The greatest gift that travel affords us is the power to transform our lives. Travel is like an elixir for the soul. A single trip can change your life by giving you the space to embark on an inner journey towards personal growth and self-reflection. 

Traveling removes us from the daily distractions that keep us stuck. It gives us room to hit the reset button and to examine how we view ourselves and whether our self-talk is supportive or destructive.

When we travel we are given the ability to appreciate the humanity in others. By traveling we learn to recognize and honor the similarities we share with others from different cultures.

While we’re not able to travel as we did before COVID-19, we can still experience travel through the stories of others and relive our own magical memories. 

We compiled nine powerful transformational travel stories that promise to inspire you and offer a reminder about the gift of travel. Enjoy!

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”

Seneca

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In the summer of 2003, I left the US at age 16 to spend eight weeks volunteering in rural Paraguay. This transformative experience confirmed my suspicions that the world held treasures much more captivating and enriching than the glossy American lifestyle that I, in my infinite teenage wisdom, despised. 

Spanish, a language I had never used outside the classroom, became a constant source of joy, frustration, connection and fascination. I began to dream in Spanish and delighted in the frequent opportunities to learn new words and new ways of looking at the world. Guaraní, another language spoken in Paraguay, was impossible to master, but also offered some fun insights. For example, it has two different words for “we”, one that includes the person you’re talking to and one that doesn’t. 

Costa Peña landscape. Photo: Vanessa Johnson
Costa Peña landscape. Photo: Vanessa Johnson

You might think that living far from paved roads or the internet would be boring, but I found the opposite to be true. Although there was often nothing to do, I was surprised by the complete absence of boredom. I learned to live in the moment, to enjoy what was, to not worry about time or the future. It could be frustrating, like when we were waiting for the saplings for a tree-planting project. When are they coming? Later. But when later? Today? This week? Later. But eventually, you learn to let go. 

I returned to the US, finished high school, went to college, majored in Spanish, studied abroad in Spain and… never went back. I’ve lived in Madrid for over 10 years now. I’m not sure I would have made it here if it hadn’t been for that summer in Costa Peña.

Vanessa Johnson, Content Specialist, ByeVisa

House in Costa Peña. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Johnson
House in Costa Peña. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Johnson

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I was an exchange student in both high school and college. I lived with a family in France during my junior year of high school and on-campus in Florence, Italy my junior year in college. These experiences started my lifelong love affair with both France and Italy. I am still in contact with the family I lived with and returned for several of my sisters’ weddings and have visited friends in both countries many times over the years since. When my husband and I were dating we took a trip to France and Italy because I knew I could not be serious with someone long term if he did not want to travel there with me and in fact he passed the test with flying colors. My friends and family in Europe agreed he was a keeper. I speak both French and Italian and try to keep up my language skills as much as possible.

Living in a foreign country during your teens and 20s shows that there are far more similarities than differences. If everyone in the world were free to travel and was encouraged to explore other cultures/ways of life there would be no more war in this world. It is hard to fight with people once you see their families love them as much as yours does you. They may eat different foods, listen to strange music, celebrate holidays you have never heard of and have customs you do not recognize but they also have parents, siblings, children, and grandparents they care about deeply just like you do.  

Paige Arnof-Fenn, Founder & CEO, Mavens & Moguls

Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy

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Spending a month travelling with camel herders in Northern Kenya taught me a lot about taking pleasure in the simple things in life.

I was photographing the innovative work of an NGO using camels to deliver HIV drugs to patients living in isolated nomadic communities. 

As the camels were loaded up with solar-powered fridges to keep the medication cool, we had to travel lightly, carrying with us just the bare essentials. As a result, for almost the entire month we ate the same meal of maize porridge and beans every day, and then the cold leftovers for breakfast the following morning. Grim times indeed. 

On those few days, we were fortunate to come across a small shop and could buy luxuries like flour, milk and sugar, the breakfast pancakes we devoured were the single most delicious things I have had in my entire life. 

Later in the trip, I was also given a crash course into the fragility of life in rural Sub-Saharan Africa. The region was hit with unseasonable thunderstorms and the dry river beds we had been using as our makeshift roads were transformed into terrifying torrents of water with standing waves as tall as a man. 

Not a single Kenyan member of our team could swim but they still bravely waded across chest-deep rivers to complete the trip. Luckily no one was injured but across the area, a number of lives were lost to the floods.

Whilst only a month in duration this trip has had a profound impact on my outlook and appreciation for the mundane things, such as the simple luxury of being able to walk to the convenience story and buy a pint of milk. 

Andy Barker, U.K. photographer based in Vietnam, Andy With A Camera

  • Photo: Andy Barker
  • Photo courtesy of Andy Barker
  • Camel Trek photo by Andy Barker
  • Camel Trek photo by Andy Barker

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Spring, 2015. I’d quit my job as an agency copywriter, bound for 3 months in Indonesia – the first solo trip I’d ever taken, the longest I’d been alone. I was leaving my family, friends, boyfriend… and I was doing it completely bald.

