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What Does it Mean to Travel with Purpose?

I learned how to travel with purpose fairly recently. One year, for Christmas, we decided not to get presents. Instead, we’d gift our children a wonderfully relaxing, long-overdue family vacation. We searched the internet for fun family destinations. My husband loves the beach, and I’m always ready to sink my toes in the sand with the sun on my back and salt in my hair while I sip a frosty Miami Vice. Additionally, we knew the kids needed to be entertained. They would be 13 and 18 by the time we took flight.

Traveling with Purpose Requires an Action Plan

Since both kids like adventure, we booked our stay at a beautiful all-inclusive beach resort which had a variety of activities. Moreover, it was nestled comfortably along the shore of Puerto Villarta, Mexico – a destination known for its incredible beaches. Quality family time was our purpose. I imagined us playing, laughing, and creating lasting memories. I didn’t consider the fact that I had no idea what, specifically, we’d be doing.

How Can We Meet Our Travel Purpose?

How would we get these meaningful bonding experiences? Did I think the beach would be enough? I guess it could have been if we were more creative. There were fun activities at our disposal. We assumed that getting on a plane and being in a new time-zone would automatically warrant family togetherness. I mean, it wasn’t a school field trip. Therefore, perfect planning wasn’t required. As a result, we decided to wing it. That was our not-so-brilliant plan.

After all, our hotel accommodated every possible need. For instance, all you can eat was an understatement with seven restaurants, five bars, and 24-hour room service. For those who preferred social experiences, pool games and competitions were organized at various times throughout the day by entertainment hosts. All you had to do to participate in the fun was show up.

Fantastic as This All Was, It Didn’t Fulfill Our Travel Purpose

Beach parties and showroom performances were on the agenda each night. Looking to shop? Authentic Mexican fare spilled out onto the cobblestone walkways of a makeshift bizarre. This haven could be found just around the bend from the largest of the three swimming pools located on the property. After a little exploring, we found the tennis and basketball courts along with a spa and fully-equipped gym. Certainly, there was plenty to do.

In the other direction, a private white-sand beach sprawled like a heavenly door to the misty, lapping waves of a cerulean ocean. mirage  into . Thick palm rooftops hung lazily over each of the many scattered cabanas creating comfy private islands of shade for anyone looking to take up temporary residence along the secluded shore. Canoes, kayaks and boogie boards leaned neatly in rows against the bamboo walls of a tiny hut, ready to be checked out at our leisure.

Do Your Travel Plans Match Your Purpose?

What a lovely picture of paradise this was painted before us! I could undoubtedly get lost in the solitude of a book on one of those private islands for hours. Except, that wasn’t my purpose when I entered my credit card information and clicked “book now.” Was it? Family time. That was our purpose. Connecting with my kids and my husband. Sharing adventures and creating memories were the reason for this trip.

My responsibly frugal husband was less than pleased when we realized that we needed to conjure up at least a few thrilling exploits. Yes, we played on the beach together and cooled off in the calm, crystal waters. Of course, we had three delectable meals together as a family every day. We visited a few shows and even enjoyed a bar-b-que on the beach. These were all amazing, but when I think back and remember our trip, these experiences are not the first things that come to mind. To clarify, we ended up doing and seeing so much more.

How can You Choose Activities to Suit Your Travel Purpose?

Seven days was the length of our stay. So we booked an excursion for every other day. We wanted time to rest and take advantage of the all-inclusive amenities offered by the hotel. Additionally, quality time would be hard to come by if everyone was too tired and grumpy to have fun. Each of us got to choose an activity since the host was offering a buy one get one “special”.

My daughter loved sea lions. She had heard they were very much like dogs and was excited for the chance to interact with them up close. It was advertised as “an experience you’ll never forget,” and this couldn’t have been truer. They were affectionate creatures with wonderfully expressive personalities. The entire encounter was only supposed to be 20-minutes, but I’m pretty sure they let us play with these remarkable animals longer than that. We were all absolutely smitten with our new friends. My daughter’s face wasn’t the only one beaming with wonder and awe. None of us could get enough high fives, wet kisses, or smooth, rubbery hugs.

This Activity Definitely Suited Our Travel Purpose.

