The Transformational Power of Travel

Muddy Shoe Adventures

One Man's Journey to Find His Life Purpose

The first time I traveled outside this country was when I was 19 years old. During six transformational weeks in Costa Rica for a study abroad program, I managed to fall in love for the first time, learn Spanish, get hit by a car, and figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Adventure-travel experiences—those in which people engage in physical, cultural, social, and/or spiritual activities that are outside of their normal comfort zones—can be a powerful way for individuals to reconnect to themselves, rediscover their passions, and learn how they can be of service. Not surprisingly, adventure travel has long been associated with increased levels of self-awareness, personal development, and transformation.

The process of exploring other places, peoples, cultures, and histories inevitably leads to introspection, reflection, and self-discovery. Yet, despite the known benefits of travel, little empirical evidence had been found of the critical elements of travel-related personal transformations, particularly among adults.

While working towards my doctorate in organizational leadership at Pepperdine, I was once again challenged to find what it was that I wanted in life. I was struggling at a job that I didn’t like, and I couldn’t figure out where to focus my upcoming doctoral dissertation research. I decided to once again head out on the road—this time to Europe—to visit a friend and find a fresh perspective. During an intense and dangerous hike along the jagged edge of the Austrian Alps, I had my epiphany: I wanted to help other people work through the same struggles I was experiencing, namely finding purpose, passion, and meaning in life.

Fast-forward almost three years, and my completed doctoral research hints at a pattern for transformational learning processes in adults as a result of adventure travel experiences. My analysis of interview data collected from individuals who had life-changing personal transformations from adventure-travel experiences identified key themes critical for transformational learning in adults.

The catalyst for transformations turns out to be when the individual adventurer reconnects to the self. Regardless of the type of adventure, the subsequent process of reflection, introspection, and meaning-making from these experiences ultimately led each person to reconnect with themselves in a powerful way. Furthermore, these findings suggest that intentionally designing education programs around the transformational learning process has the potential to increase the likelihood of participants experiencing transformational learning through adventure travel.

Armed with this knowledge, I started a new kind of adventure-travel company—one whose mission is to “inspire and empower personal transformations through purposeful adventure-travel experiences.” My company, Muddy Shoe Adventures, combines travel, physical adventures, cultural interactions, facilitated group discussions, and personal reflection. Our goal is to empower our clients to reconnect to themselves, create a vision of the life that they want, and develop a plan for how they are going to make that dream a reality.

Muddy Shoe Adventures already has several trips planned for 2013, such as Utah and Colorado, and many more scheduled for 2014, including Bali, Norway, Peru, and Switzerland. Travel industry thought leaders such as the Adventure Travel Trade Association have requested we present our model and findings at upcoming conferences and tour operators are enthusiastically reaching out to partner with us in designing innovative adventure programs around the world.

Perhaps most importantly, I have once again found my purpose in life. I know that in helping others who are struggling to find their life passions, I am living up to Pepperdine’s ideals of purpose, service, and leadership.

To learn more, visit the Muddy Shoe Adventures website.

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