I had alopecia areata: a condition I used to hide under wigs and headbands, never feeling like my “true self”. Then the day before my flight, I shaved my remaining hair off. I wanted a fresh start…and seeing as no one would know me in Bali, it seemed like a good opportunity!

At first, I was terrified. But at an ashram in Candidasa, yoga and meditation helped me relax and feel good in my body for the first time in years. Then a healer in Ubud (which I later found out, was Wayan from Eat, Pray, Love!) helped my hair grow back, a few months later! (It fell out again, unfortunately. But I’m ok with that. 🙂

Because what I learned most from that trip, was to be comfortable in my own skin. I got used to the stares, the points and the giggles (locals were sweet but not very subtle!) and by the time I landed home in Ireland, I could talk openly about my alopecia without getting upset… a first for me! Not long after that, I set up Lady Alopecia – a website to inform and empower people like me with all forms of hair loss. Nowadays, I get messages daily telling me what an “inspiration” I am. I reply that I wasn’t always this way: I have that transformative trip to Indonesia to thank for it!

Emma Sothern, freelance copywriter, part-time yoga/meditation teacher, full-time alopecian

 https://ladyalopecia.com/ / Yoga for Alopecia online course

  • Emma in Bali with one with her first headscarf attempt. Photo courtesy of Emma Sothern
  • Emma with a healer who Wayan Nuriasih (Eat, Pray, Love fame) referred to as "grandfather". Photo courtesy of Emma Sothern

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I’ve been blessed to travel the world my entire life, and, for the past three years, full-time. One of my most transformative travel experiences so far was in Africa, last year. 

The first thing that struck me was how white I am. I’ve never been a minority anywhere else in the world. The impact of noticing the color of my skin was humbling. Now I know what it’s like for many other people in the world. I think everyone should know what this feels to build more compassion for humanity. 

The layers of poverty in the townships and squatter camps was incomprehensible to me. Before my trip, I had no idea what a township was. I learned it’s a city onto itself. Inside are all levels of rich and poor. It was the squatter camp in Cape Town, South Africa, however, that really got to me. I saw innocent children laughing and learned they would fall prey to a cycle of abuse and drugs. I was inspired to work with a local church group creating resources to change the futures of these beautiful children. Experiencing this first-hand made me want to do more and inspired me to question the different levels of wealth in the world. I continue to question this. 

Finally, I felt a visceral connection with the land and the animals, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I drove through thousands of miles of beautiful nothingness, delighted that the land belonged to the animals, and I was the zoo. The leopard is the most beautiful animal I’ve ever seen. I felt like I came home and I can’t wait to return. 

Heather Markel, full-time traveler, travel writer and motivational speaker, www.HeatherBegins.com

  • volunteering at a soup kitchen for a squatter camp in Cape Town.
  • in the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town where I planted spinach for one of the tenants.
  • Heather with her guide and one of the tenants in the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town. Photo courtesy of Heather Markel

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In 2006, I woke in the middle of the night. I stood up and immediately collapsed. I was five months pregnant, and I was frozen on the floor for five hours. When I could move, I woke my children and raced to the hospital. After 8 months of testing, the neurologists didn’t know why I had the brain crash, but they gave me 5 years to live. Devastated, I couldn’t imagine not raising our three children, aged 5, 3, and 4 months. For the first few years, I was busy dying. 

But, my husband’s 40th birthday was coming and I wanted to give him a magical trip so I arranged to show up at a conference he was attending across the country, and I whisked him away. Our visit to Costa Rica was all for him, I wasn’t the adventurous one. However, sometime between whitewater rafting, ziplining and canyoning down a 250-foot waterfall, a switch flipped in my mind. Even though I wouldn’t live long enough to give my kids the world, I could show it to them. I vowed to visit 50 countries before I turned 50, bringing them to international giants like China, Russia, and France, as well as treasures like Estonia, Montenegro, Haiti, and the Philippines. 

Fourteen years later, we have visited 49 countries, have experienced sixty-plus different languages, and made memories that have created children of the world. I can think of no better gift for my kids than experiencing the power of travel. 

Leanne Kabat, Mom of Three | World Traveler | Writer | Speaker

“Travel is more than the seeing of sights. It is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the minds of the living.”

Miriam Beard

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In 2008, I joined the Peace Corps. I’d left my digital career in pursuit of helping others. That desire sent me to Nicaragua in a small town call San Juan de Oriente. I’d never been to Nicaragua or even Central America.

My mission was to work with the town’s pottery makers to bring their creations to a wider audience. At the time, the town’s artisans largely competed amongst themselves for a limited range of regional customers. My goal was to bring them online.

But, what I didn’t know, was how much my travel experience would transform me. Thrusting myself from the typical middle-class American experience to a mosquito net covered bed over a dirt floor gave me an entirely new outlook on life. Don’t get me wrong, there was a certain peace to the sound of the constant jungle-like rain on the zinc roof. But, it was far from what I saw as “normal” at the time.

Upon return, I looked at the American experience of overwhelming luxury and consumerism with fresh eyes. It sent me hurtling down a path to escape the typical 9-to-5, build my own business, and achieve financial independence.

These days, at 36 years old, my goals harken back to my experience under those zinc roofs, on the rickshaws, and with the pottery makers who were born into a singular career path. By limiting our wants, my partner and I have the time to focus on others—and use our wealth to lower the ladder for those behind us. There’s enough in this world to remove struggle for so many that needlessly experience it, it just takes more individuals changing course.

Chris Wellant, Co-Founder of TicToc Life

Standard of living in village where Chris lived in Nicaragua during his Peace Corp years. Photo: Chris Wellant
Standard of living in village where Chris lived in Nicaragua during his Peace Corp years. Photo: Chris Wellant

One of my earliest memories is from 40 years ago, a family trip when I was 8 years old. We traveled to St. Lucia in the Caribbean. We stayed in a beautiful little resort and swam all day in the pool and in the gorgeous turquoise waters of the sea.

One day, my mom decided that we should explore the island and see the sugar cane fields. I will never forget that day. We left this pretty hotel with running water, a comfortable bed, and delicious food, and drove inland. After that, all that I remember seeing is poverty.

Everywhere we went, I saw one-room huts made out of scraps of corrugated metal, dirt, mud, and jungle barely contained. Then, at the end of our day, we passed yet another, except this time, a family was there. A father with two little boys, shoeless, were running, laughing, and smiling. Clothes were in tatters, garbage was everywhere, a fire was blazing nearby with a pot simmering, but all of them were happy despite the conditions in which they were living. Seconds later, we drove by and they were gone.

At that moment, all I wanted to do was to stop the car and talk to the man. I had so many questions. I wanted to ask him about his life, learn, and understand. What did the inside of his hut look like? Was it comfortable? Would the kids go to school one day? Were they hungry? And other more silly questions, like did it hurt to run around in bare feet? I was so completely and utterly curious about what I had just seen. And devastated that shortly after, we were back at the resort.

That moment triggered something deep inside me. Ever since then, I have been insatiable about my desire to travel and see different cultures. The more remote, different, untouched, and authentic, the better. Since then, I have been to over 65 countries, my children 45, and I look forward to the day when we can explore the world again.

Nicole Hunter, mother of 4 and a travel blogger – Go Far Grow Close

In the Masai Mara in Kenya in 2019.
In the Masai Mara in Kenya in 2019. The Masai warriors perform their courting ceremony. They try to jump as high as they can to impress the females. My husband and two sons were invited to try. Photo: Nicole Hunter
On Padar Island in Komodo National Park in Indonesia in 2018.
On Padar Island in Komodo National Park in Indonesia in 2018. From the top of this mountain up which we climbed, you can see three different colour beaches – black, white and pink. Photo courtesy of Nicole Hunter

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For the month of September, I was on a remote island in French Polynesia swimming with humpback whales, living with a local family, and learning their traditions. We truly lived off the land and sea for that month, without enough internet signal for much more than an email or Whatsapp message. Though so much was going on in the world that seemed hopeless, being in that environment felt so healing. We were a small microcosm of the world, and yet it felt so complete. I suspect that spending 22 straight days in the Pacific, swimming with humpback whales, greatly contributed to this sense of wholeness. 

Swimming with such large creatures probably sounds crazy to some people. The days are long, the water can be rough, and the currents are often strong. It’s not easy Caribbean lagoon swimming – this is the mighty Pacific. Yet those moments when you jump in with a playful baby, a couple dancing and swirling around each other, or a group of playful adults, it somehow feels so beautiful and so safe. These gentle giants are amazingly aware of their large bodies, and their agility is impressive. They’re so interactive as well, regularly making eye contact and in some of my experiences, swimming with us for hours. 

Sometimes it feels like it’s not the same world that ‘normal’ life and the whale swims take place in, but I suppose we all need those escapes, don’t we? 

Kristin Addis, CEO of Be My Travel Muse

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The magic of travel is that no matter how many stories you read, pictures you see, or research you do, you never know quite what you are going to get or how it is going to affect you. Every place, person, and experience is different, and there is no end to the growth that comes with travel. The experiences you gain, whether you realize it at the time or not, will forever have a profound effect on how you see the world and how you choose to live in it.

We hope these stories have inspired you to keep travelling and discovering what type of magic will transform you next.

“I am not the same, having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

Mary Anne Radmacher