I remember as we were leaving, each of us was gushing; thanking her and commending her for recommending this fantastic experience. Family time had never been so fun. As a result, we certainly achieved the travel purpose we set for ourselves. Moreover, we learned what they ate, how they were trained, how they lived, and the difference between them and seals. Sea lions are brown, bark loudly and use their large flippers to walk on land. Also, they have ear flaps. On the other hand,  seals wiggle on their belly when traveling on earth and have no ear flaps. And, since they are carnivores, sea lions can (and will) eat seals. How crazy is that? Apparently, it’s not that common, but it does happen.

How Do You know if You’re
Achieving Your Purpose?

My son was excited about taking the Sea Safari and Horseback Riding tour. This, too, was awesome! First, we boarded a speed boat, which kind of scared the bejeezus out of me. Then, we jetted out to sea, hitting every wave, taking sharp turns for no apparent reason other than to get drenched while screaming with glee and pure excitement. My personal limits were definitely pushed. I was terrified I’d be ejected and sent flying out of the boat, swallowed up by the vast blue ocean, and lost forever.

My daredevil sister had subjected me to a traumatic Jet Ski experience once, and this ride strongly provoked horrifying flashbacks. Yes, I can be a bit over-dramatic when I’m faced with paralyzing fear. Luckily,  my husband is wonderfully patient and incredible at coaxing me out of the doom and gloom of my own imagination.

Solidifying Our Travel Purpose Through Fear?

I clung tightly to the handles strategically placed on either side of my seat, surrounded by other thrill-seekers who laughed and screamed and cried with joy right along with me. To my surprise, the speed boat turned out to be a blast, and I lived to tell about it. I was grateful to my family for supporting me through my fear. They helped me to enjoy the experience. Our purpose was already being solidified, and the day’s journey had just begun.

What Can I Gain From Traveling With Purpose?

After what seemed like an endless wild and thrilling ride, we pulled ashore to the docks of a secluded village. Here, we were greeted with warm smiles and excited “waves” of hello by the year-round residents as we walked along the charming little dirt roads toward the well-trained horses who stood ready and waiting for us.

A quick drink, restroom break, brief “how-to” speech, and a buckled helmet were all we needed before we mounted these gentle steeds. We were off again, to work toward more moments spent fulfilling our travel purpose. Several guides accompanied our large group as we all headed out in a single-file line. Our animals maneuvered the narrow trails and loose gravel-like pros, walking at a pace which provided ample time to look around and take in all the beauty of the lush jungle which surrounded us.

So Much  More Than Expected

A roaring waterfall that spilled into an intimate little pond appeared as if by magic through the thick leaves and brush which lined our mountain path. Our destination was breathtaking. We loosely tied the horses to their wooden hitching posts and left them to drink water from troughs as we began an easy hike across the rope and timber bridge. Cautiously, we maneuvered the slippery rock-slope as we descended into this peaceful freshwater oasis. Another incredible day was spent laughing and sharing beautiful moments.

We were doing so much more than simply meeting our family-bonding-time purpose through these experiences. The happy memories which would linger for the rest of our lives were sprinkled with personal victories,  strengthened family ties, and broader knowledge about the world around us.

Should I be Looking For my Travel Purpose the Whole Time?

For many years, I’d dreamed of playing with monkeys. Now,  achieving this dream was on the horizon. That is to say, I couldn’t wait for the Las Caletas Beach Hideaway day trip where we’d get to take a boat to a Banderas Bay and its secluded beach. Here we would hike through the tropical forest, snorkel, kayak, take part in the zip line and step up challenges, meet monkeys (finally!), parrots and snakes, enjoy a home-cooked lunch, unlimited drinks and lounge on the hammocks.

Margaritas and Monkeys?

A passenger boat with rows of seats facing a wide-open deck awaited us at the dock that day. Welcoming, friendly smiles and salty margaritas were handed to us as we made our way to our seats. Our cheerful hosts were also master entertainers. Lively music roared through speakers above our heads as our party barge glided purposefully out to sea. The crew sang and danced as we chatted excitedly in anticipation of what this day’s travels would bring. Under the shade of the canopy, strangers became friends. We laughed over our margaritas and lemonade while enjoying the exuberant antics of the performers.

Could I Have My Monkey and Purpose, Too?

The initial stop was beside a sizeable solitary wall of rock in what seemed like the middle of open water. Here we would put on our snorkel gear, stepped down the ladder and slide ourselves into our first ever up-close-and-personal fish-finding aquatic activity. With endless space to roam and our breathing mechanisms securely in place, the possibilities were countless.

