Last year, while taking a course in Transformational Travel Design, I learned about the acronym HEART. Maybe it’s the military brat in me, but I have a secret love for well-designed acronyms. This one reinforces the tools that I know are essential to a memorable trip, one that leaves us feeling satisfied and yet still wanting more. 

 HEART is a practice of intention

In order for a traveler to fully experience transformation, they first need to set intentions for their journey. Using the acronym HEART makes the process more accessible.

First, let’s look at the words themselves:

H    Humble

E     Engaged

A     Awake

R     Respectful

T     Thankful

Some of these concepts are easier than others to accept and practice. But the first, to be humble, is perhaps the most difficult for the typical North American tourist.


Freshly Pulled Carrot

To be HUMBLE is not a concept that comes naturally for many North Americans. We have been taught that to be humble is to “lower oneself in dignity”. In fact, we are often embarrassed when someone humbles themselves before us as we see it as undignified.

However, to be humble could simply mean “to not be proud or haughty, to not be arrogant and assertive.” In truth, to be humble is to forsake our privilege, especially for those of us who are white, male, and/or cis-gendered.

When we travel, it is important to set aside our gut reactions, our biases, and any privilege that we may have, especially in situations of culture shock, and to simply take the time to accept. Be humble.


Mama Rora, Siona Guide in Cuyabeno, Ecuador with volunteer | ©Angela Drake

To be engaged means being open to making connections – with yourself, with others, and with something greater than us all, be it God, the Pachamama, or an un-named sense of something larger than ourselves.

In today’s world of constant connectivity, we often find ourselves disconnected from the very people who are standing right in front of us. When traveling, take the time to engage, to have new conversations, to learn another culture’s traditions, or to take part in rituals different from your own. 

to be AWAKE

A man sits on a rock and looks out towards a view we cannot see

To be awake is as simple as living in the moment. Be present.

When traveling, don’t forget to see without your camera, to listen without needing to reply, to taste without expectation, to smell without judgment, and to sense the world as you pass through it, not as it passes by.


Author sitting on bench between men dressed in colorful costumes

When I originally learned about HEART, the facilitator used a different word for the letter R, resilience. But when I started to ponder writing this article, the term resilient seemed out of place with the other concepts.

I began to realize that, for me, the R in HEART, means being respectful. As with the other tools, you should respect yourself, others, and that which is larger than all of us, the environment or Mother Earth.

Respect yourself by understanding your needs while traveling. Because I struggle with heat, I make sure to plan more downtime when we are visiting warmer destinations. It makes me a better traveler.

Respect others by participating in their culture. Never feel like you have to do something that is against your own personal credo, but be open to new ways of seeing and new ways of being. For example, if your host invites you to try roast guinea pig and you eat meat, then try without turning up your nose. 

Respect the environment. Even small steps can make a big difference, especially when providing an example for others. Like many of these concepts, this one deserves an article all its own. 

to be Thankful

Once a year, those of us living in the United States take a day to give thanks. It is an important ritual in our culture to specifically take a moment in time to be thankful.

Being thankful means much more than saying the words, though they are often a good place to start. Verbally sharing your appreciation for a well-made meal, a nicely kept room, or a peaceful taxi ride, should not be a difficult practice for any of us. While a monetary tip is always welcome, the kind words that accompany that tip are an increasingly rare commodity.

For travelers, there are several other ways to show our thanks:

  • Visit places where communities are working hard to preserve their culture, protect the environment, and fight climate change.
  • Donate to causes that make your great vacation possible – like an NGO protecting the oceans or a company sequestering carbon. 
  • Leave positive reviews as often as possible. If you must criticize, make it constructive. 
  • Practice HEART – being humble, engaged, aware, and respectful are all different forms of giving thanks.
Venn Diagram of intersecting hearts with the words Humble, Awake, Engaged, Respectful, and Thankful running in a counter-clockwise direction

Would you like to add HEART to your next trip? We work with clients, both travelers and businesses, in creating itineraries that are steeped in transformational concepts like HEART. Reach out for a free 30-minute consultation.