material to protect the oceans when sailing. Also, communicate with the captain, or passengers to explore and learn new exciting things, during your journey. 

Lastly, I would suggest you, don’t purchase any return ticket in advance as you’ll surely fall in love with this tour! 

Transformative travel experiences: Boat Hitchhiking Sailing

A train journey in Eastern Europe

Ciara | Wellness Travel Diaries 

In the far east of Europe lie lesser-known countries, filled with budget-friendly itineraries, contemporary architecture, rich culture, and history. It was November 15. My husband and I were visiting Barcelona, enjoying the beautiful Catalonia region when I had an idea. “What if we explore Eastern Europe, and visit the Christmas Markets?” I asked him with a huge grin. He smiled profusely, and two days later we arrived at our first destination: Sofia, Bulgaria.  Then, for two and a half months, we traveled through the Eastern European region only via train travel.

From Bulgaria to Serbia, Romania to Ukraine, the power of train travel was a transformation in itself. It started by engaging with strangers on the train, who pleasantly greeted you even though you don’t speak their language. It gradually progressed to strangers singing classic Christmas tunes to ring in the holidays. Not to mention our final scenic train journey to Kyiv, boarding a night train in Eastern Europe. There we experienced the enlivened night train energy and random acts of kindness from strangers as they generously explained the art of making a night train bed.

Beyond the train ride itself remains an unending culmination of train travel stories that allowed us to dance our way through Eastern Europe. No singular event led me to understand the deeply connective practice: that random acts of kindness have no borders. It is learning that while words are powerful, non-verbal communication through smiles and gestures can be powerful, too.

If you’re planning a trip to Eastern Europe, I recommend taking the train to discover both big and small cities. Each country does have its own currency and not all trains take credit cards aboard the train. Be sure to bring cash, and if possible exchange some beforehand in the local currency.

Transformative travel experiences: Train journey Eastern Europe

Walking the Camino de Santiago

Wendy Werneth | The Nomadic Vegan

For many years, my husband and I had talked about walking the Camino de Santiago, a medieval pilgrimage trail across Spain. In 2017, we finally set out on this 800-kilometer journey, and it was everything we had hoped for and more. Even though I am not a religious person, I found the pilgrimage to be a very spiritual experience.

The best part was the people we met along the way, both locals and fellow pilgrims. Their kindness and generosity renewed my faith in humanity. After the first week, I didn’t think I was going to finish the journey. On day one, I developed plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of connective tissue in my feet that made it very painful to walk. A combination of various remedies was enough to see me through to Santiago de Compostela. Despite being in pain for most of the walk, I still loved the experience so much that I resolved to walk a different route of the Camino each year.

After our initial pilgrimage along the Camino Francés in 2017, my husband and I went on to walk the Camino Primitivo in 2018 and the Camino de Madrid in 2019. In September 2020, we are hoping to walk the Caminho Português from our home in Lisbon. It’s been a strange year, and now more than ever I’m yearning for the chance to unplug, leave normal life behind, and be alone with my thoughts and the rhythm of my feet.

If you’re interested in making the pilgrimage yourself, the Camino Francés is probably the best route for first-timers. It’s well set up for pilgrims, and there are plenty of facilities along the way. Many of the restaurants and pilgrims’ hostels even cater for vegans and vegetarians on the Camino, which is unusual in rural Spain.

Transformative travel experiences: Camino de Santiago

Traveling to Pakistan

Samantha | Intentional Detours

Before traveling to Pakistan, I certainly had to deal with my fair of naysayers. Family and friends alike did their bit of fear-mongering about the country, echoing the fears of mainstream media. But, going off the overwhelmingly positive stories and recommendations of other travelers who had actually been to the misunderstood South Asian nation, last year, my partner Charles and I decided to give it a go. 

… and what we experienced was truly life-changing.

We quickly learned that Pakistan is truly like no other place on Earth. Despite having epic views to the tune of dozens of record-breaking mountain peaks, it was the overwhelming and genuine hospitality we experienced in each and every hamlet we passed through that made this foreign land, in some ways, feel like home. 

