Travel that Transforms
Jennine Cohen, one of GeoEx’s top-notch travel designers, is also a life coach, and she often weaves her trip planning and life coaching skills together to help travelers live out their dreams through travel.
Recently she was interviewed by Michaela Trimble of Vogue for an article about transformative travel. We thought we’d share Jennine’s answers.
How do transformational experiences play into GeoEx’s trips?
Though many of our trips are on the luxury end of the spectrum, many of our travelers come to us because they want to stretch and grow. For some, this is because they are at a transitional point in their own life-journey, moving from full-time work to retirement, for example. But the truth is that transformation can and does happen at any stage of life if the traveler is able to be present in the moment and engage in deep listening.
GeoEx’s range of trips offers many different opportunities for transformative experiences. Some trips that especially nurture these include our treks and other journeys into remote places, often beyond the Internet, where our travelers encounter very different cultures and social constructs, and where turning off the digital noise of everyday life helps facilitate the process of transformation. We encourage this by weaving free time into our itineraries so that our travelers have space and time for their own organic interactions with the people and environment around them—and space and time to reflect on those interactions.
How do you see travelers’ perspectives change post-trip?
The times when the most interesting shifts occur are when travelers engage in meaningful dialogue with people who have a non-Western perspective. This allows our travelers to start to see the world less in black and white, and to begin to appreciate how nuanced many issues are when seen from very different perspectives.
The other scenario where transformation is more common is when they are exposed to certain conservation projects and or have close encounters with wild animals (on safari, for example), or see things that are being affected by global climate change with their own eyes (like polar ice caps melting).
Many of our travelers use this experience to uncover or reflect on their values—and take the opportunity to think about what rituals or ideologies they want to bring back home and integrate into their everyday lives. This could be as simple as making it a habit to get into nature on a regular basis, deciding to buy fewer material things, giving back to their communities, or donating to conservation organizations. Some of our travelers have become passionate advocates of certain philanthropic causes because of experiences on our trips.
What type of experiences do GeoEx trips include that elicit transformations?
GeoEx really prides itself on providing authentic experiences in the places we visit, encounters with people, nature, and wildlife that are engaging and enriching. It’s these intimate personal interactions that seem to spark change.
For example, many of our travelers arrive in Cuba, which has a very different social construct, with one expectation and a frame of reference that has been encouraged by our insulated US media. The construct is that capitalist ideology is good, and communist ideology is bad. When they are on the trip, they have the opportunity to engage with everyday folks, as well as highly educated (and worldly) professors and professionals who are supporters of the Cuban revolution, and the discussions open their eyes to the fact that there is a lot the US and Cuba can learn from each other. They often spend extended periods of time with certain key people—for example, a driver who is also an engineer—and through this connection, the theory and ideology start to have a face and a name, to become a friend.
Another trip with experiences that often prove perspective-shifting is Treasures of Persia. Iran specialist Jessica Silber remarks that many of our travelers are surprised to be so warmly welcomed in the country and to have such open conversations with locals. One GeoEx guest said, “I came back with a whole new view of America’s relationship with Iran. This is an important trip.
Similarly, compelling cultural bridges develop in Pakistan on our Hunza Valley trip. According to Asia expert Sara Barbieri, “Our trip crosses borders literally and figuratively and empowers travelers to shift their perspectives and perhaps preconceived notions about Islam, women and Islam, and this little-known part of Pakistan.”
Travel writer Don George speaks about the transformations that happen in a gentler but no less deeply affecting way on the trips he leads to the little-visited Japanese island of Shikoku: “When I take travelers far off the beaten path into the green fastnesses of Shikoku’s Iya Valley,” Don explains, “they meet locals who rarely encounter Japanese tourists, much less Western travelers. When these locals share a meal with us, their absolute delight in meeting us as equals—and so, doubles—our delight in meeting them. For everyone, this sharing—of culinary and cultural ingredients, preparations, tastes, and traditions—becomes a priceless and transformative lesson in how big and varied our planet is, and at the same time in how intimately connected we are as a human species.”
It’s not uncommon for trips to turn a traveler’s love of wildlife and nature into a passion for conservation, such as Conservation’s Cutting Edge in the Congo, where intrepid adventurers commune with critically endangered mountain gorillas in Virunga National Park, and Chile North to South, where guests hike through gorgeous, remote mountains and past curious guanacos in the future Patagonia National Park. (In fact, you can read about my colleague’s perspective-shifting Patagonia experience on the GeoEx blog.) Both journeys reveal natural wonders while sharing conservation challenges and triumphs.
And in even more remote regions, like Antarctica, finding ourselves surrounded by hundreds of thousands of penguins that go about their business of living and surviving completely oblivious to our presence is a humbling experience. As Urs Hofmann, who oversees our Antarctica trips, says: “Looking around, taking in the awe-inspiring scenery, the silence, the massive and beautifully sculpted icebergs, and the abundant wildlife, breathing in the clean cold air and admiring the starlit sky, reminds us of just how insignificant we are: a sobering and at the same time liberating sensation. The urgency to protect what’s left of everything natural and relatively untouched by humans becomes acutely apparent during and after a visit to Antarctica.
On the spiritual side of the spectrum, Bhutan is a place where transformational travel is “part of the package”. Our travelers can participate in sacred ceremonies and local festivals, interact with monks and nuns, visit elegant temples and hilltop chorten framed by billowing prayer flags, try meditation, learn about Gross National Happiness, and go for hikes through lush forests that often turn contemplative.
Many of our guests on all of these kinds of journeys—both the ones that focus on culture and the ones that focus on nature and wildlife—report that their experiences are life-changing.
We’re honored and exhilarated to play a role in that transformational journey.
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Jennine Cohen, Managing Director of Americas at GeoEx, is a leading travel industry expert as seen in Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Yahoo Travel, Fortune, Forbes, and other publications. She and GeoEx’s team of travel experts thrive on planning extraordinary and meaningful journeys to some of the earth’s most astonishing destinations. Give them a call to discuss ideas or start planning at 888-570-7108.