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Purposeful Travel: How to Find Rewarding Experiences Around the World

From Hill Holliday / Santander Private® Client Insights

Woman walking on a rope bridge through the wooods

Traveling the world has the potential to expand the mind, foster goodwill, and deepen understanding—both of others and yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with visiting famous tourist attractions or lounging poolside at resorts. But if interested, there are plenty of ways to deepen your experience of the cities and countries you visit.

Traveling with a purpose can open the world in new and exciting ways. If you seek rewarding and meaningful experiences, here are a few ways to stray from the standard, well-worn path and swap your next vacation for your next adventure.

Trip preparation: Finance the dream overseas

International travel increased considerably last year but recovery hasn’t been even across regions. Flight arrivals in the Asia-Pacific region rose from 5% of pre-pandemic levels of traffic to 10%, while arrivals in the Americas rose from 30% to 52%. Throughout 2022, roughly 87% of Americans plan to engage in some form of leisure travel.ii

Wherever you plan to go, international travel can be costly. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be prohibitively expensive either. It simply requires a bit of forethought to make responsible decisions—exercising discernment and restraint where necessary.

But with a little preparation, purposeful travel shouldn’t cut into your savings or become a financial burden. In certain cases, it may prepare people for further financial success stemming from what they’ve learned or how they’ve grown.

With the help of a financial advisor from Santander Private Client, purposeful travelers can strategize for the financial freedom and acquire the information they need to make informed decisions. Sorting out financial matters ahead of time brings peace of mind, which allows the traveler to focus on their greater purpose—the meaning behind the journey.

Study abroad: Expand your horizons

For people in pursuit of wisdom, education is a journey that lasts a lifetime. Immersing oneself in another culture is already an edifying experience, and incorporating formal instruction can accelerate progress, deepen comprehension, and amplify purpose.

Regardless of how accomplished or knowledgeable a professional may be in his or her field, there’s always room to acquire additional skills and absorb knowledge from other disciplines and traditions.

Foreign-language immersion is understandably among the most popular courses for people studying abroad. Overseas travel is also an excellent opportunity to earn credentials from internationally renowned universities or explore one’s creative side at artistic retreats. Meeting imaginative people while admiring stunning vistas may inspire participants to produce poetry, paintings, screenplays, songs, or whatever other form of art captures their imagination.

Wellness retreat: Rejuvenate in tranquility

If you need to unplug and reset, a wellness retreat could give you the peaceful and healing environment to do just that. These packages typically include local cuisine that offers for any dietary preferences (such as vegetarian or gluten-free options), yoga classes, daily excursions, optional spiritual talks, massages, and other spa services.

Whether religious or secular, a wellness retreat allows people to decompress, refresh, and exercise in a serene environment that’s close to nature. Setting aside time to reach one’s wellness goals—whether of the body, mind, or soul—is an important aspect of self-care.

Adventure travel: Embark on an epic journey

Sometimes the mountain one climbs isn’t metaphorical.

Adventure tourism provides thrill seekers physical activity, time with nature, and cultural immersion. Considering the risks involved, these trips usually require a fair amount of skill and tolerance for danger. But when you emerge at the other end of the trip, you will have accomplished something great.

We can roughly divide this into two categories: soft adventure and hard adventure.iii The former includes birdwatching, camping, and fishing, whereas the latter includes rock climbing, scuba diving, skydiving, and spelunking. The industry distinguishes between these categories by the level of skill and experience needed to engage and the relative risks inherent to the excursion.

Some activities can fall into either category based on the surrounding circumstances and environment. For instance, hiking along manicured trails in a national park or at high altitudes in the wild are much different experiences. The same goes for kayaking or surfing depending upon the respective speed of the river or the height of the waves.

Volunteer trip: Change the world, little by little

The benefits of volunteering overseas are plentiful: experiencing a different culture, developing a new skill set, forming new connections, etc. If you are passionate about a particular region, see if there are reputable organizations that organize trips for volunteer work. Or if you’re passionate about a particular issue, see where in the world you can make an impact.

The Peace Corps and other agencies give people the opportunity to work on a variety of causes around the world.iv Agriculture volunteers work with local farmers to increase food security, adapt to climate change, and conserve the environment. Economic development volunteers work with banks, nonprofits, and municipalities to increase opportunities for the local communities. Health volunteers promote hygiene, nutrition, water sanitation, HIV/AIDS education, and more.

If the Peace Corp’s two-year minimum requirement is too long, there are other reputable organizations that allow people to volunteer from a few weeks to one year.v With a wealth of information and reviews, Go Overseas is a valuable resource for researching thousands of these programs throughout the world. Opportunities include volunteering, teaching and taking a gap year.

A warning about voluntourism: Be mindful of unintended consequences

Despite the best intentions, “voluntourism” (a hybrid combining volunteer and tourism) can negatively affect the communities it is intended to help. This may seem counterintuitive at first, but volunteers often lack the expertise to make a genuine impact and could cause more harm than good.

For instance, if a volunteer is asked to help build houses—without ever having worked in construction—he or she will likely do a shoddy job. The resultant home may be of such poor quality that it’s uninhabitable, effectively squandering time and resources. To make matters worse, offering these services for free could take away jobs from local construction workers, disrupting the local market and undermining a burgeoning industry.

Another sad fact is that visiting or volunteering at orphanages in developing countries can have inadvertent consequences for the With short-term volunteer trips, vulnerable children may grow attached and then hurt by the steady turnover of volunteers, harming their emotional well-being. These trips can even fund a for-profit industry that incentivizes separating children from their parents and housing children in poor living quarters to attract financial support.

If considering voluntourism, it’s important to research the organization thoroughly and ensure it isn’t creating perverse incentives. Volunteer programs can be wonderful if they assign participants to activities that match their skill sets, stimulate the local economy, and follow a sustainable model. Volunteering should empower communities to thrive on their own, not foster dependency on another nation or a charity.

Return home with a broader perspective

Santander Private Client’s financial advisors can help you plan and experience your own version of purposeful travel. Whether it’s a type of trip listed above—or a combination of options—an advisor can offer solid advice based on your unique financial situation. They can help you achieve your financial goals.

As you learn more about the world, you learn more about yourself. You discover what’s shared by the whole world, what’s specific to your country, what’s specific to your region or state, and what’s specific to you as an individual. So, whether conjugating verbs in a foreign tongue, trekking across an awe-inspiring mountain range, or advocating for the sustainable use of our shared natural resources, remember that every trip can be purposeful travel.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

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iTravel Daily newsletter.

iiDestination Analysts.

iii “The European market potential for adventure tourism.” Centre for the Promotion of Imports.

iv “What Volunteers Do.” Peace Corps.

v “9 Peace Corps Alternatives to Inspire You to Volunteer Abroad.” Go Overseas.

vi “Gap years, volunteering overseas and adventure travelling.”

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