Looking for a transformative journey? Keep these six steps in mind

(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of information, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

Jaco J. Hamman, Vanderbilt University

(THE CONVERSATION) After a year in lockdown, Americans are thirsty for travel. Passport offices are inundated with requests. In July, airlines scheduled and operated the most flights since the start of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. A record number of travelers have visited U.S. national parks this summer, following a drop of nearly 28% due to the pandemic.

But why do we travel in the first place? What is the appeal of the open road?


As a teacher of religion, psychology, and culture, I study experiences that lie at the intersection of the three. And in my research on travel, I am struck by its insoluble paradoxes: many of us seek to escape, to be present; we accelerate towards the destinations, in order to slow down; we can care about the environment, while leaving carbon footprints.

Ultimately, many people hope to come back transformed. Travel is often thought of as what anthropologists call a “rite of passage”: structured rituals in which individuals separate from their familiar surroundings, undergo changes, and return rejuvenated or “reborn”.

But travelers don’t just care about themselves. The desire to explore can be a defining human trait, as I assert in my latest book, but the ability to do so is a privilege that can come at a cost to host communities. Increasingly, the tourism industry and academics are interested in ethical travel, which minimizes the damage visitors do to the places and people they meet.

The media inundate tourists with advice and incentives on where to travel and what to do there. But in order to achieve the deeper goals of the transformative and ethical journey, the “why” and the “how” require deeper discernment.

While writing “Just Traveling: God, Leaving Home, and a Spirituality for the Road”, I studied travel accounts in sacred scriptures and sought the conclusions of psychologists, sociologists, ethicists, economists and tourism specialists. . I argue that meaningful travel is best understood not as a three-step rite but as a six-step practice, based on fundamental human experiences. These phases can repeat and overlap on a single journey, just as adventures turn and turn.

1. Anticipate

The journey begins long before departure, while we research and plan. But anticipation is more than logistics. The Dutch rightly call it “voorpret”: literally, the pleasure of before.

How and what people anticipate in a given situation has the power to shape their experience, for better or for worse, even when it comes to prejudice. Experiments in psychology, for example, have shown that when children anticipate greater cooperation between groups, this can reduce their bias towards their own group.

But phenomenology, a branch of philosophy that studies human experience and consciousness, emphasizes that anticipation is also “empty”: our conscious intentions and expectations of what is to come might be fulfilled or defeated by a future moment.

With this in mind, travelers should try to stay open to uncertainty and even disappointment.

2. Leave

Leaving can awaken deep emotions linked to our first experiences of separation. The attachment styles psychologists study in infants, which shape people’s sense of security in their relationships, continue to shape us as adults. These experiences can also affect how comfortable people feel about exploring new experiences and leaving home, which can affect the way they travel.

Some travelers leave with enthusiasm, while others experience hesitation or guilt over the relief and excitement of departure. Mindfulness of the stages of the journey can help people manage their anxiety.

3. Give up

Travelers cannot control their trip: a flight is canceled, or a vehicle breaks down; the weather forecast is sunny, but it rains for days. To some extent, they have to surrender to the unknown.

Modern Western cultures tend to see “surrender” as something negative – like hoisting a white flag. But as a therapeutic concept, surrender helps people let go of inhibiting habits, discover a sense of wholeness, and experience being together with others. The perfectionist learns that a modified itinerary doesn’t mean a diminished travel experience and lets go of his fear of failure. The person with a strong sense of independence becomes more vulnerable as they receive care from strangers.

In fact, some psychological theories hold that the self aspires to surrender, in the sense of liberation: to drop its defensive barriers and free itself from attempts to control its environment. Taking this perspective can help travelers cope with the reality that things may not go as planned.

4. Meeting

The meeting, the fourth phase of the journey, is an invitation to discover oneself and to discover others.

All cultures have unconscious ‘rules of recognition’, their own ingrained customs and ways of thinking, which makes it more difficult to forge intercultural bonds. Carrying conscious and unconscious stereotypes, travelers may view certain people and places as uneducated, dangerous, poor, or sexual, while hosts may view travelers as rich, ignorant and exploitable.

To move beyond these stereotypes, travelers should be alert to behaviors that can add tension to their interactions – knowing what conversation topics to avoid, for example, or following local dress codes.

In many parts of the world, these challenges are intensified by the legacy of colonization, making it more difficult for people to meet in an authentic way. Colonial views still influence Western perceptions of non-white groups as exotic, dangerous, and inferior.

Beginning to overcome these barriers requires an attitude known as cultural humility, which runs deeper than “cultural competence” – simply knowing a different culture. Cultural humility helps travelers ask questions such as “I don’t know”, “Please help me understand” or “How should I …”

5. Take care

Caring involves overcoming “privileged irresponsibility”: when a traveler does not recognize and take responsibility for their own privilege, or does not recognize the lack of privilege of others.

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Travel becomes irresponsible when tourists ignore the injustices and inequalities they are witnessing or how their travels are contributing to the ongoing climate crisis. From an ethical point of view, “empathy” is not enough; travelers should seek solidarity, as an act of “caring with”. This can mean hiring local guides, eating at family-friendly restaurants, and being mindful of resources like the food and water they use.

6. Return

Trips come to an end, and returning home can be a disorienting experience.

Returning can cause reverse culture shock if travelers struggle to readjust. But that shock may subside as travelers share their experiences with others, stay connected to the places they’ve visited, learn more about the place and culture, anticipate a possible return trip, or get involved in the trip. causes they discovered during their trip.

I think reflecting on these six phases can invite the kind of mindfulness necessary for a transformative and ethical journey. And in the midst of a pandemic, the need for thoughtful travel that prioritizes the well-being of host communities is clear.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/looking-for-transformative-travel-keep-these-six-stages-in-mind-167687.


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