Transformational Travel: 4 Ways to Have a Life-Changing Vacation

Sometimes it’s about more than rest and relaxation.


Have you ever taken a vacation and come back changed? Sometimes a getaway is more than just a good time. Sometimes it opens your eyes to a new perspective on the world, on yourself, or on nature or other cultures. It transforms you.

Up for a life-changing journey? One of these transformational travel vacations could be it:

1. Step into a wild kingdom

A pride of lions—appetites sated—lolls in the sun. A giraffe stretches its slender neck to nibble leaves. Zebras thunder across the plains. Seeing such exotic creatures in their wild home can stir the soul. African safaris in places like Kenya and Tanzania, where guides lead game drives in search of lions, elephants, leopards and more, is a perspective-shifting experience.

After all, it’s tough to look at the world in the same way once you’ve seen the sun rise over Mount Kilimanjaro and watched it set while sipping sundowners (Africa’s evening tradition of wine or cocktails) with the sounds of trumpeting elephants echoing across the savanna.

More transformational travel wild(life) adventures:

Galapagos Islands: Glimpse nature untouched by civilization in the Galapagos Islands, where playful sea lions, plodding turtles and blue-footed boobies delight their curious human visitors.

Rwanda: Venture into the rain forest of Rwanda to quietly track a gorilla family and discover the site of late activist Dian Fossey’s primate research.

Alaska and Hawaii: Witness the raw power of nature on a whale-watching tour amid the glaciers of Alaska’s Inside Passage or beneath sunny Hawaiian skies.

2. Dive deep into a new culture

Drumbeats fill the air as Native American dancers parade through the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, South Dakota, for the annual Black Hills Powwow. It’s one of the country’s premier Native American cultural events—and an amazing way to immerse yourself in the customs of indigenous people while exploring the West.

Nearby, amid South Dakota’s Black Hills, you’ll find the work-in-progress Crazy Horse Memorial. And you can witness a local Native American share his tribe’s history through song and dance. Surrounded by such colorful tribal traditions, you just might be inspired to dig deeper into your own heritage.

More transformational travel wild(life) adventures:

South Africa: Learn about South Africa’s turbulent past—and hopeful present—with a visit to the Apartheid Museum and Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 18 years.

Listen to the “Africa” episode of Well-Traveled with AAA on Apple Podcasts.


Around-the-world: Get a lesson in global studies onboard an around-the-world cruise and see Earth’s most fascinating places.

Italy: Settle in for an authentic feast with an Italian count at his 15th-century organic olive oil estate in the hills of Tuscany.

3. Do a little good in the world

Discover incredible ways to give back while exploring the world.

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Opulent marble palaces share the landscape with ancient hilltop forts—magnificent relics that tell of Rajasthan’s history. But in this northwestern Indian state, it’s the vibrant villages that reflect the spirit of today. That’s where you can go beyond simply exploring to actually making a difference.

Imagine a trip that includes three days in the city of Udaipur, where you work alongside locals on a sustainable development project—such as building a classroom. Afterward, explore landmarks like the Taj Mahal and the Pink City of Jaipur, and take a river cruise along the sacred Ganges River.

More transformational travel ideas for giving back:

Kenya: Build a school or bring water to a village in Maasai Mara, a national reserve in Kenya.

Mexico: Help monitor nesting sea turtles and their eggs during a turtle conservation camp at an all-inclusive resort on Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

Jamaica: Add a cruise excursion that lets you experience island life in Jamaica as you aid a homeless outreach program.

4. Set your sights on unforgettable scenery

From the southernmost tip of South America, past icy straits lined with towering glaciers, lies the harshly beautiful continent of Antarctica. Its bottom-of-the-Earth remoteness, bitter cold and icy expanses keep it virtually untouched by humans—save the hardy souls who come to work on scientific research bases.

To be in a place so pristine, so far removed from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, can have a profound effect. This 5.4 million-square-mile wilderness of mountains, ice and water—filled with colonies of nesting pairs of penguins—vividly demonstrates just how vast the Earth really is.


More awesome transformational travel landscapes:

Alaska: Count yourself among the lucky few if you get a full view of Alaska’s 20,310-foot Denali; North America’s highest peak is obscured by clouds about 70 percent of the time.

U.S. National Parks: Gaze in wonder at craggy canyons, taller-than-you-can-imagine trees and bubbling hot springs—just a few of the amazing sights in the 61 U.S. national parks.


Peru: Trek into the mountains of Peru and soak in the history and intrigue of the Incan civilization at Machu Picchu.

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