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5 Tips for Traveling with Purpose: Beyond Sightseeing

Updated: Jun 13

Cover - Africa is a great place to travel for a purpose

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About the Author - Lisa Dunford Dickman


Looking for more meaning in your life - and in your travels?

In this new Pandemic era many of us are searching for more. Travel restrictions and health concerns radically changed the way we move through the world. Months (or years-) long shut-downs provided unexpected time and space to consider what is really most  important to us. Many empty-nesters at midlife also find themselves thinking about creating a more fulfilling future. 

And traveling with purpose can help do just that!

For 15 years I made my living as a travel guidebook writer for Lonely Planet publishing, so I've always loved encouraging people to travel with purpose. I adore when people go farther and dig deeper. But even I started looking more closely at why and how I was traveling post-Coronavirus. 

Don’t misunderstand, there’s a time and a place for the escapist vacay… I love a good pool chair with a book and a beverage of choice by my side! But by consciously designing trips to have more meaning, you can experience not only fulfillment, but more fun! Because you’re making the trip more personal.  

No more exhausting yourself, or your kiddos, trying to see every single sight in one day (or one afternoon!) When you travel with purpose you’re making choices based on what’s important to you. Knowing your core personal values can go a long way in helping define your why for traveling. Whichever way you go  - whether you create a theme trip based on personal interests, seek out sacred spaces, craft a volunteer or eco-friendly vacation, or reconnect with family history, you’ll be making deeply meaningful memories. 

Follow your interests t travel for a purpose

1. Follow Your Feel Good When Traveling with Purpose

What hobby, interest or subject really lights you up? Maybe your kiddo adores trains, art makes your heart sing, or your significant other is a Star Wars fanatic. Why not plan your trip around that?! Tailoring your travel to a personal theme can up the enjoyment factor considerably, as well as make the experience more meaningful. 

If you’re traveling with others, consider how interests overlap. If natural beauty moves you, but you want to keep that train-loving tike happy, consider a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer train through the Canadian Rockies. An art lover in Paris? Forgo the Eiffel Tower or Arc de Triomphe in lieu of some of the smaller, out of the way art museums like the Musée Marmottan Monet. 

My husband and I both love water and boating. So when we planned a trip to Venice, I focused on every boating experience possible. Not only did we ride the gondola across the canal, use water taxis like tour boats, and hop the vaporetto (boat buses) to outlying islands, but I also tracked down a place we could rent an outboard boat he could captain us around. I also made sure to reserve us a room with an outstanding water view for my much needed relaxation (canals are busy places!) We ended up spending very little time in and around famous St Mark’s Square, but we had one of our most memorable trips ever!

A word of warning: Be careful not to sacrifice any one person’s happiness on a group trip when traveling with a purpose in mind. Yes, make that Star Wars pilgrimage to Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studio. But if everyone in the family is not a die-hard, Boba Fett-fanatic, maybe mix time at the other Walt Disney World parks in among your Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run, building your lightsaber and eating at Oga’s Cafe. 

Seek out sacred spaces when you travel for a purpose

2. Travel With Purpose by Seeking Sacred Spaces

Another way you can add purpose to your travels is to seek out sacred or powerful places. Tune into the type of energy you want to explore. You don’t have to journey to Mecca to have a profound experience. Maybe you do want to tour the cathedrals of Europe, and that’s great too. 

But you might also want to visit magical Stonehenge, or connect with the Teotihuacan ancestors in Mexico at the Pyramid of the Sun. Ancient sites are excellent places to feel the impact of the ages. 

Or you could seek your sense of wonder and awe in a cathedral of the wild like Yosemite or Grand Canyon. Remember, you don’t have to go far to feel deeply. The United States has an excellent system of state and national parks. If you live here, there’s likely somewhere to explore fairly close to home.

For me, walking 100km of the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route that leads to the Cathedral of St James in the northwestern corner of Spain, started out as a personal challenge and ended up as so much more. 

The experiences I had on the Camino affected me deeply. I was heartened when several  local Spanish Catholics asked a Muslim friend in our group to help carry the Our Lady of Fatima effigy on her saint day. At one point I was feeling low and a flock of doves flew over me in the forest, leaving me awestruck…  I swear I almost didn’t believe it when my painful foot felt better after hugging a “healing” tree. 

Doesn’t everyone remember things more when they’re moved emotionally?Seeking sacred places can help us get out of our small self and connect more universally.

Volunteering your skills is a top way to travel for purpose

3. Volunteer To Travel With Purpose

Being of service when you travel, sometimes referred to as “voluntourism”, can not only add a layer of meaning to your trip when you’re traveling with purpose, it’s a great way to make new connections and learn about a culture or place. For families, volunteering also encourages new types of interactions and can help increase awareness and a spirit of giving in children. 

A few of the options for voluntourism include:

Organized Trips

Volunteer Forever serves as a clearinghouse for different operators. Specific volunteer vacation companies like Go Eco and Global Vision International  (GVI)  organize both conservation and community service-oriented trips, for individuals and for families. Trip lengths vary, as does the cost and level of comforts, but you could help save endangered turtles in Sri Lanka or work with teachers and children in Thailand. Organizations like Earth Watch additionally arrange archeology trips, in case you want to get your hands dirty digging in Tuscan soil.

