We all have that one friend who always seems to be off adventuring. Between hiking the Swiss Alps, volunteering in Ecuador, and "studying abroad" on the beaches of Thailand, their passport looks like it walked right out of a listicle on the top 50 places to visit (not to mention their Instagram game puts you to shame). But now it's your turn!
You're finally planning your next adventure and looking to get some advice from a well-traveled friend. You already know you want to ditch the touristy-approach to travel - you'd rather get into the nitty-gritty of it. Nagging financial questions aside, (seriously...how do they get so much approved time off work?), if you can catch them on an extended layover, here's the REAL question you should be posing to your friend.
The one question every meaningful traveler knows the answer to is: Would you do it again?
Would you pack your bags and go back to a place that, for better or for worse, changed your life in some way, big or small? Would you leave your home to explore someone else’s home city or country? Would you try the foods again, the names of which you couldn’t pronounce in a language you don’t understand? Would you step out of your comfort zone to experience life like someone else does - even if it makes you uncomfortable, uncertain or feel unknowledgeable?
The answer to this question isn’t always “Yes.” In fact, the answer might not even be “Yes” the majority of the time. Whether you want to study, teach, intern, or just travel abroad, we’ve got some guidance on how to interpret the responses a meaningful traveler would give to that one question they all know the answer to.
Check out some possible replies to this universal question and learn how you can use it to help plan YOUR next international adventure with more intention and clarity.
1. Yes! In a Heartbeat!
These meaningful travelers had the best trip imaginable. Their flights were on time. The food was delicious. No one got sick. Most importantly, they had a meaningful travel experience by engaging with the people who lived in the communities they visited and learned new customs or traditions in a way that was respectful and genuine. That’s a lot to consider while traveling!
In order to experience a trip abroad like this, it’s important to do your research beforehand. If you’re studying abroad in Greece or teaching abroad in South Korea, make sure to look into as many aspects of the country as you can before you pack your bags. Spend a few hours researching the economic, political and cultural information available and ask friends who have been before meaningful questions about their experiences.
On the other hand, maybe their trip was 100 percent perfect because this traveler was purposely closing their eyes to the unpleasant experiences around them. Did they take the time to get to know the place they were visiting, for better and for worse? Did they put themselves out of their comfort zone to stretch their limits and truly interact with the place they visited?
Traveling naively without giving thought to how your trip impacts you and the community you’re visiting is just that: naive.
A meaningful traveler isn’t blazing through cities and towns snapping pictures and ignoring their surroundings. They want to explore the world and not only share their experience as someone abroad, but are also eager to learn from where they are going.
So...about this trip. Maybe the location was incredible; the food and sights unlike anything else seen before. But something about the trip left this meaningful traveler unsettled. While it’s exciting to travel to new places, there is also a certain element of voyeurism that accompanies visiting villages and towns where foreigners don’t go often. Or maybe, in their travels, the towns you visited developed an economy specifically to cater to foreign visitors like yourself.
Trips like these make meaningful travelers uncomfortable, and that’s a good thing. At the end of this trip, a meaningful traveler may look back on his or her experience and see that their motivation for the trip was a selfish one, to take in the sights, sounds, food, and experiences only for themselves without giving consideration to their travel companions or the people they met along the way.
If you ask this traveler if they would do their trip again, they may have reservations about some of their excursions. Maybe they rode an elephant in Thailand, which is exotic and different, but felt icky after. Maybe they researched the practice a bit more and found that it’s cruel towards the animals. Instead of contributing to a damaging tradition, they admit that choosing more eco-friendly activities in Thailand would’ve been a better choice (an activity where you’re sure to have an adventure - and not leave a trail of regrets in your path).
When considering your next adventure abroad, make sure to do your research to ensure you’re choosing locally owned and operated businesses that aren’t intentionally, or inadvertently, damaging the planet or natural resources.
This is the sweet spot. If your buddy responds with the “Yes, but…,” it shows they’ve learned something about themselves and the place they visited along the way and have done some serious critical reflection on their experience as a whole. They may not be a wise old owl (yet), but their insight is incredibly valuable as you scope the scene for your next trip.
OK, definitely pay attention to the “No!” with an exclamation point. There are lessons to be learned from these travelers (potentially with a grain or two of salt).
When looking back on their experience, these meaningful travelers just can’t justify their carbon footprint and its impact on the planet by going such a distance (calculate yours here to see just how much of an impact your trip has on the world).
When you consider that your largest contribution to global warming could be air travel, you’ll think twice about how important it is to you to volunteer abroad for one to two weeks and maybe consider a longer duration to lessen the impact of your travel.
Or maybe this traveler had a terrible experience in a different culture or country. If so, ask them what about their journey was so awful - and to be specific. Did they have a difficult time communicating? Was the food inedible (according to them)? While these may be valid reasons, it’s also possible the traveler went into the experience with a closed mind. Maybe they would find something wrong with anywhere they travel!
Regardless of the reason, when someone says they wouldn’t travel to a place again give careful consideration to why. You may find that their discomfort with challenge is your cup of tea!
Ultimately, what’s essential is to give careful consideration to why you’re choosing to travel abroad and to make sure your trip is meaningful not only for yourself, but for those you encounter along the way as well. These friends, while they have many stamps in their passport, might not be the most inspiring source of travel info, but they will certainly give you good food-for-thought in your planning stages.
Meaningful travel is more than idyllic pictures of delicious meals or jealousy-inducing sunsets. It’s about making connections with the world around you in a way that is lasting and genuine.
When you ask someone if they would take their trip again, be sure to encourage them to share stories that go deeper than the superficial. Ask them what they learned about themselves or the country and culture they visited. If you’re the one who has gone abroad, it’s your responsibility as a meaningful traveler to bring back stories about how this trip changed your life, for better or for worse. A good story will stick with your friends and family longer than a junky souvenir so make sure your stories are ones you want to share!
While the most commonly asked question of travelers, both meaningful and otherwise, is “How was it?,” the answer to that question will not provide substantial information as most people respond with “good,” “great,” or “fine.” If you really want to know more about someone’s meaningful travel experience, you need to ask the right question to get to the answer you’re looking for, and the answers you didn’t know were out there.
We know that the one question every meaningful traveler knows the answer to is “Would you do it again?” As someone considering embarking on an adventure, near or far, the one question you need to ask yourself is: Would you do it at all?