In Swat Valley – a place with an infamous past and many international travel warnings- we spent afternoons sipping steaming chai with folks in Boyun Village and evenings getting to know the local man who owned the hotel we were staying in back in town. And whilst hitchhiking in Yarkhun Valley, a remote region in Pakistan’s Upper Chitral region, we never actually had to use our tent- strangers were more than happy to insist we be their guests.

The hospitality that is so ingrained in Pakistan’s culture was humbling and gave me hope for humanity. I had never before experienced such generosity from complete strangers, and certainly not from people who were living in a world so very different from the somewhat sterile one in which I grew up in.. Yet somehow, those differences ended up being what I loved the most: a rich, vibrant culture, and truly ancient history being just two. 

Not only did backpacking through Pakistan change my outlook on people in general, but as a traveler, it has certainly captivated my plans. Before traveling there, I was hoping to visit a handful of countries as soon as possible. Now, my main travel goals include seeing as much as Pakistan as possible, from its magical and seldom-visited Baluchi beaches to the high-altitude lakes of Broghil Valley. But no matter how long I spend traversing this land, I know for sure that there will always, ALWAYS be something more to explore. 

These days, traveling to Pakistan is easier than ever with their implementation of the e-Visa system. Coming with an open mind and a flexible (or non-existent) schedule is the best way to go, as most things in Pakistan don’t go according to plan. Wandering through the Old City of Peshawar, taking in some of the North’s mesmerizing alpine lakes, stuffing your face with a hearty Lahori late-night dish, and taking in the fascinating culture and history of the Sindh province are but some of the recommended things to do whilst in Pakistan. But my biggest tip is this: Pakistan is about the people. Meet them, laugh with them, learn from them. You’ll be so very happy that you did.

Transformative travel experiences: Pakistan

Hiking Mount Fuji in Japan

Clara | Petite Capsule

Hiking Mount Fuji in Japan was a transformative travel experience for me. It was my first hike that involved altitude. I couldn’t prepare for the altitude as the mountains at home are not high enough. This made me a little nervous. At 3776 meters high, there is less oxygen in the air than at sea level. This may cause altitude sickness. Symptoms of altitude sickness may include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate, and shortness of breath. To avoid altitude sickness, it is recommended to ascend at a slow pace, stay hydrated, and take frequent breaks. Also, an overnight stay in a mountain hut at 7th or 8th station is recommended to help your body adjust to the altitude, instead of completing the hike up and down in one day.

In addition to the possibility of altitude sickness, I was also a little nervous about the terrain. Mount Fuji is a strenuous hike. It is steep and rocky in parts on the way up. Knowing this, I prepared as much as I could by going on lots of walks and hikes prior to the Mount Fuji hike. On the way down the path is volcanic gravel. But I didn’t know it would slightly slide under my feet with each step. This made me uneasy. A walking stick helped, but it was a long way down. I focussed on each step until I got to the end.

Hiking Mount Fuji was a fantastic experience. It helped me to realize my fitness level, and was a good reminder of how it is possible to always push further. Tasks seem impossible until they are done.

Transformative travel experiences: Mount Fuji

Traveling to Iran and Iraq

Diana Lesko | The Globetrotting Detective

What I love the most about traveling, is its enormous power to transform our minds. The two countries that made the biggest impact on me and transformed my mind the most are Iran and Iraq.

And what is more important is how my personal experience through my blogs and social media posts had and will potentially transform the mind of others, or at least make them question their prejudices and preconception about other countries or re-evaluate their beliefs.  

When I told people that I was going to travel to Iran and Iraq, I got the craziest questions ever such as the following ones. “Do you want to get shot?” or ”Aren’t you afraid of traveling there by yourself?” ”Those people there are dangerous, don’t you know?”

People also warned me ”Be very careful there! Come back alive!”

Once I started posting on social media from Iran and Iraq, people were absolutely shocked in a positive way. I showed them a world they didn’t about. I showed them that Iran and Northern Iraq are safe and peaceful travel destinations, where I felt home, where the society welcomed me and people treated me with infinite kindness and respect.  

Now, many of my friends and family members say that they are considering traveling to Iran and Iraq. And many of my friends even asked me to organize trips there so that they can discover these countries with me. 

Transformative Travel Experiences: Iran

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