However long, enjoyable, or expensive your next vacation is shaping up to be, your chosen travel destination tends to be a huge part of that equation. That’s why the question of where to go can be pretty overwhelming, and brings up plenty of other questions.

For instance, are you looking to soak up some sun on a quiet beach, or maybe in a mountain villa? Do you want to immerse yourself in history or culture — and if so, of decades past or of centuries ago? Maybe you want to meet new people, or perhaps are looking to take some time to reconnect with just yourself.

It’s easy to look at a map and list popular destinations you can definitely go to. But finding a destination that is truly meaningful can be different from person to person, and even from time to time. But when done well, it can have plenty of mental and emotional benefits.

That’s why of all the things to consider when choosing a travel destination, your purpose for doing so is arguably the most important — and sometimes, also the trickiest to figure out.

So if you’re thinking about a meaningful travel destination to go to next, then it might be helpful to start by thinking about what you don’t want, and then moving on to what you do want.

What you don’t want

There are a few things to look out for that defeat the purpose of meaningful travel.

Drive-by tourism

Our feeds are saturated by shots of people posing by the Bali temples or along the picturesque Santorini seaside — you know the kind. And while there’s nothing wrong in traveling to those places and taking those photos, it’s important to think about more than just ticking off a checklist of places you have to see and be seen at. All too often, vacations planned with that type of mindset can feel just a little unfulfilling.

The truth is, doing things for the ‘gram can keep us from really connecting with the beautiful places we capture on screen. And more often than not, it can leave us feeling empty after a quick trip that was supposed to be restorative. 

Focusing on consumption, rather than participation

Looking at travel as a way to consume things — buying a certain type of food, or experiencing a commercialized attraction — defeats the purpose of meaningful travel.

Whether the packaging is literal or metaphorical, it’s important to focus instead on connecting with the places, people, and energies in your chosen destination, and having an experience that is more holistic and integral.


Travel solely as escape

Vacations are called getaways for a reason, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking a break from your everyday worries in a scenic location. But treating travel solely as an escape from your life means that afterwards, you’ll be in the same sort of toxic cycles as before — just with a bit of a tan. 

That said, a meaningful trip should help you build more of a life you don’t need to take a break from. It can be a way to engage with ourselves, with others, and with the environment to build confidence and get new perspectives that can help us with real-life challenges.

Unsustainable tourism

The world we live in is full of majestic mountains, stunning seascapes, and diverse wildlife — all of which are endangered by poor tourism practices. Tourism has a plastic pollution problem, and many companies cut down forests, dump waste water into oceans, and push out local communities in the interest of profit.

And so if you’d like to choose a meaningful destination, finding one that well and truly practices sustainability (instead of just pretending to be) is important for keeping our earth enjoyable for generations of travelers to come.


What you do want

Now that we’ve cleared up what kinds of travel can be less than meaningful for us, it’s time to think about what will be meaningful in terms of choosing a destination for your next trip. This will differ from what others will find meaningful, and that’s okay! But it also means that there’s no clear-cut answer, and it really depends on you.

To pinpoint a meaningful destination, then, we’d like to raise another big m-word: Mindfulness.

Simply put, mindfulness is to be fully present — gently aware of where we are, what we’re doing, and most importantly, what’s going on inside of ourselves in terms of thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

For travel, mindfulness means slowing down and taking the time to really think about what matters to us. This allows us to not only appreciate our vacations more, but it helps us plan these vacations better, too. 

And once you’ve gotten into the habit of keeping in touch with yourself, then figuring out what a meaningful destination would be for you can be summed up into a few questions.

What’s important to you?

This is a big one, and it requires you to really think about what you want to get out of your trip. Maybe you want to meet new people, soak in new culture, find yourself, or even reconnect with your roots. Whatever it is, the answer will help guide you in choosing a destination that’s truly meaningful.

It’s important, of course, to be putting this question first. It’s easy to get lost in all the exciting little tasks of planning a vacation — figuring out reservations, looking at photographs, anticipating the sun on your skin. But do your best to take a step back and tap into your thoughts. Why are you embarking on this trip? And what do you hope to achieve?


For example, if you’d like to really get out of your comfort zone and explore new places and cultures by yourself, then destinations like Ladakh in India or Ghent in Belgium are great for solo travelers looking to do just that.

If history and social justice are important to you, then you can also go to cities like Atlanta for a tour of civil rights history in places like the APEX Museum. You can also look towards destinations that offer volunteer experiences as well, like working with persons with disabilities in Oaxaca. 

Those with a heart for empowering women around the globe can also try working with the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in Belize or the G Adventures G For Good organization in Tanzania.

You can also factor in your interests or the kinds of activities that you enjoy. You don’t have to save the world on your next vacation, but you can certainly save that part of yourself that’s yearning for some childlike fun — whether that’s in the form of hiking and skiing, or even theater and reading in the park.

Starting here, instead of at your Instagram or Pinterest feed, can make all the difference in choosing a destination that’s truly meaningful for you.

Who are you traveling with?

This one’s not as big of a question as the first, but it does make a sizable impact on the kind of trip you’re going to have.

Of course, if you’re just traveling alone, then you’ll have full control. But if you’re traveling with others — say, a significant other or a few family members — then it’s important to also consider what they’d find meaningful as well.

So, make time to sit down with your travel companion(s) and talk about what you all want to gain from your trip, and find options that everyone would enjoy. 

If there are a handful of you and one has interests that don’t quite match everyone else’s priorities, try to find a destination that can offer a bit of a compromise. It helps to make a list of different interests and rank them so you can find some common ground. For example, if most of you enjoy hiking and outdoor activities but one person would like to visit a museum, try and look for an adventure destination that allows you to take a quick side trip to a cultural attraction, if not a real museum.

Meanwhile, if you and your significant other tend to have opposite interests, then you can try taking turns. For your next trip, maybe you can choose the destination you find meaningful, while the vacation after that can be planned by your partner.

Though it can be trickier than traveling solo, know that traveling with a loved one can also be even more fulfilling. When done right, you’ll be able to make the most of the experience, learn more about yourselves, and grow with each other.

 

… and for how long?

This last question is a matter of practicality. You can find the most spiritually immersive destination in the world for you, but it wouldn’t have as much of an impact if you only get to stay for a day. After all, traveling too far or trying to squeeze in too much into your itinerary can leave you feeling tired after a rushed and ungratifying vacation.

So, when choosing your destination, be sure to consider how much time you have in your hands. Whether it’s a long weekend, a couple of weeks, or even a few months, there’s so much in store for us around the world, and there’s bound to be a good fit for you, your companions, and your timeline — all without sacrificing meaningfulness and delight.

What’s one travel destination you consider meaningful, and why? Sound off in the comments!

 

Guestpost written by:

 A Little Bit Human is a progressive life magazine born out of a need to cast a light on crucial topics and uplift the human beings in our society doing incredible things. We tell honest, empathetic and socially critical stories that impact lives and move the needle forward.