Skip the self-help books, and let travel transform you. These 10 trips -- from volunteering in an orphanage in Cambodia to learning environmental stewardship on an organic farm in Scotland -- will enlarge your heart, help you live more mindfully, and inspire a better version of you to emerge.
Hiking and Wellness Trip, Peru
Why Go: Learn to live mindfully and get grounded in nature.
The Experience: Whole Foods Market's new travel company, Whole Journeys, takes you deep into the Andes Mountains to the center of Inca civilization on its nine-day Pachamama's Peru hiking and wellness trip. Trip guides help you discover the sacred in yourself and the sacred in the earth as you descend through ancient agricultural terracing, wander the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, and interact with craftspeople in a local market. Each day includes a life-balancing lesson taught by a holistic expert who gently nudges you into personal-exploration mode with meditation, yoga, and journaling. Ceremonies to Mother Earth connect you to natural elements and the apus, or spirits of the mountains.
The Payoff: "Peru itself is transformative," says Kathy Dragon, executive director of Whole Journeys. "Travelers return from Peru more connected to the earth and the mountains. It's grounding and inspiring at the same time."
Social-Justice Summer Retreat, New Hampshire
Why Go: Inspire social responsibility in yourself and in your kids.
The Experience: Founded in 1941 as a summer-vacation retreat for social-justice activists, the World Fellowship Center has a long history of bringing together families who return each year. Here, on 455 acres in the White Mountains, you'll swim and canoe in the lake, eat family-style with others, and join in talent shows. Daily workshop topics range from green politics to combating racism and even include Brazilian capoeira movement and percussion, blues poetry, painting, and music classes. There's an unmistakable sense of community at the center, one that's fostered by likeminded campers whose lives are immersed in noble causes. All-inclusive summer programs run from $47 to $119 per person, per night.
The Payoff: "The most important impact of WFC is the influence it has had on my kids," says Liz Salen, a longtime camper. "They've met and played with kids from all kinds of families and backgrounds. They have learned about social justice and responsible stewardship by being around adults who are talking about these things."
Orphanage Volunteering, Cambodia
Why Go: Be a mentor and friend to kids who need it.
The Experience: Become part of a children's center's extended family as you live, work, and play with kids and local staff in an orphanage just outside of Phnom Penh. Many of the children here are orphaned because they are HIV+ or have parents who have died from AIDS. As a volunteer in the Global Service Corps' two-week orphanage care program ($2,356 per person), you'll help organize games, teach English, and lead sports, art, and dance classes. You'll also be supporting a center that provides food, care, and HIV education to the surrounding community, setting an example of tolerance and helping to diminish fears.
The Payoff: "The children were eager to learn, held a deep appreciation for any and all visitors, constantly displayed their love and affection, and demanded that I live with them in the moment," says a volunteer. "These kids took absolutely nothing for granted, and their love of life was infectious."
Fair-Trade Reality Tour, Guatemala
Why Go: Understand the impact of fair trade and support local communities.
The Experience: It's one thing to read about the benefits of fair trade and the injustices of free trade. But seeing for yourself how fair trade directly impacts the well-being of residents of a Guatemalan community might change your day-to-day buying habits. Global Exchange's nine-day Fair Trade, Indigenous Rights & Cultural Expressions Tour of Guatemala ($1,350 per person) is an eye-opener. You'll meet and work with women's cooperatives and grassroots organizations that are advancing efforts in impoverished areas. You'll hear stories from weavers, farmers at the cooperative, workers on a coffee plantation, and activists fighting against the mining companies that are in violation of human rights.
The Payoff: "I was profoundly impacted by my experience in Guatemala," says trip participant Denisse Lafuente. "I learned so much and it changed who I am today, how I decide to purchase, how I talk about global human rights, and how I teach my children."
Spiritual Growth for Women, Israel
Why Go: Deepen your faith and feel empowered while traveling with other women.
The Experience: Leave the makeup behind and be yourself. The Nature of Israel tour with AdventureWomen, a company that specializes in group adventures for women traveling solo, gives you a chance to escape your responsibilities as a mother, a wife, or an employee and gain confidence in traveling alone. On this 13-day trip ($5,995 per person) you'll strengthen your faith as you see and reflect on the Holy Land's significant cultural and natural sites. Go sailing and birding on the Red Sea, go on an archaeological dig, float on the Dead Sea, and explore a Jordan River nature reserve. There's even a stop at a wine-making kibbutz.
The Payoff: "Traveling without my three small children reminded me of who I am when I am not so desperately needed. Oh, how liberating that is! This trip made a difference to the entire family and me. Everything just seems to run more smoothly when mommy has her sanity," says a participant.
