Instead of just sitting on some tropical beach and sipping pina coladas during your vacations, it is very possible to get a ton of personal growth from your travels. But in order to do this, you will have to get off those all-inclusive beach resorts and five-star hotels. Although there might be some exceptions, most of these resorts will be too comfortable — unless there are some attractions nearby that offer some type of personal growth opportunities.
Even so, the reality is that the majority of tourists who stay at all-inclusive resorts will never go off site during their entire vacations. If you want to go to the most rewarding travel destinations offering the most personal growth, you have to steer clear of the places that are too “touristy” and aimed for the masses. You have to find less-traveled locations where you may not have the comforts and conveniences of luxury travel.
Direct Interaction With The Locals
One of the best travel experiences comes from direct interaction with the locals. Many Canadians and Europeans have been vacationing in Cuba for years and despite the US travel embargo, there are American tourists who travel there with official special permission as well — and by using other indirect routes from time to time.
As expected, the vast majority of tourists stay at new all-inclusive beach resorts. The only Cubans they will see during their entire stay are the resort staff and those at the airport. These tourists will never leave the resorts to see the real lives of Cubans in their own local communities.
When I was down there, I chose to stay for part of my trip at a casa particular. These are rooms at homes that average Cubans rent out to travelers. I ended up getting a full apartment in Havana. Although it was not a five-star luxury suite, it was clean, safe and comfortable.
Instead of eating at tourist restaurants, the family who owned the casa particular prepared home-cooked meals for me. Through my rusty, basic Spanish, I got to interact with the family and see how average Cubans really live. They told me about Cuban life while I entertained them with some facts about life in my own country, Canada (especially our winters).
The personal growth I got out of this interaction with the family was priceless. One just cannot get this by staying at a five-star resort. Not to mention that staying at a casa particular with the home-cooked meals was actually less than 50% of the cost of staying at the resorts and hotels. I was providing some much needed income for the Cuban family as well, which made it even more worthwhile.
Get Further Away From Tourist Spots
During this same trip, I also decided to venture out further. I got private transportation and traveled five hours west of Havana to a remote location that was a recognized biosphere called Maria La Gorda. Here, I scuba dived in pristine waters untouched by the tourist crowds. Sure, the transit was a bit rough, but going to places like this really broadened my horizons.
The trip along the way was also an experience in itself as I got to interact with my local Cuban taxi driver one-on-one for the entire ride. He pointed out interesting things along the way, told me about Cuban baseball, discussed classic American cars that are still running on the island and how his family dealt with hurricanes.
You just can’t get any of these experiences by staying at an all-inclusive resort.
Do Your Advance Travel Research
Of course, instead of having everything catered to you as in an all-inclusive resort, you have to figure out where to stay, where to eat, where to travel and how to get around and some safety precautions. All of such information is available if you spend enough time doing advance travel research.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of information that you can access online via travel forums, travel reports and even social media including YouTube (I uploaded a few Cuban travel videos you can search there as my contribution). You can also get information from travel agencies that deal with adventure or specialized travel and from consulates from destination countries.
Travel away from the tourist resorts does take more planning and you may have to rough it out a bit. I have taken similar trips in Asia, Central America and Europe. But the direct interaction and connections you make with people from other cultures as well as experiencing special destinations that the tourist masses will never see, make such travel incredibly worthwhile.