Last week I spoke to Carol Dimopoulos, the founder and CEO of Learning Journeys, about the term “regenerative travel.” There’s another term she prefers when speaking about the Learning Journeys style of delivering service. She calls it “restorative travel.”
Learning Journeys offers “Journeys of Transformation,” educational experiences that take place while traveling to special destinations. The programs are based on specific interests, such as photography, wildlife, arts and crafts, dance, music or gastronomy, and include encounters with various kinds of experts and teachers.
I asked Carol what she thought of the term regenerative travel. If it is defined as a kind of tourism that contributes to a destination and leaves it better off because of the tourism, she said, it’s a belief system that she and Learning Journeys have always adhered to. Some of the projects the company has supported are impressive proof of that commitment. For example, one of these projects is the Purkal Stree Shakti program, near the Himalayan foothills in Dehradun, India, where women are given opportunities to build small businesses from local crafts and products.
Because “Regenerative travel” isn’t a registered trademark anyone can use it. It’s a good label and identifies a good cause but, like all such terms and slogans, it’s vulnerable to misuse. If it’s a term that is in vogue and attracts customers, it’s tempting for any tour operator to use it. How they live up to it is up to them. Labels and slogans tend to be degraded in time due to overuse and misuse.
Carol Dimopoulos believes Learning Journeys’ way of delivering its product does qualify as regenerative, sustainable, or responsible. These terms all spring from the same basic principles, based on responsibility toward people and places whom your business touches. On top of that foundation, there are also the health and spirituality elements that Carol brings into the mix.
“Regenerative travel is creating social communities, social economies, and that’s all I teach,” she said. “As a professor of entrepreneurship, my whole body of focus is on social entrepreneurship.”
Dr. Dimopoulos is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at East Stroudsburg University in Stroudsburg, Pa. She and her company Learning Journeys have one foot in the travel industry, and one foot in academia. She’s also a dedicated yogi whose mind has been trained by her studies of principles of eastern spirituality.
“Restorative travel is really one of the most powerful deliverers of healing that one can experience,” she said. Carol doesn’t like to talk about Learning Journeys as a company that sells travel. She sees the company’s mission as providing experiences designed to help people make transformations in their lives.
Learning Journeys programs are aimed at being restorative for the traveler, to be transformative, and to aid in one’s personal transformation.
“I don’t even like to use the word ‘traveler,’” she said, preferring to refer to her clients as “a participant in their own transformation.”
“People talk the talk,” she said. “There are groups of people who really believe in this. But there are also groups of people who are just throwing it out there, and saying, ‘Will this catch? Can this be part of our profit?’”
For a travel experience to be truly restorative, she says, it needs to be individualized.
“This is the key to restorative travel, or restorative experiences,” she said. “It needs to fit the exact person’s method or vehicle of restoring. You may not experience healing the way I do through my spirituality, through my yoga practice, through different methods I use to heal. A musician might find that transformation through music. But it’s much more powerful when you’re away from your own environment, because we have a day-to-day life, and in your home environment you are conditioned, you have conditioned yourself, and all these things in your environment are cues to set off that conditioning.”
Transformation, she said, is also accelerated by “getting out in the world, meeting with people who can help to enrich that interest or that passion or that knowledge in a place where you don’t have to be concerned with the day-to-day concerns. I think it is one of the most powerful ways to find healing, in that quiet, restorative time to oneself.”
Being away from your familiar home environment and learning from experts, can create a highly concentrated learning session. It’s true that you often come back from a trip feeling transformed. Learning Journeys is focusing in on that aspect of the travel experience and pushing it farther.
Travel also tends to promote a reconnection to nature and the earth. Even on trips where you are coddled from beginning to end, it’s hard to get out and travel in the world without having some contact with the natural world outside of the human-constructed environments we tend to live and work in. Travel reminds us of our own scale in relation to the rest of the planet.
“It just deepens that organic sense,” said Carol. “Consciousness is like peeling back an onion. It takes a lot to get into the core of the onion. And no matter how much we try to say technology is great, and it is, we are getting away from that sense of self, that sense of that core.”
Detached from the familiar, nature brings you back to the core questions of, “Who are you?” she said. “You’re moving day to day… It’s almost like a zombie-like existence on social media. You keep taking steps to remove yourself from the only thing that will bring you peace, which is at the center of who you are.”
Transformation begins with asking the question, “What makes me happy? Where do I find joy?”
When you decide what gives you joy, you can go on a Learning Journey program designed to immerse you in your passion, connect you with experts and teachers, and help you cultivate your own personal transformation. That’s the idea of Learning Journeys.
For Carol, her passion is Learning Journeys, providing these kinds of experiences to people who want them. The authenticity of the experiences springs from the depth of commitment of the company, which is an outgrowth of Carol herself.
“I’m a yogi,” she said. “I’m a spiritual being. This was born from my own seeking of self, the need to offer experiences to people based on what they love. That was born out of me, born out of my family, out of looking to fulfill their needs and help them to find their light. It has to be within the culture of the company that is offering.
“It has to come from people who really believe and understand and can identify with it. I’ve healed through these experiences. I’ve transformed. I really believe in this. It’s all about positivity. This isn’t just work. Work is life, and work is a joy. That’s what we want to bring to people.”
Traveling, she said, has the capacity to in effect pull people out of time, or out of their normal experience of time.
“It’s almost like time stops when you travel,” she said. “When you’re in a culture, when you’re sitting with a local family and you’re hearing their stories, it’s almost like time is suspended. Through these experiences we can create positivity.”
Call it what you will.
“As far as terms go,” she said, “‘restorative’ and ‘regenerative’ are quite similar,” she said. “One and the same, whether exterior in the culture or internal in someone’s experience.”
David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel Magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com, and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast US.