Detox and Yoga Retreat, Thailand
Why Go: Reprogram a healthy lifestyle.
The Experience: There's strength in numbers at the Absolute Sanctuary detox and yoga resort on the island of Koh Samui. Band together with others who will help you stay on track whether you're fasting, going on a raw-food diet, or committing to a daily yoga practice. The resort's five-day detox package ($1,800 per person) and seven-day yoga program ($1,650 per person), offered through Holidays for Humanity, can be the beginning of your journey back to balance in life. Yoga classes, group fitness classes, a daily massage, and colon hydrotherapy are incorporated into both packages. With the detox program, you'll get a final consultation with take-home guidelines for establishing a routine after you leave the white, sandy beaches and coral reefs behind.
The Payoff: "I signed up for a week's detox program with a daily yoga class and meditation," says participant Claire E. "I reached all of my health goals; I'm fit and amazed! I even tried hot yoga, which I loved and have taken up now at home."
Experiential Ecotour, Costa Rica
Why Go: Connect with ecosystems, creatures, and cultures.
The Experience: On this 10-day Highlands to Caribbean Wildlife Expedition ($2,250 per person) with Chill Expeditions in San Jose, you'll interact with wildlife, visit rural communities, and explore the rainforest on horseback. You'll visit an off-the-grid farm and practice sustainable farming and help to milk cows and gather eggs from the chickens. In the rural village of Tres Equis, you'll play with local children and join in a service project to help restore their homes and school. On a whitewater-rafting trip with a native guide, you'll hear generations-old stories about why each water system is important to the ecosystems and indigenous communities that surround them.
The Payoff: "The places we saw, the people we met—all were really touching. You can't buy that!" says a participant. Many families say that sharing such a profound experience brings them closer and gives them a more meaningful perspective about themselves, each other, and other cultures around the world.
Disaster Relief, Haiti
Why Go: Help others less fortunate and shift your perspective.
The Experience: It's hard to realize just how much you have until you witness extreme poverty firsthand. On Global Exchange's 10-day Beyond Disaster Tour of Haiti ($1,400 per person), you'll see how this island nation is still struggling to rebuild after the 2010 earthquake. In partnership with Haiti Action Committee, you'll explore the country's culture and get involved in local community-development projects. Visit a school and orphanage, then deliver medical supplies as you learn about the health-care crises of cholera and malaria. You'll also meet with women's groups and micro-credit organizations and be inspired by efforts that are moving Haiti toward freedom and sovereignty.
The Payoff: "Visiting a country like Haiti can be life changing," says Derek Poppert, director of Global Exchange's Latin America and World Reality Tours. "A trip can radically alter and widen one's perspective, especially in regards to things like extreme poverty, North American standards of living, U.S. rates of consumption and waste, and U.S. foreign policy."
Wilderness Survival Course, Utah
Why Go: Learn how to make it out alive.
The Experience: In the remote desert canyon and national forests of southwest Utah, the 14-day Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) field course ($2,625 per person) simulates a survival situation. At times, you'll have no food rations and only the clothes on your back, a knife, and a water bottle as an instructor guide shows your group how to navigate in the wilderness. Then you'll go solo for three days. Exhausted and under stress, you'll have to use the skills you've learned to start a friction fire with no matches and, if you can't get your fire going, you can't cook. Many of the skills come from the local cliff-dwelling Pueblo people and native cultures around the world.
The Payoff: "The experience gives you a good chance to reflect on your life," says Steve Dessinger, owner and program director of BOSS. "You come out with clarity about your priorities and what's really important."
Living-Learning Food School, Scotland
Why Go: Learn how to establish a sustainable food system.
The Experience: This spring, the 140-acre Whitmuir Farm, home to one of the U.K.'s most popular organic produce shops, will open the new Living Learning Space where you can learn about the process of sustainably growing food. In the farm's new yurt, you'll see demonstrations on everything from farming techniques to cooking secrets that will help you get the most out of local and organic vegetables. Bring your wellies and join a walk with Lily the sheepdog, who bounds ahead as you follow trails around the 300-year-old farm. Meet sheep and pigs, enjoy a meal in the on-site restaurant, and ask about future plans for expanding the farm's Food School.
The Payoff: "By providing a place where people can gather and learn about the process of food—from its organic state to the point of consumption—we increase awareness and appreciation about sustainable food and living," says Philip Cappelli, president of Insight Vacations, a U.K. tour company and Whitmuir Farm supporter.
--By Jamie Moore