Anyone who loves to travel will not be surprised by Tom Leegstra’s belief that travel transforms us for the better. But few of us have taken the time to analyze that transformation. In The Transformative Power of Travel: How to Discover Yourself by Exploring the World, Tom shares just how travel changes us, teaching us to be more patient, more tolerant, and more open to new ideas, perspectives, and differences. Sometimes travel and the experiences it brings can also be a little uncomfortable, but in those situations, we are all the more likely to experience transformation.
The Transformative Power of Travel has all the basic advice you need about traveling, but beyond basic things like getting passports and remembering to pack toothpaste, the book explores how to go about setting goals for your travels-goals that are not just about seeing a sight, but perhaps about learning more about the special person you are traveling with, or just learning how to relax and have fun, or learning to appreciate history or art, and most importantly, learning about other cultures and realizing at the end of the day that people are basically all the same.
Tom begins by asking us to take off our clothes-not literally but metaphorically. It’s time for us to be ready to clothe ourselves in new experiences. Travel makes you feel naked and vulnerable, but Tom reminds us that during those vulnerable times is when we can grow the most. “When you have taken off all of your clothes, you have nowhere to hide that real, vulnerable self.” Then you can begin transforming that self into an even better version of you.
Of course, the world is full of places to travel. Tom is a true world traveler who has visited forty-three countries. For this book, he focused on three amazing and diverse countries that have helped transform him: France, India, and Cuba.
France is the trip he went on with his girlfriend, a trip that solidified their relationship and eventually led to their marriage. Yes, they visited the Eiffel Tower and all the other romantic Paris sights, but they also spent time just getting to know each other in beautiful romantic settings so they could determine how compatible they are.
In India, Tom learned some amazing things about himself and how he reacts to discomfort and feeling out of control in a strange environment. He also had some truly wonderful insights. Here’s his comment about visiting the Taj Mahal:
“Being there creates a surreal feeling of oneness with the people who crafted the site, even though they lived miles and miles away on a different continent than I do and centuries before me. Being there in person made me feel I was connected to those people one way or another. It’s a feeling that is hard to put into words, but it made me feel small and very humble.”
Throughout the book, Tom sprinkles in Pro-Tips and Reflections on his experiences. He also teaches us to think for ourselves. For example, when he got to Cuba, he met someone who had just arrived by herself from Mexico City. He states: “I had heard horrible and scary things about Mexico City, but she had explored the city by herself and seemed to have no fear at all. I found that incredible. I thought I was a wimp for not having been to Mexico City yet. That taught me again a wonderful lesson: Don’t believe everything you hear in the media. Keep it real! Do your own research and ask travelers who have been there.”
This statement reveals a major advantage of travel-it destroys false prejudices and preconceived notions. Tom states, “I have come to believe that travel is the best and fastest way to bust our own assumptions or biases about people, places, and cultures.”
Tom also covers what to do when things go wrong. The bottom line: stay calm. He says, “While such events may initially look like they are happening to us, we can learn over time that these events happen for us. There are lessons for growth we can take from these events and their consequences.”
The book concludes with appendices that provide additional resources and explore how to deal with ambiguity and other issues during your travels.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience Cuba, India, France, or any country, this is a great book to start with. If you love to travel, you will absolutely love reading about Tom’s experiences. If you are nervous about traveling, then become an armchair traveler by starting with this book; you may just find that it makes you brave and ready for an adventure.