Transformative Travel: Insights from a Changemaker
September 30, 2021
After traveling around Europe and volunteering in Africa, Jill joined All Hands and Hearts’ Super Typhoon Haiyan Program in the Philippines in 2014. While volunteering with us, she was inspired to combine her passion for travel and serving others with her training as a life coach and co-founded UGO Travel for Change. As a Transformative Travel Coach, Jill has led programs in Belize, Nepal, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Tanzania encouraging and supporting clients to volunteer abroad, journey within and create deep bonds with one another. Jill lives by the words “Make it happen!” – below she shares how she has done just that.
I had my first real overseas traveler experience in 2002 when I backpacked around Europe. A few years later I spent three months volunteering in Tanzania, but it wasn’t until I spent 2011-2012 living and volunteering in Uganda, and took the time to reflect on these experiences, that I recognized how they had profoundly changed my life.
Finally, I had some inkling of who I really was and the life I wanted to lead!
On returning to Canada, I felt restless and unchallenged. After a year of adventure, gaining a deep sense of freedom and purpose and being enveloped in a close-knit community, I knew I couldn’t return to my previous nine to five working schedule. I needed more autonomy and I needed to be making a greater impact.
I have a degree in psychology and worked alongside athletes with disabilities in Uganda, so I briefly considered becoming a therapist. Around the same time, life coaching was gathering more popularity and I felt it would be a better suit for my personality and skill set. After researching different institutions, I undertook training with the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC) and became a professional life coach.
Newly certified and eager to use my training, I spent a month volunteering with All Hands and Hearts in Leyte, the Philippines. I spent my days helping rebuild typhoon-damaged homes and infrastructure and at night I took the opportunity to survey, interview and coach fellow volunteers on how to lead a more fulfilling life. By connecting with people from all over the world about what they had gained while volunteering and encouraging them to fully process and intentionally leverage their individual experiences, the potential to help others powerfully transform their lives became apparent. I knew that this revelatory experience was key and after realizing my desire to share all the benefits which come with it, UGO Travel for Change was born.
By combining my skills and training as a life coach with the power of volunteering abroad, I created the role of Transformative Travel Coach and led programs in Belize and Nepal. I met Nicole Hrinco at an event in Toronto and she has helped build UGO Travel for Change into what it is today. We led our first program together to Costa Rica and took a team back to All Hands and Hearts to volunteer in Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria made landfall. Before COVID-19 caused such widespread travel obstruction, we were able to lead a group of female entrepreneurs on a life-changing trip to Tanzania which included hiking Mount Kilimanjaro.
Across this range of immersive experiences of varying cultures one theme has remained constant: transformative travel is a powerful tool. In Western societies, we’ve been programmed to accept working in jobs that don’t fulfill us to buy things we don’t really need and many of us are familiar with feeling disconnected from others. Transformational travel can help those interested in stepping outside of their comfort zone to reprogram their mindset, rethink their priorities, put their lives into perspective, deepen their sense of gratitude and become better global citizens.
After reflecting on our personal and professional values and what we stand for and believe in, Nicole and I wanted to encapsulate this succinctly, to sum up who we are as UGO Travel for Change. We came up with the Changemaker Manifesto which we encourage all of our program attendees to get on board with:
We want to create personal change, push ourselves, and look inwards but also create social change by giving back and being of service. It’s important to remember that any type of tourism significantly impacts the economic wellbeing of community members and the natural environment. So, beyond our own personal transformation, we want to ask ourselves, “how can I most ethically and effectively interact with the place and people I am visiting?”