African Animal Reserves

If you’re dreaming of an African safari, know that many of the private African reserves offer their own volunteer programs. During the course of several trips to Phinda Private Game Reserve in eastern South Africa, I’ve felt privileged to meet volunteers (and make long-term friends) working with their conservation corps. They do amazing work, monitoring the animals and even helping with their treatment or relocation. 

Local Non-Profits

Note that you don’t have to set aside weeks of vacation or travel thousands of miles to do or feel good. Look for local organizations where you might add a day or two of volunteer work to your travels (or to your trip to grandma’s house). Volunteering at a soup kitchen around Christmas-time is a classic, but maybe helping build a Habitat for Humanity house is more your style. Whatever suits your family best, knowing that your efforts are making a positive impact on the lives of others can be a deeply rewarding experience.

Green travel is travel for a purpose that is gaining popularity

4. Traveling Green is Traveling With a Purpose

Eco-tourism at its best is about so much more than just visiting a beautiful place in a sustainable way. When you decide to travel green, you give your trip a deeper purpose. You open yourself to being educated about a place, your investment contributes to the development of the community and to conserving the environment… Not to mention that being immersed in nature can lead to a deeper understanding of and appreciation of your connection to this planet. 

Top ecotourism locations include some of the most stunning biodiversity on earth. If this sounds like your ideal way to imbue your travel with meaning, consider destinations such as the Galapagos Islands, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Alaska and New Zealand. 

When looking for an eco-resort, do your homework. All outfits are not created equal. Research a place’s rating from organizations like Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Green Key Global, and Green Globe. 

But be aware, too, that sometimes small, privately-owned places might provide exactly what you’re looking for. Years ago my husband and I had an amazing experience staying in a treehouse in a large, largely uninhabited valley in Hawaii. The power and water for the little tree house were solely provided by a waterfall in the valley.  

At night laying in bed, the darkness was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. Even with the frogs croaking, an immense stillness enveloped us - a feeling I will never forget. Browse “Off the Grid'' on AirBnB for eco-friendly rental options where you can make your own unforgettable memories. 

Use your heritage to find ways to travel for purpose

5. Heritage Travel With A Purpose

Thanks to technology, researching your family history is easier than ever, and the pull to reconnect with your roots can be a great way to add deeper purpose to your travel. Maybe your grandparents or parents came from another country and you want to take them back for a visit. Maybe you’d like to see the city where your late grandfather grew up. 

Or maybe you’re interested in the more distant past and you just want to get a sense of your original ethic origins. A trip taken for any of these reasons can contribute to a better understanding of yourself, as well as it being a new and meaningful experience.

If your relatives are still living abroad, the first step is to sit down and have a chat. Find out the places and times that are most meaningful to them and decide where you want to go from there.

Or, if you’ve done some genealogical research before, you likely already have the destination in mind and can plan an itinerary accordingly. For those that need a little more help, genealogical organizations such as Ancestry’s ProGeneologists offer tailor-made international trips accompanied by a researcher. They also have educational cruises to teach you about doing your own family history research. 

Individual cultural associations also often sponsor heritage tours, or can help you find more information. When I wanted to dive deep into my maternal grandfather’s homeland, I joined the Carpatho-Rusyn Society. They assisted me in understanding the multi-layered history of the Carpathian Mountain region of my grandfather’s birth. Turns out he was from an area that today spans five countries - the Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and Hungary. 

When I took my first trip to Uzhgorod, Ukraine, I not only visited cemeteries and sights, I found a new family! It turned out that a third cousin still lived right down the road from the original family home. Years later she and I are still dear friends!

Final Thoughts

You just never know what might happen when you travel with purpose! I can’t promise you’ll reconnect with a long, lost family.  But whether you decide to go deeper by following your interests, go to a sacred destination, be a volunteer or eco-tourist, or you take an ancestry-related trip, you’ll be focusing on what brings meaning for you. That way your trip is sure to be an enriching experience which goes beyond the surface of traditional touring. The sense of fulfillment and the positive experiences gained from purposeful travel can help make the memories of a lifetime!

About The Author

Lisa Dunford Dickman is a transformational coach, a traveler, a writer and a retreat leader. She helps soul-centered women take big, bold steps towards their dreams, even when they don’t know what those dreams are - yet! Lisa’s greatest joy is leading her sea-to-safari, “Open to the Magic!” transformational retreats in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa.

Lisa has lived in six countries and speaks four languages. (Five if you count Texan!) Before becoming a coach, she roamed the globe for 15 years writing Lonely Planet travel guidebooks. Today Lisa, her husband and their dogs call a riverfront east of Houston home.

About the Blog Editor

Angela Caveney, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, Neuropsychologist and Founder of The Trybe Women's Social Club. Her absolute favorite things to do are to help women find their people, rediscover themselves and thrive throughout midlife. She can be reached directly at

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