Transformative solo, couple, and family 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 transformational solo, couple, and family travels. We’ll have an article with transformative volunteering and living abroad experiences and an article with travels to extraordinary places and adventurous activities that brought transformation.

Couple travel quotes, adventure in Spain

Visiting Kerala – God’s own country

Nishu Barolia | Tanned Travel Girl

Kerala, popularly known as God’s own country is a true testament of harmony between humans and nature. I have been there multiple times to give myself a break from the crazy city life, to experience the breathtaking backwaters of Alappuzha (Alleppey), to immerse in the never-ending beaches of Kerala.

As I traveled across Kerala, I realized that irrespective of religion, caste, color, or beliefs, people of Kerala treat nature as their first God. I have many such vivid memories from Kerala where the love and affection of people towards nature made me guilty of every such unconscious decision taken without thinking about their impact on nature (buying the water bottler when I missed carrying mine, back to back flights just to save time while I could have done slow travel).

Unfortunately, due to climate change, floods are new normal during every monsoon in Kerala. I happened to be in Kerala during last year’s monsoon when the city was almost flooded. When I spoke with people from Kerala about their thoughts on the flood, none of them blamed it on nature. They believe that it is human actions that are making Kerala drown every year. That trip of mine has changed my perspective towards life. If only we coexist with nature and are kind and compassionate, we can call ourselves true humans by nature.

Transformative travel experiences: Tea Estate Munnar Kerala

Solo travel doesn’t mean always being alone

Sam | My Flying Leap

I decided to go on a solo travel adventure to Colombia, much to the concern of my friends and family. It wasn’t my first solo trip, though many people still have a negative mindset of this amazing country due to its not-so-distant past. 

High on my “wish list” was to hike Cocora Valley in the Colombia Coffee Triangle near Salento, Colombia. It’s an incredibly beautiful hike through a lush rain forest and a verdant valley sprinkled with the cartoonish wax palms that tower around 200 feet high. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I was a little nervous going alone as I didn’t want to do this hike on my own but I went anyway, On the bus to Salento, I met an amazing woman from Belgium. We hit it off and that night, when my hosts invited me to a bonfire, she joined and we met a group of people from various countries around the world. 

She and I hiked Cocora together and two others tagged along who also didn’t want to go on their own. In the evenings and throughout the next few days, a group of us met up for dinner, to play tejo, and to go on a coffee plantation tour. And this tiny town has a late-night restaurant-turned-discotheque where we danced the night away after learning all about aguardiente. 

In this small town in the mountains, I learned that traveling alone doesn’t mean being alone. I will always cherish my time in Salento for this valuable lesson. Be open, say yes, and try something new—you won’t regret it.

Transformative travel experiences: Cocora hike Colombia

Travelling alone for the first time

Mary Blatchford | The Travel Journal

When I hit 23 I realized something that shocked me. Lots of my friends were settling down, buying houses, and starting families. I was only 23. It might be the right choice for them but I was 10 years away from wanting that life for myself. I had a desire to live life, to see the world, and to travel. The only problem was I had no one to travel with, and I’d never been abroad on my own before. I got Googling and within a weekend I’d booked my first ever solo trip. I’ll admit I didn’t give it a huge amount of thought. It was definitely a spur of the moment booking.

Four months later I found myself on a flight from Gatwick to Dubrovnik where I was to set sail and explore the beautiful islands of Croatia by boat with a group of friendly strangers. 

I learned such a lot on that trip and it changed me as a person. Not only did I get to explore a country I’d never been to before but I learned solo travel isn’t so scary after all. I rejoiced in the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted and I made amazing friends. I was sociable and my confidence grew. I explored at my own pace and soaked up the beauty of my surroundings.

After arriving home from that trip I instantly booked another for later in the year.

Was I nervous before I got on that plane at Gatwick? Absolutely! But it was the most rewarding experience of my life to date. 

If any part of you wants to solo travel but has reservations I urge you to give it a go, bite the bullet and you won’t be disappointed. 

