The World Needs Travel to Change

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Travel has beeen changing the world for centuries. Since ancient times, travel has connected civilizations and made each of them better because of that contact. So many things we take for granted in the West came to us from other cultures by way of camel caravans. Their sources obscured by time and adaptation. For example, did you know that the bagpipes were first used in the Middle East? Today travel is no longer just for the outrageously adventurous, it’s for all those who seek to improve themselves by knowing more about the world around them and therefore about themselves.

“Travel is a way to experience a continuity of self in the midst of the flux of the world. Allowing one to understand oneself more deeply in that contrast.” – Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit

How Travel Has Transformed My Story

When I was 17, I took my first international flight. I skipped my senior prom to spend 2 weeks in Russia as part of an exchange program funded by the US government to “improve relations” between our countries. Based on current foreign affairs I’m afraid that program didn’t provide the intended benefit, but it changed the way I looked at the world forever. I understood in those 2 weeks on a deep level that being a poor white girl in the US was a privilege and the world is not fair. There are people far smarter and far kinder than me living in conditions that I’d never experienced before. Our host students spoke a few languages and were way ahead in math, yet they walked to school past piles of garbage, rarely had hot water and lived in cramped apartments. I understood in a way that no book could teach me that individuals can strive all they like, but if the system isn’t set up right, there’s only so far they can get.

So I appreciate the benefits of the system I was born into and I have cultivated a sense of humility and generosity from that appreciation. That is the power of travel to transform a boring civic lesson into a personal awareness of my place in the world and my responsibility.

Since that early encounter with transformational travel, especially powerful at a young age, I have had many more travel experiences which have led me to found a company that makes software for organizing group trips. Because I discovered that the best way to empower the kind of travel I think changes the world is to empower the group leaders who make those trips happen.
They are the adventurous souls who did things like spend years in Nepal preparing for an Everest climb, mapped out the networks necessary to introduce Australians to the SF startup ecosystemcreated opportunities for disadvantaged Nepalese women, or discovered a new life path walking in Bhutan.

Their deep connections to place and people outside their homes means they can take people on transformational journeys. They provide the bridge between worlds, like the camel caravans of the past. Ensuring that the people who go with them are safe enough to return unharmed, but “unsafe” enough to experience things outside their comfort zone.

How Women Are Changing The World Through Travel

So a funny thing happened. While building a travel software business focused on these group leaders, it turned out that the majority I encountered were women. Perhaps not coincidentally my co-founders were also two talented women: Bron Thulke and Caitlin Wynne.

Along the way, I joined the Impact Travel Alliance (ITA) and helped launch the Melbourne chapter, along with the incredible Nadine Rojas-Schmidt and Costanza Rivarossa. At one of our co-sponsored events we hosted a debate on whether travel can ever be sustainable. Those arguing that it cannot be completely sustainable won the debate on a technical point: that there are always tradeoffs between the economic, environmental and social pillars of sustainability, so travel will never be perfectly sustainable. While they admitted they believed in the goals of the sustainable travel movement, they felt it was inherently impossible to achieve.

The funny thing was, the two arguing against the motion that travel can be sustainable were men and the two arguing for its necessity were women. I know that men will be, thankfully, part of the solutions we put in place to change the world to be sustainable for humanity to continue to exist. Full recognition and gratitude to the founder of the Transformational Travel Council (TTC), Jake Haupert, who’s been a great partner with YouLi. Yet I also notice that the voices who are making the arguments for the necessary changes are quite often from groups who have historically had less of a voice, like women.

Through the TTC, we have connected with many members of the transformational community. We have been working most closely with Jennifer Spatz and Rachel Gilmore, both based in the United States, and guiding people on journeys in distant lands where they create the space for their customers to be transformed.

The thing I find that unites the creators of these new experiences, whether they focus on environmental, cultural or economic elements in their itineraries is a genuine desire to make something special accessible to their travelers. Whether the traveler is making an immediate impact because of their travel, like when they go on a Seven Women + Tripasista tour to Nepal, or whether they are choosing a curated experience that promises a safe space for them to find themselves, their trust is placed in those businesses to get them home in one piece, but not exactly the same as when they left.

Next Step Is The Community

We cannot transform our systems if we do not transform ourselves. We cannot transform ourselves if we do not make the space for that to happen. Travel, especially when guided by trusted and generous souls, can create that space in a way that deeply changes the traveler first and ultimately changes the world.

If you’re in Melbourne, I hope you can join us on November 27th  for our live panel: Women Changing the World Through Travel.
Hear from some incredible female founders that I have had the pleasure to support in their efforts to change the travel industry and scale into impactful businesses.
These women are part of the travel  community that aims to create the ripple affect of a positive social impact, and we are inviting you to join. 

#womenintravel #womenchaningtheworld #femalefounders #femaleleaders #changemakers

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Jennifer Fein
Jennifer Fein
Jen Fein is the product visionary behind YouLi and epic group travel planner. After years of building digital products as an engineer and product manager for others, she’s now determined to make software that empowers passionate people to create unique group travel businesses. She is also the co-author of Ready to Start? Becoming an Entrepreneur in Australia.