Most travel is an admittedly hedonistic endeavor: we want to see, eat, and participate in beautiful and interesting things. We want to bust out of our usual routines and have new and exciting experiences. We want to drink Mai Tais while dolphins jump along the lovely blue horizon. But sometimes all this consumption of beauty, culture, and adventure can leave a moody piñata asking, “What does it all mean?” And even though travel is supposed to be fun, often it can lead to more anxiety as roles, expectations, and daily structure are less clearly defined. If you’re looking to avoid an existential travel crisis or just want your next trip to be more meaningful (and fun!), consider taking on a travel mission. A travel mission is a do-it-yourself travel project and learning all about the place you’re going is crucial to your mission’s success.
I'm not talking about digging an orphanage ditch or cleaning oil off birds, though those are seriously noble endeavors. This post is about adding a twist that will turn an average vacation into something extra fun and unforgettable. I recently visited Montréal, Canada and a friend loaned me a travel book which she had because she and her husband would be visiting shortly after me. I'm a tour junkie so I ended up taking three tours of Montréal: walking, cycling, and electric scootering! While on these junkets I got to thinking about what kind of tour my buddy, Patricia, might like and what I could create that would make her trip special and memorable. As I pondered, the city came alive with possibilities: historical scavenger hunt? Eat poutine for all three meals challenge? Extra dorky Montréal trivia?
As I considered each option I saw the city in a different way. I was no longer a passive consumer, but a collaborator with Montréal to make sure Patricia and her hubby had a good time. And if the tour was really fun, maybe they would pass it on and my travel legacy would be sealed. In the end I created the “Create Your Own Montréal Flag” tour which explores the heritage of the four European groups (French, English, Scottish, Irish) that settled Montreal using drawing and urban exploration (email me if you want it!).
Trying to create something forces you to reach for a deeper understand the place you are traveling. Becoming a creator instead a consumer makes travel more engaging, interesting, and meaningful. It causes you to focus and invest more of yourself into really understanding a place and getting the details right (you don't want to send your friends down a dark, pontine-less alley, do you?). If it feels like work, then you’re doing it wrong. It should feel like a hobby, a fun project that you finally have time to do, a unique collaboration between you and the place you’re visiting, a gift to the travelers who walk behind you.
Here are some ideas for your next travel mission. Try one of these or create your own:
Curate a custom tour or experience that a friend or the next traveler can enjoy. Let the place you visit inspire your idea.
Volunteer for an event, festival, or cause that interests you. This will give you a chance to mix it up with locals, give back, and have a unique experience.
Keep a travel journal for a person in your life who wishes they could travel more. This could bean elderly relative, a friend with tiny babies, etc. By writing this extended letter you’ll share your experiences and let them know how important they are to you.
Write and mail thank you notes to guides, hosts, servers, or friendly strangers who help you along your way.
Dive deep and learn about a current problem or issue in the place you’re visiting and figure out something you can do on a local level to inform people or improve the situation.
Good luck out there!