Tourist, Traveler, or Pilgrim?

A woman talking to a colleague in an office.


In life, are you a tourist, a traveler, or a pilgrim?

I love to travel, as many people do. When I learned Rick Steves was giving a talk in Charlotte, I had to go. Rick Steves is an American travel writer, tour guide, and tv host. His company helps 30,000 people a year travel to and experience Europe. Rick is also provocative. He’s an outspoken advocate for the legalization of marijuana and imposes a carbon tax on his company’s earnings to offset the pollution his trips produce.

What I enjoyed most about his talk were his comments about what we’re looking to do when we travel, and how we might get more out of it. He joked that the only guidebook that outsells his Italy travel guide is one for Disney. He doesn’t judge anyone for vacationing in Orlando, but he made a strong case for continuing past Florida to the wider world to meet people and see how they live.

He offered this question:

He argues that there’s nothing wrong with being a tourist, but that we might spend more time traveling and pilgrimaging.  

Crazy selfie at the apex of the Inca Trail – Dead Woman’s Pass. Just shy of 14,000 feet in elevation. I had a respiratory infection and was struggling with the altitude. But I did it! Not something I will soon forget.

I love this idea. I love a lazy beach vacation or a day at Disney – I’m taking my kids to Disneyland in April, and we are excited to do our own compare and contrast with Disney World in Florida. You can be sure I’ll be having my Mickey Mouse ice cream bar, too.  I am also branching out to more transformative experiences – hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, traveling alone to Scandinavia and Estonia, taking our small but mighty team to Cartagena, Colombia, (remember when I broke my ankle? I won’t ever forget) and this summer my first trip to Asia. I’m fortunate to have the time and resources to have these experiences and to go with family and colleagues sometimes, too. 

What does it look like to bring the idea of pilgrimage, of transformation, into the workplace?  

Traditional leadership development can be compared to traveling and touring. Let’s teach some stuff. Let’s learn something. And bonus, it is fun for many of us to learn and apply new skills at work. But traditional leadership development does not deal in transformation. 

But isn’t that what’s needed in our increasingly complex and fast-moving world? We need leaders who can see more, and from that place of expanded perspective, do more. How can we create space for that, invite the possibility? I’d send everyone off to hike the Inca Trail, but that’s not practical. 

What is practical is to look at how we are developing leaders and expand our approach beyond tourist and traveler. We can encourage and architect transformation. 

If you’re interested in exploring this idea, I invite you to join our webinar Change the Game: Reinventing Leadership Development on March 20th at 2pm ET. Register here.

Founder & CEO
The Sparks Group