How travel can set us free

Aaron Millar chats with Bruce Poon Tip, bestselling author, award-winning travel company founder and friend of the Dalai Lama, about his new book, Do Big Small Things, which challenges people to leave their comfort zones both at home and abroad

G Adventures has been taking people on adventures for 25 years. You manage to show people a good time while simultaneously doing a lot of positive work around the world. Was that your original vision?

When we started in 1990, the concept for us was about getting people off cruise ships and coach tours and out of big resorts. The entire industry was geared towards creating western environments for people to travel in. It was a horrible time. My eureka moment was almost a political one: people weren’t really travelling. They were going to places where the comforts of home were just recreated. They never really saw the country for what it was.

Ultimately, responsible travel is about matching your holiday time with the values through which you live your life. Even just asking questions of the companies you’re travelling with: who owns them, where is your money going, how is it benefiting local people? Travel can have an enormous positive impact as long as you spread your wealth in a way that benefits local people.

I believe travel is also a path to peace. There’d be less violence in the world if people appreciated other ways of life and respected those differences. Travel can be that vehicle to a greater understanding.

Do you think there’s something about travel that acts as a catalyst for that kind of personal change?

Yes, but you must take yourself out of your comfort zone. The original explorers went into the unknown – that was true adventure. The way tourism works today, every brochure has pages and pages of listed amenities so you’ll feel like you never left home. It’s a ridiculous concept. Real travel should feel like you’re going somewhere. And the benefit is when you come back you have a greater appreciation of where you come from. You begin to understand your place in the universe because you understand what’s outside of that smaller, insular universe in which you grew up or live day to day. I always tell people we’re born to be naturally curious, we’re born to be explorers. Society makes us tourists.

We’re born to be explorers. Society makes us tourists

In your book, Do Big Small Things, it seems like you’re taking that concept one step further: you don’t necessarily need to go halfway across the planet to adopt that explorer’s mindset – it’s something you can do right here at home?

At the heart of it I want people to travel and go and see the world. But at the same time what we’re trying to do with the book is inspire people to live a more purposeful life in general. To take themselves out of their comfort zones, whether it’s at home or abroad. In part, we can do that simply by celebrating our differences. When you open your mind to new ideas there’s so much that you can explore just within your local neighbourhood or region.

You don’t have to have tons of money to travel. You could just see your local community or country with new eyes. It’s about you, not the destination. It’s about our individual paths to constantly become better versions of ourselves. And we can only become better versions of ourselves by constantly challenging our sensibilities to grow.

For me the book is about being free. Freedom is a major tenet of happiness. We take freedom for granted every single day in the developed world. Freedom allows us to unleash so much potential, but we don’t exercise our ability to be free. In part that’s down to our fears. But fear is something we make up.

In the book I talk about the idea that fear doesn’t exist. We’re conditioned to live a fear-based life. From our upbringing we’re given a matrix of what is familiar to us and any time we go beyond that matrix there’s fear attached because it’s the unknown. But to move past that is just a greater way of being. I talk a lot about happiness in the book, the pillars of happiness, and that’s another pillar of sustained happiness.

I can relate some of these concepts to Buddhism. You spent quite a bit of time with the Dalai Lama. Was he an inspiration for this book?

I’m not a Buddhist. But I have spent quite a bit of time with His Holiness and I’m certainly inspired by a lot of Buddhist thinking – as I am many religious ideas. I think faith is another important part of life – believing whatever you choose to believe. Organised religion isn’t necessarily my thing. But people living in a way that has faith, that has a purpose, is really important.

Buddhism is definitely an inspiration for the book. But actually it’s more about looking at these different ways of life and finding common threads between them all. There are common threads exploring what it takes to be a good person. There are common threads exploring what it takes to be successful in different societies and different cultures. That’s one of the main things I hope people get out of reading Do Big Small Things.

G Adventures is 25 years old this year. You’ve witnessed enormous changes in the travel industry over that time. What do you hope for the next 25 years?

I hope that in the next 25 years the consumer gets more educated about travel. If consumers are educated and wise about their choices, ultimately entrepreneurs create products to match those needs. So consumers have the control. That’s how the movement of sustainability will shift. There’s so much information out there right now. We’re living in the information and social revolution. It’s a marvelous and amazing time. There’s going to be a tipping point where the information that people have will give them the opportunity to make more conscious decisions, and that will shift the entire business community.

It seems like there’s a circle there: go out and see the world, expand your mind and come back and make purposeful, conscious choices that will change the world?

Life is circular. That’s the whole concept of my first book, Looptail. We live in cyclical patterns. They might last hours, days, months or years. Once we’re attuned to that, it becomes part of our destiny. It’s out there, you just need to listen for it.


Do Big Small Things is published by Running Press. Bruce Poon Tip is a bestselling author and founder of award-winning sustainable tour operator G Adventures as well as the not-for-profit Planterra Foundation.

Positive Travel is edited by Aaron Millar. He writes about adventure travel and personal development through exploring the world at The Blue Dot Perspective.

Photo: Bruce Poon Tip. Credit: G Adventures