Aimless wandering in a new place can lead to wonderful adventures of discovery. With no fixed schedule and no set agenda, you leave yourself the opportunity to stumble upon people, places and experiences that you might not have discovered otherwise. But there’s a big difference between not having a schedule and not having a purpose. One gives you freedom, but the other one leaves you aimless.
We believe that travel with purpose is better because it can help to illuminate every experience you have along the way. It’s like a spotlight shining on your path through a new place. You can still have the freedom to wander, explore and get a little lost. But when you travel with purpose, it’s like having a trail of breadcrumbs that makes it easier for you to find your way back.
Purposeful travel can take on a variety of different forms, from volunteer vacations in which you give your time and energy for a specific cause to focusing on a specific aspect of the culture you wish to explore. For instance, maybe you want to take dance lessons in different places along your trip, learn a new language from the locals, or try different kinds of food everywhere you go.
Voluntourism is a great way to travel with purpose, giving you a more focused and ultimately more rewarding experience along the way. Here are five great reasons why we feel purposeful travel is the very best kind:
1) You experience place more thoroughly.
Having a cause or subject you’re particularly interested in will strengthen the connection you have to a given destination.
It’s impossible to experience every aspect of a new place in a way that feels thorough when you’re only there for a short-term visit. But focusing on just one interesting aspect of a place, like the schools in a small village, will allow you to feel more connected.
Purpose also helps you acclimate more quickly to a place, allowing you to experience that place more thoroughly. The guides on our volunteer trips give you the information and guidance you need to feel at home right away, so you can get out and explore these new places without wasting time on finding your way and figuring things out on your own.
2) You learn more about the culture.
Immersing yourself in a certain topic will open doors to experiences that you might not have been exposed to otherwise.
People inherently want to share things with other people who are interested in them. If you’re fascinated by the culinary traditions of Japan, you’re more likely to find an opportunity to enjoy a meal in a family’s home.
Once people know that you’re interested in their culture, they’ll want to share as much of it as they can with you! Volunteer vacations can introduce you to locals who love to share their culture with visitors. And it’s often that sort of cultural immersion that sticks with volunteers most when they go back home.
3) You meet more people.
Having a sense of purpose on your trip gives you a path on which to meet more people. Maybe you’re taking a class, or calling locals to interview them about a topic for an article you’re writing.
A specific reason to introduce yourself to people is the best way to make new acquaintances and even friends! Having a shared purpose or interest with others makes it so much easier to make connections.
When you’re working together on a common goal, a shared language is often unnecessary. It’s the shared experience that connects you.
4) You bring back more meaningful memories.
Traveling without purpose poses the risk of wasting time. If you don’t have an extended window of time to spend in a place, aimless travel can result in a lot of frustration, and even boredom.
But if you have a specific purpose to your trip, you’re heading towards memorable experiences from the moment you land in a new place. You’re connected to a part of the place and the people right away, and you can start making memories that will last a lifetime.
5) You’re not at the mercy of mass tourism.
There’s a reason that “be a traveler, not a tourist,” has become such a popular catchphrase for those looking to have more significant and meaningful experiences on the road.
Traveling within the mass-market tourism industry, while offering convenience to visitors who are unfamiliar with a given country, can often lead to cookie-cutter experiences that don’t offer much in the way of authenticity.
When you travel with purpose– whether volunteering, doing a home stay or learning a new language– you go into it with an idea of what you want to see and do. So you won’t be so easily swayed to be stuck on a bus tour for half a day. Trust us, those are rarely as fun as the tour guide claims!
We want all of our volunteers to have memorable trips, and traveling with a sense of purpose gives you a much better chance of having a meaningful travel experience. We love to travel with the purpose of helping others, and we have a feeling you will, too! Don’t worry: there will still be time for aimless wandering along the way. –Britany Robinson
BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her works appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, The Daily Dot and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes.