- Trip Ideas
- Adventure Travel
We asked six trailblazing tour operators to map out exclusive T+L itineraries on six continents—and found 14 more ways to travel the world with new eyes.
Southeast Asia with Elevate Destinations
20 Life-Changing Trips
Southeast Asia with Elevate Destinations
Why We Love It: For travelers who still associate Southeast Asia with the Vietnam War, Elevate Destinations shows a rarely seen side of Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, placing the conflict on the continuum of an ancient culture. The guiding notion of this T+L trip is to mix and mingle tours of breathtaking temples, like Angkor Wat, with experiences of daily life in villages that keep such temples alive. Dominique Callimanopulos founded her three-year-old company after seeing the world as a student and young professional revealed a disconnect between travelers and the places they are inspired to go. A portion of the trip’s cost goes to on-the-ground projects.
Where It Goes: Thailand: from Bangkok to the temple cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai; Laos: Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the village of Pak Beng; Cambodia: Siem Reap, site of Angkor Wat.
What You’ll Do: Learn traditional Thai dancing; visit a rarely mounted exhibit of indigenous crafts sponsored by Queen Sirikit’s foundation; take an ecotour of a “community forest” in Chiang Mai where tea and coffee crops have replaced illegal logging; and indulge in a traditional Thai massage. Cruise the Mekong River toward Luang Prabang, Laos, stopping to watch a hill tribe pickle rice into whiskey, and sample (or purchase) the results. Ride a tuk-tuk to Luang Prabang’s temples, including Wat Xieng Thong, known for its magnificent tree-of-life mosaic, and Wat Mai Suwannaphumaham, with its five-tier roof; stop for a quick dip below the Kuang Si waterfall on the way to the Language Project Library, and in a nearby village, receive a blessing from elders in a traditional Baci ceremony. In Cambodia, visit Angkor Wat, then watch local fishermen ply the waters of Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. More highlights: a hike to Kbal Spean, where 900-year-old int
Some travel to change their lives, others the world. But, a truly transformative trip has the power to do both. Just ask Claire Russo, who last year spent her holiday vacation with Habitat for Humanity in the La Ceiba, Honduras, where she cleared a site, poured cement and laid the foundation for a home for a local poverty-stricken family. “We were all there because we genuinely cared about helping others, and it was wonderful to connect with both Americans and Hondurans during such a physically demanding experience.”
There’s growing evidence that the Volunteer Vacations trend is blossoming into a bigger phenomena. A 2007 Travelocity survey found that 17.7 percent of respondents had taken a vacation that incorporated volunteering or philanthropy—a number that’s up 13 percent from the previous year and expected to rise even higher in 2008. But tour operators and travel companies, new and old, are one-upping that trend through new programs and products, tapping into the feel-good Zeitgeist and our collective desire for something more from our adventures abroad, and at home.
And that “something more” depends entirely on individual interests, causes, and world view. For some eco-conscious travelers, investigating the Incan environmental practices in Peru under the guidance of Charles Darwin’s grandson may be the trip of a lifetime. For others, a journey to Cambodia’s temples and then to its villages to meet the custodians of the sacred sites is rewarding.
But lest you think the movement is more medicine than pleasure, think again. Today, creative companies are mixing such traditionally appealing activities as biking and wine-tasting in France with classes on biodynamic viticulture in an attempt to broaden travelers horizons even further—and it’s working.
Even something as simple as supporting local economy by returning with a suitcase full of crafts purchased from a local artisan can having meaningful and lasting impact. Ultimately, travelers today are seeking a connection-be it with nature, destination, culture, people—in hopes of returning home with the ultimate souvenir: a memorable one-of-a-kind experience.