Transformative travel experiences: Dubrovnik

Traveling around Europe after graduating college

Ruth | Tanama Tales

In my senior year of college, a friend commented she was considering taking a trip after graduation as a way to celebrate the milestone. She already had set her eyes on an itinerary put together by a professor of a sister campus. I showed interest and she shared the details.

When I read the itinerary, my jaw dropped. The 30-day trip concentrated on exploring half a dozen European countries and Egypt. There were even plans for a 3-day Nile River cruise.

I have always wanted to travel. I believe my interest in social studies, history, and cartography elicited that desire. The thing was that I didn’t think a person like me was able to travel.  Nobody on my family traveled or vacationed.  Money was tight. Sorting out the procedures to get a passport and a visa seemed too complicated.  And, the thought of a young lady traveling to Europe with a friend was a bit scandalous.

Armed with courage, I applied for a small student loan, saved, and borrowed the rest of the money.  There was a lot of uncertainty but something inside of me told me “You need to do this.”

Well, that trip ended up being one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life.  I learned enormously about history, culture, and gastronomy. More importantly, I learned I was able to accomplish things I believed were impossible.  I was letting my fears control my behavior.

After the trip, I accepted a job in California and moved from Puerto Rico to Los Angeles (alone).  Since then, I have had a successful carrier in the aerospatial industry, started a business, traveled to about 50 countries, and married a wonderful guy (that I met on my travels).  I have no doubt the trip after college touched a fiber inside me that prompted a change in my life for the better.

Transformative travel experiences: Heidelberg

Trekking in Peru with my mum

Sara | Picturesque World

Peru was at the top of my bucket list for years. I remember watching a British show saying that Machu Picchu was the greatest place to visit in the world. I looked at my flatmate and said: “I’m going there”. In the same year I watched that show I lost my dad. I was living abroad in London, and my family was in Brazil when it all happened. I left my dreams of traveling the world behind and went back home. It was not a good feeling – to be honest, the worst feeling of my life to date. 

My dad was special to me. I loved (and am still loving) him so deeply that I remember not being able to move or talk for a few days after his death. 

I went back to Brazil and there was my family. Everyone was devastated, my mom, a strong woman, lost all her strength. From that day, I promised myself I would look after her and make her happy again. 

After one year of my dad’s past, we were able to recover emotionally and start to live again. I was starting to plan to go back to live overseas and my mom was keen to enjoy life. I discovered that she always wants to travel and meet people and places. But my dad was never into it. Mom had a fear for planes which was made clear in our first flight together. She screamed the whole way. That was to the north of Brazil. After a few years, we tried again. This time further: Argentina. She was ok, the trip was amazing, she cried in a “Tango Night” dinner I took her. 

We can go further now, I thought. So, finally, the opportunity to go to Peru came. I didn’t want to just go there and take a bus to Machu Picchu. So I decided to do the Salkantay Trek. One of the most beautiful treks in the world and an alternative to the traditional Inca Trail for reaching Machu Picchu. It was 5 days and 4 nights trek through mountains, forests, snow, and scorching sun, reaching an altitude of over 4.500m at some point. 

My mom did it with me. She was 57 when we did. She thought she would “die” as the headaches were very strong due to the altitude and lack of oxygen. She also needed assistance to complete a few treks along the way. But she did! And, when we reached the top of Salkantay Mountain, she cried again. I did too, not only for being in one of the most beautiful places in the world but also for having my best friend with me. Until today, she says it was the best trip she ever did in her entire life.

Transformative travel experiences: Salkantay trek Peru

Transformed by travel in India

Mariellen Ward | Breathedreamgo

At one of the lowest points in my life, when I was recovering from loss and depression, I felt suddenly compelled to go to India. I was in Yoga teacher training in Toronto at the time, so that may have been the trigger. A loud inner voice spoke to me, so I obeyed — though it took 11 months to plan and save. On December 4, 2005, I boarded a flight in Toronto and was on my way to Delhi. My return ticket was dated six months later … and I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the trip, from India, and from the experience. I felt I was basically jumping off a cliff, never having done anything like this before in my life.

