As the owner and operator of the high-end tour company Elevate Destinations for the past sixteen years, and as someone who designs custom trips, I have come to realize that a trip is not just about a destination. It has everything to do with who my clients want to become when they travel.
Perhaps you might recognize yourself in one of the following identities or personas?
Are you a benevolent grandparent seeking to bond with your grandchildren and unify the family on a safari? (The Nurturer)
Or are you a twenty-something graduate looking to discover your life purpose by volunteering at a school for an underserved community in Peru? (The Seeker)
Perhaps you’re a thirty-something Silicon Valley mogul wanting to prove you’re still pushing the envelope by horseback riding in the Gobi Desert? (The Pioneer)
Or a Mom who wants to impress a surfing instructor in Costa Rica every bit as much as your fifteen year-old daughter? (Everlasting Youth)
“A trip is not just about a destination. It has everything to do with who my clients want to become when they travel.”
These identities go deeper than the superficial demographics we often use to describe travel markets: The “luxury” or “budget” traveler, “boomers,” “millennials,” etc. Just as we in the travel industry are selective in how we craft the image and story of a destination, travelers gravitate towards a persona or alter-ego to deploy during a trip and may select a destination that they imagine will fit the needs of that persona. Travel is a way to reinvent ourselves—to incarnate, reclaim, or discover a piece of identity we may be hungering for or have neglected. It is an invitation to more greatly develop our wholeness. And, whether we acknowledge it or not, travel is a calling to grow.
Who are we when we travel? What do we discover about ourselves when we get to our destination? Why do we adopt a preferred identity to travel, and how is that impacted by our destination? We may be yearning for experiences to satisfy and form that particular persona or alter-ego. The experiences we have may tilt our sense of ourselves and also upend our alter-ego. They allow us to, as Alexa Clay—author of The Misfit Economy—puts it, “hack our identity.”
“When we change our identity, we shift our field of attraction. Suddenly you’re acting as a very different person and you are in conversations you would never be in before. Alter-egos allow us to extend our range of being and tap into parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t normally have access to.”
Whether or not they are consciously crafted, the personas we adopt when we travel are usually tested and become conduits for our personal growth. This is part of what makes travel so intense. We do not return the same. As a popular cruise advertises: we “come back new.”
I think it is worth reflecting on who we craft ourselves to be when we travel and what our expectations are as a result. Even if we aren’t consciously aware of the personas we embody when we travel, they will shape the experiences we have.
The “Seeker” may find meaning and purpose in a cause beyond themselves, and they may also be dished up some discomfort about their own privilege. What do they do with that new awareness? The ground has shifted.
The “Pioneer” may be humbled to discover their innovative abilities only work in a familiar context and stumble to keep up with a desert lifestyle that is both novel and ancient. Or he/she may grow new skills and adaptability.
Our “Nurturer” grandparent may have difficulty keeping up with grandchildren with whom they don’t normally spend much time—their benevolent seniority outfoxed by grandchildren’s quick grasp of new surroundings, species, and language. On the other hand, their relationship can become more real as a family shares real lived time and experiences together.
“Everlasting Youth Mom” may likewise have to confront the ephemeral quality of her beauty as all the hot surfers on the Costa Rica beach are riveted by her daughter instead. Who will she be if she no longer receives the attention of young surfers? Mirror, mirror on the wall…transformation.
I have often observed that most journeys, like classic narratives, implode towards the middle of a trip. There is usually an obstacle, a crisis, a challenge that precipitates an apocalyptic meltdown, that then finds solution and healing. I suspect that most often this has to do with a disruption of identity and the inherent nature of transformation.
Something happens during your trip that is dystonic with who you believe yourself to be. Your ground must shift. Because we don’t always have language for this, such a crisis may be expressed through “signifiers”—our displaced projections on events and circumstances that are more superficial than the reality that our core identity is being rattled and challenged. How we face these confrontations to our closely held beliefs about our lived experience says everything about how we permit ourselves to grow.
Pre-trip anxiety, common for most, is a premonition that we are inviting the unexpected into our lives. Why does traveling make us anxious? It’s not just a fear of terrorism, COVID, or unsightly aesthetics in our chosen accommodation. Our anxiety is more fundamental: how will we adapt to that which is demanded of us by all the novelty, the raw newness of what we will experience—the unfamiliar people, places, smells, food, and… social issues?
Will we let all of it move us, enter our core identity, reassess our values, shift something? Will we “come back new,” or will we resist the invitation to change, to sit in some of our discomfort, to search ourselves and grow?
In my experience, the most successful travelers struggle to remain open and try to process what the strong feelings their journeys awaken. The emerging trend of “slow travel” encourages us to take the time to absorb these cues for growth. As my colleague Dana Droller writes: “Slowing down during our travels allows us to evolve in a way that’s good for ourselves and the world around us. It requires more of us, not less.”
Who are you when you travel? Who do you want to become?