Inner Circle

Travel that changes lives

Siew Hoon Yeoh on the power of travel to change lives.

Travel that changes lives
once our bodies are rested, our minds seek experiences that take us out of ourselves and into local communities.

I am constantly amazed by the power of travel to change lives. Recently, I caught up with a young woman in her late twenties who left her well paid management-consulting job to start her own online travel business. I asked her why she’d do something as risky as that considering today’s competitive market.

She told me her story. She had taken a leave of absence from her job to visit Argentina to pursue her dream of studying Spanish. She spent time with a local entrepreneur and lived with locals who showed her things that she’d never have seen as a tourist. She saw the country through their eyes.

It changed her perspective of travel and she decided to extend her stay to continue working with the entrepreneur. The experience taught her that travelling could be more than sightseeing and eating different food, but seeing places from a local viewpoint.

She said: “It’s more about learning from people that changes your ideas about yourself. It changes you.” It inspired her to create an online business providing easy access to local, authentic experiences in place, such as living in a Balinese village or learning to cook from local chefs, so that other travellers could do the same.

She knows it won’t be easy to gain local access as this is one of the most challenging areas in the travel business to tackle. None of the major online travel brands have been able to crack it because it is too local an issue – but from the glint in her eyes, I suspect she will give it a serious go. 

Coincidentally, the same week, I had a visitor in town – a woman who runs Gyalthang Eco Adventures in Zhongdian (Shangri-La), China. Uttara Sarkar Crees is a Ugandan-born Indian with a passion for community-based tourism and eco-tourism. She’s been taking intrepid travellers on treks throughout the Yunnan/Tibetan region – journeys that immerse them in local communities, living with locals and understanding their traditions.

Most of Crees’ customers are touched by the experience and return several times. One of them, a young woman from New York, even set up a handicraft business in Zhongdian so that she could spend four months in the area each year.

As travellers, we yearn to do more than just see and eat. Of course, there are times we just want a break, to plonk on a beach and do nothing. But once our bodies are rested, our minds need nourishment and we seek experiences that take us out of ourselves and into local communities.

I find increasingly that it is younger travellers who are thirsty for such connections. I was invited to give a talk to a group of university students studying travel and tourism and when I asked them what they wanted most from their travels, the unanimous response was “local experiences.”

The Internet has also helped to open up the world so much that this generation has no qualms accepting the kindness of strangers. And in a world of “friends” made through social networks, well, nobody’s a stranger anyway.

Have any of your travels changed your life in any way? Share your story with us by submitting your travel experiences on Your Circle.

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