We moved freely through the transparent blue-green field on our bellies, eyes down, searching. It was apparent that the guides knew their stuff, because there were schools upon schools of fish. Large and small, brightly colored, our eyes darted in every direction below the surface as they danced around us.

We Grew as a Family and as Individuals with Every Experience

The promise of our next adventure was all that could tear us away from our awe-struck exploration. So, reluctantly, we climbed back aboard the ship, found our seats, and exchanged stories about the sizes and colors and possible species of fish we’d seen as we sailed to the next stop. I was about to meet my monkey.

Was I So Excited, I Forgot My Purpose?

Sun-dried and on the brink of fulfilling one of my many lifelong dreams, I was ready to disembark. With my family at my heels, I trotted briskly down the creaky old dock and through the rocky path. Finally, a stone staircase led us to a bamboo paradise. Open and airy, this vista wasn’t entirely enclosed. The extravagant hut provided plenty of shade for visitors sitting at the many tables, each with its own impressive ocean view. Just beyond the walls, curious paths curled in every direction.

So Much to Explore While Meeting Our Travel Purpose

This structure would be the hub of activity for the rest of the day. We would depart and return between self-guided treks around the island. I liked that we were free to explore however, we wanted since I’m not a fan of “tours” per se. Being cluttered together and herded like cattle from one attraction to the next is no way to see sights. I prefer to wander at my own pace. So, this was perfect. There were guides everywhere to answer questions and point us in the right direction, but we were on our own, free to choose what would happen next.

Together, we stopped for a quick trip to the primitive, yet astonishingly clean, restrooms, paused at the bar long enough to satisfy our thirst for a frosty refreshment, then set off on one of the winding paths. We chose the one marked by a wooden sign with the image of a monkey painted brightly on its surface.

Take Time To Enjoy Each Experience

I bound up the rocky steps but quickly stopped in my tracks when I realized where I was. The walk itself was beautiful. It deserved to be made with a slow stroll, not a darting jog. Clear dirt paths lined with large leafy trees and bushes ascended slightly making the trek easy and comfortable. It was like being in a Disney version of Indiana Jones.

Everything was bursting with life. Birds cawed, and monkeys screeched from somewhere off in the distance. Our ears were filled with the mysterious chirps, clicks and buzzing – all coming from somewhere behind the wildly breathtaking arches of palm, thick sticks of bamboo and bustles of leaves spotted with vibrant flowers.

Our Travel Purpose Led Us to Our Own Personal Paradise

There was a feeling of isolation in all the turns and small nooks. It seemed as if this place was yours alone when really, there were a lot of people all around us, taking their own paths, walking with their own purpose.

How Do I Prevent Setbacks From Interfering with My Travel Purpose?

We  had arrived. There were no cages. No glass. There was nothing between me and my dream. Spider Monkeys. Named for their long useful tails, which serve as a fifth arm, these sweet creatures stole my heart. Cute doesn’t begin to describe these furry mammals. I watched breathlessly as these tiny marsupials scampered with vigor across the shoulders of their keepers.

The directions were expressly stated. We had to stand with our arms out and folded across our chests as if we were preparing to fly away. Still and straight, we waited while the trainer allowed the monkey to transfer himself from her shoulder to the visitors’. We didn’t get to pet them or cuddle; we weren’t even allowed to move. The event lasted long enough to snap a few pictures and then ended abruptly. Consequently, I was a little disappointed in the rigidity of the experience. Although, I understand the reasoning behind it was to keep both the monkeys and visiting humans safe. However, I’d still wished for more interaction; like the sea lion and stingray encounters.

Maybe Next Time Our Travel Purpose Should  Be Met on a Safari?

Don’t get me wrong, I was still squealing with excitement and disbelief. When it was my turn, I stood wonderstruck as my monkey scurried across my neck and over my shoulder. I couldn’t fathom how I had been lucky enough to end up here with the people I loved most partaking in this dream of mine alongside me. We were absolutely fulfilling our purpose at this moment. I shared my photos and stories with everyone back home, including my class. A particular point was made to seek out one of my favorite former students, Oliver. He had playfully teased me throughout our year together. Many times, he’d proclaimed that I’d never really get to meet a monkey. I did, indeed, my friend. See? Told ya. Dreams do come true.