Though nervous as hell, I pushed myself to get on the plane and I can tell you in retrospect, it was one of the best things I have ever done. I spent six months traveling across India, and whatever fears and apprehensions I had were soon replaced with excitement, inspiration, and joy. There were challenging moments, of course, but nothing I couldn’t deal with. Mostly it was what I now describe as a “magic carpet ride” of adventure, discoveries, personal growth, and transformation. I based myself in the country’s capital city —  where I discovered many amazing things to do in Delhi — and it became my home-away-from-home.

The trip was a resounding success in every way. I completely recovered from depression, found a new family and a new home in Delhi, and was inspired to change careers and start travel writing and blogging. India became my muse and motivated me to break through a life-long writer’s block and pour thousands, perhaps millions, of words in an attempt to describe the experience of travel in India, and my love for the culture and people. 

Now, almost 15 years later, I am a professional travel blogger and I live in India. Last year, I was the first blogger ever to win India’s National Tourism Award for Best Foreign Journalist, which definitely feels like evidence from the universe that I am on the right path. I’m so glad I took that leap. They say that people regret what they DON’T do, not what they do. So my advice is that if your heart or soul is telling you to do something, give it a try.

Transformative travel experiences: Jaipur Tiger Fort

Spending time in Istanbul, Turkey

Vaibhav Mehta | The Wandering Vegetable

Spending a few days in Istanbul has been one of the most memorable and transformative travel experiences that I’ve had in my life until now. Flirting with both – the Asian and European continents, is this magical city in Turkey that enchants you with its charm.

I usually plan my travel itineraries well in advance so that I know what I’ll be doing at the place. This is usually to save the time lost in planning after you reach the destination. So it’s generally smooth sailing from one place to another with an approximate duration of time spent at every place.

But a trip to Istanbul taught me that it’s okay to let go of the planning sometimes. There will always be some places to visit and some other things to do that’ll be left out. Because let’s face it, you aren’t a machine. So you’d rather be in the moment and relish every second of the place you’re at, without worrying about when to get to the next place.

I remember having this particular feeling during a Bosphorus night cruise in Istanbul. Seeing the historical monuments glowing like pearls of a necklace was an exhilarating experience. Sitting on a cruise, enjoying the chilly breeze, with a Turkish coffee in hand and Turkish music playing in the background, while seeing the dazzling Bosphorus bridge is just something else.

The feeling can’t be described in words. It made me realize that it’s okay to slow down. It’s okay to miss out on a place in the itinerary. Travel isn’t homework that needs to be completed on time. Travel is a blessing that makes you experience the true magic of a place. It’s a slowly intoxicating wine that needs to be enjoyed. Its texture needs to be felt and aroma needs to be cherished. That’s when it leaves a lasting imprint on you.

Similar was the case with Istanbul. I feel it’s my soul city and given a chance, I wouldn’t mind living there.

Transformative travel experiences: Bosphorus night cruise in Istanbul, Turkey

Traveling with kids to South-East Asia

Emma Pamley-Liddell | Journey Of A Nomadic Family

I have been traveling with my three kids since they were all newborns however we stuck to conventional travel, taking two-week vacations, and traveling with enough stuff to fill a second house. When my youngest turned 7 I decided that we should venture into the world of backpacking and I planned a three month trip to South-East Asia. 

We started out by flying to Vietnam before traveling to Malaysia, Sumatra, The Philippines, Cambodia, and finishing our adventurous travel in Thailand. 

We had amazing fun with cooking classes & Muay Thai in Bangkok, island hopping and hiring a tuk-tuk in The Philippines, visiting the biggest Buddha statue in Malaysia and learning about the Cu Chi Tunnels in Vietnam but our best adventures were in Cambodia where we caught the bamboo train, visited hilltop temples, took a boat onto the flooding lake of Tonle Sap, ate with local families, saw the phenomenal acrobatic, Phare circus, took a bus across the country and of course we couldn’t visit Cambodia without going to Angkor Wat.

