It is said that when a student is ready, a master teacher will appear.
Sometimes what is to be learned comes in the form of going inward and engaging with the self. Other times, we are guided out into the world and to visit sacred places in order to learn more about who we are.
Spiritual pilgrimages have been a part of many cultures and religions since they were first conceived – think Buddha in his Siddhartha days, Jesus as he went out into the desert, Muhammad retreating to a cave outside of Mecca.
According to Robert Sheer, the oldest known spiritual travel destination is Mount Kailash in Tibet, to which pilgrimages began some 15,000 years ago.
As many people are shifting their views on the environment, their spiritual or religious beliefs, and their life’s purpose, pilgrimages are being taken to a whole new level through organized spiritual travel tours.
BNT recently spoke with Greg Roach, founder of Spirit Quest Tours, to find out what exactly is behind this increasingly popular form of travel.
BNT: How would you define spiritual travel?
GREG: I could write pages and pages to answer this question! It’s different for everyone, but for us it means simply traveling with consciousness, respect and intention.
Consciousness of spirit and the blessings of the divine that allow us the freedom to travel (even if that freedom comes in two week blocks), respect for the sites and people that we visit, and the intention to travel as “ambassadors of peace” and to further the evolution of consciousness (our own, or others) wherever we go.
That’s an equation that’s always evolving – depending on where we’re traveling to, who we’re traveling with, and what’s happening in the world at the time.
Typically spiritual travel involves seeking out sacred sites, performing rituals, meditations and ceremonies and getting deeply immersed in the place, the people and their beliefs. This is really our goal at Spirit Quest Tours – to help our travelers discover the deep essence and truest energy of a destination.
How does Spirit Quest provide, according to your site, “life-changing, heart-opening, pilgrimages”?
We think of a Spirit Quest tour as a pilgrimage because of the intention that we, and our travelers, bring to the trip. It’s our intention to be open to the world and culture in way that’s transformative – to use the great gift of travel as a tool for transformation and awakening.
This intention helps to open person’s heart, that in turn helps to create positive change in a person’s life.
People go through profound changes on these trips. I see them become more of who they really are, more of who they want to become. They find a power they forgot they had. They become more patient, accepting, loving, open.
Why did you decide to take on the spiritual side of travel? Do you think this is a niche market that hasn’t provided many options for travelers?
My spiritual life came first, and that then led me to this career. I took an Egypt trip in 1998 and had a tremendously powerful spiritual awakening there. A “shattering experience” would actually be a good way to describe what happened to me.
The personal, emotional and psychic fallout from the trip was profound, and serious, so I began to travel to sacred places as a kind of coping and healing strategy. I spent the next several years visiting sacred sites all over the world.
In 2001, I was invited by UNESCO to present a paper at the opening of the Alexandria library (I was in the hi-tech world at the time and hold several patents in the field of interactive video technology, so travel is not my first career).
This not only gave me a chance to return to Egypt, it gave me a chance to reconnect with my friends and guides from my first visit. One thing led to another and within a year I had fielded my first Egypt tour and Spirit Quest Tours was born!
So we led our first “Spirit Quest Tours” trip in 2002 and have lead many trips to many parts of the globe since then.
The more time I spend helping people to experience the world, and helping the world to experience our people, the more I’m able to connect with the wonders of human accomplishment, the wonders of the natural realm, and the great, pervasive genius that ties it all together.
Phrases like “green travel” and “responsible tourism” have become buzz words over the past couple of years. Why did you choose carbon offsetting and the Bali Children’s Project as your way of participating in these forms of tourism?
Travel and tourism can be tremendous forces for good, producing greater cross-cultural understanding and a benevolent redistribution of wealth, or they can further a kind of “cultural imperialism” while negatively impacting the environment.
I think it still comes down to your intention, and for me that’s simple math. These are just the right things to do.
So, for the environment, we are carbon neutral for all of our land and business activities, and we invite our travelers to join us and offset the carbon footprint of their air travel. We did a lot of research around this and decided that we liked Carbon Fund.org’s approach.
We also feel that we have a spiritual obligation to help sustain the cultural future of our host countries, so we raise money for local children’s charities in our destinations. Here again, we also carefully research the organizations we work with.
The Bali Children’s Fund is a great example of the kind of charity we like to support. They’re doing tremendous good and making a real difference in the lives of underprivileged children in Bali.
What has been your favorite, and most spiritually fulfilling, trip? Do people tend to gravitate toward this particular destination, and why do think that is?
Okay. This is a tough one. It’s a little like asking a parent which child they love best! But if I’m honest, there’s only one answer for me: Egypt.
Egypt tours are by far our most popular trip. Egypt has such a power to it, and we hear from many people who tell us that it’s a life-long dream to go on an Egypt tour, and it never fails to deliver. And it also happens to be my personal favorite.
The country itself boasts a staggering history – and the Egyptian people are genuinely warm, open and welcoming.
But most importantly, Egypt possesses a mysterious, majestic quality that people respond to at a very deep level and there is an energetic quality to the land, and the ancient sites, that acts as a powerful kind of spiritual accelerant.
Many of our readers tend to backpack their way through multiple destinations on very little money. Does spiritual-based travel have to cost more, or is it possible to experience this form of tourism on a shoestring budget?
Again, I think it all comes down to your intention. I’ve done everything from sleeping in freezing monk’s cells on plain wooden boards to staying in the finest 5 star resorts. So you can have a spiritual travel experience anywhere along this spectrum. I don’t think there’s anything inherently more, or less, spiritual about either austerity or luxury.
The question is really what’s the consciousness you’re bringing to the experience and the environment? You can be a bad traveler in a hostel or the Ritz Carlton. Likewise, you an be a positive influence in the world whether you’re sleeping a goose feathers or straw.
Spirit Quest Tours trips tend to favor the more luxurious end of the spectrum. Our travelers tend to skew a little older, so money is maybe less of an issue.
Do you find that with all of the economic and societal changes that are going on in the world today, more or less people are seeking this type of travel?
There no doubt that more and more people are attracted to this kind of travel. There is a growing hunger for deeper, more meaningful, experiences.
Collectively, the west has had years and years of distractions available to us and, by and large, distraction and consumption have proven to be hollow ways of passing our time here on this planet. I meet a lot of people who are waking up to this truth and this awareness is being reflected in choices all across the spectrum of their lives – including the kind of travel they undertake.
Meaning is becoming meaningful again, and I feel very blessed that Spirit Quest Tours is able to help and participate in this consciousness.
For more info, visit Spirit Quest Tours.
Have you taken a spiritual pilgrimage? Share your thoughts below.