He didn’t follow directions. See his arm just hanging there? The rebel.

Do I Have to Do Things Just Because They Seem Related to My Purpose?

Parrot and snake visits worked the same as the monkeys. The snake was a bit scarier, but we all did it. After our animal encounters, we had options. Head to the beach. Explore the trails. Take a cooking class. Eat. Drink. Swing lazily in a hammock somewhere, or embark on a more physically challenging option – The Teen Adventure.

It was called the “Teen Adventure” and I was far from a teen.

The Teen Adventure was part of the “tour.” This obstacle course began high atop a hill then ended in the ocean with a ferocious splash. First, it started with the Step Up. The challenge required an adventurer to step cautiously from towering beam to uneven beam high above the ground toward a launchpad from which they would zip through the tropical canopy harnessed to a line stretched tightly across the blue sky. Finally, a face-paced, slippery journey down a steep and winding slide would dump them (quite aggressively) into the cool and refreshing waters of the ocean. Without question, it was quite an adventure; one which I opted to refrain from. I was looking forward to finding a hammock and sipping that frosty Miami Vice. On the other hand, my husband, being more daring than me, decided to take the plunge with the kids.

Won’t Setting a Travel Purpose Take the Fun Out of My Trip?

Hiking aimlessly and alone, I wandered down the mountain across wooden plank bridges woven together with thick rope. It took longer than I thought but ultimately uncovered the treasure I had been searching for. At the end of a pathway, I came upon a rocky shoreline where I waded for a bit in the refreshing water. Then, I climbed the stacked stone makeshift stairs to my own personal gem, a perfectly picturesque private wooden deck overlooking the ocean. Daybeds, wicker tables, and chairs, and a small refreshment bar steps away meant this haven more than suited our needs. It was dreamy and fit right into this surreal day, so I settled in to wait for my family to find me, which, miraculously, they did quite easily.

We spent the rest of the day there. The kids took the shaky bridge to the beach and spent time kayaking with a friend they made on the boat ride over. Brian and I simply basked in the soothing calm of this wonderland.

How Did I Get So Lucky?

My husband chose an excursion similar to mine, although his choice came with an unexpected treat. Once again, we got to board a party boat, snorkel in the clear waters of the ocean, and even visit the same oasis. Further, we signed up to swim with stingrays, and also got to visit some sea lions who happened to be resting in a habitat nearby. Finally, an authentic Mexican lunch would wrap up our adventure before we set sail for ‘home.’ The shorter tour, which didn’t allow as much time for hanging around or wandering off, was perfect since we wanted to get back to the hotel in time to see the evening show.

During each boat ride we had taken, the guides and hosts were always on the lookout for dolphins or whales. They hoped to enlighten guests with a glimpse of these beautiful creatures in their natural habitats. We did come across dolphins a few times, which was astonishing in itself. However, this time, we witnessed a rarity, even some of the guides had never encountered.

Surprising  Experiences Contribute to Our Purpose

Just beside us, as we sailed toward paradise, a Manta ray, one of the most massive and most mysterious inhabitants of the ocean, leaped in the air and swam along the surface of the clear waters. Biologists know very little about this remarkable species because they can’t survive in captivity. Some can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds and have a wingspan of up to 20 feet. Hurting humans isn’t on their ‘to do’ list. On the contrary, they have been known to swim along with divers.

Only occasionally do they jump out of the water to rid themselves of parasites. We were lucky enough to witness one of these infrequent sightings. We were incredibly fortunate to have shared in this awe-inspiring, once-in-a-lifetime experience as a family.

The Best Travel Decision We Could’ve Made

The purpose we set for our trip was met in a myriad of ways throughout our stay. Including those excursions was one of the best decisions we ever made. I’m sure we would have had a good time hanging around the hotel and playing on the beach. However, through these incredibly engaging and impactful experiences, we were able to test our limits, stretch our imaginations, support each other, and make new discoveries together. Time was spent playing, laughing, and creating memories that will last forever. I learned not only to travel with purpose but how to better prepare to ensure that I meet that purpose.

What do you think? Leave a Comment!

What’s the best travel decision you ever made?

Is there a trip you’ve taken that you wish had gone differently?

How do you overcome setbacks when traveling?

What’s your next travel purpose? How will you meet that purpose?

Author

Growing through experiential travel.

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