Being the most adult person present and being entirely responsible for three kids can be daunting but it transformed the way we travel, encouraged our communication, and promoted a great relationship between all of us. Not to forget all the memories that we made together and that bonded us more. 

Some top tips on how to manage kids whilst traveling would be to focus on positive communication, stay away from empty threats, plan your days, present your expectations in an easy manner, learn to negotiate, enjoy the moment, book local accommodation, dedicate a part of the day to doing child-focused activities if you can find local accommodation (not chain hotels) with a pool it seriously helps to relax and use as a negotiation, eat well, take fruit as snacks, stop off at roadside shops for local treats and stay hydrated. 

Traveling more adventurously helped us to realize the positivities of seeing and doing more, it boosted our confidence, gave us deeper insights into different cultures, allowed us the freedom to think differently and made us realize that we only need to pack very little to thrive. If you’re looking to travel differently, backpacking with kids (or without) is incredibly rewarding and will transform your life for the better. 

Transformative travel experiences: Cycling Cambodia

Traveling solo with a hidden disability

Marika | Clumsy Girl Travels

The first time I traveled solo was a transformative experience because I was told my entire life by doctors that I wouldn’t be able to be independent. I was born with a degenerative condition called Ataxia, which affects my balance, fine motor skills, and I get migraines and tremors. Having all these issues made it difficult for me to do much of anything on my own, so when I decided to take a trip alone, a lot of people were hesitant, including myself. My mom sat me down and told me that I had to pick somewhere safe, somewhere that is easy to travel around, somewhere they spoke English, and I had to do a tour.

I ended up booking a 9-day tour through Ireland, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I felt a sense of freedom and accomplishment that I could do anything I set my mind to. I just had to be determined to get there. Since that first trip, I have traveled to over 40 countries by myself, and I continue to travel alone.

Transformative travel experiences: Ireland

Traveling with kids to Laos and Northern Thailand

Erin Parker | Love To Travel, Stay-Eat-Do

In 2018 we took our children to Laos and Northern Thailand on what was our first adventurous overseas travel experience with them. The boys were 3 and 5 years of age at the time, had previously been overseas, done long flights and traveled within Australia, our home country. Fortunately they were not new to adventures and had already fallen in love with the idea of a ‘big holiday with lots of new fun things to do’ – they were as excited as we were.

We began in Vientiane, the Laos capital. We rode Tuk-Tuk’s, walked several km’s, ate from street markets, navigated road crossings, traveled by local bus, got lost, asked for directions, and had loads of fun doing it. It was such a great way to start our trip, we had lots of successes and some trials.

We then went to the beautiful Vang Vieng. We traveled by local bus, stopped at roadside ‘toilets’, and tasted unfamiliar snacks to keep kids entertained on the bus. Vang Vieng was remarkable. Known for its ‘good times’, we stayed a little out of the main village, but traveled each day and explored the stunning town and its surroundings. We rode in the back of a ute, walked through rice paddies, climbed ladders that wouldn’t have passed quality control in many other countries, tasted more local food, and really started to relax into our journey.

By the time we arrived in Luang Prabang, we were in full holiday and exploration mode. The kids had developed some more stamina and every morning said to us “…and what are we going to do today?” It was such a beautiful way to start each day. With us as parents, our kids were always going to travel and explore, learn about the world. What was incredible to see was how much they wanted to see and to learn as the trip went on. The questioning that came from our touring, their desire and motivation to keep going, see more and do more was inspiring.

After we attended an Alms Giving with the boys, they were changed for life. They wanted to know more and more about Monks and their way of life. They role-played Monks and they still, 4 years on, talk about the time ‘we gave food to the Monks’ and how they want to go back and give them more.

Travel is one of the most incredible experiences we can offer children and my advice is to start small and keep it simple. Be gentle on yourself, don’t expect miracles, know that things will undoubtedly go wrong, don’t plan too much, and to some degree, let the kids lead the way. It’s amazing how much you will learn from their learnings.

Transformative travel experiences: Laos