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We sat around the table in the wintergarten. My host had graciously offered to share her lunch with me on a bright, sunny day in Berlin. I was freezing, because anything under 70 degrees F is cold for this California girl. She giggled at me, as I put boots, a sweater and pants on. The tasty lunch consisted of potato soup, German bread and watermelon. My German is minimal, but in between Google translate and smiling, we had a conversation. The wind ruffled my hair, and I smiled as we discussed her next travel destination, New Zealand. You can always find a topic of similar interest, even if you have a language barrier. Within 15 minutes, we were done, and she continued on with her day. But I remember that moment.MY PERSONAL SEARCH FOR MEANINGFUL TRAVEL

I enjoy traveling to new countries and visiting museums, seeing historic landmarks and awing at paintings. It’s part of the travel experience. However, I have recently begun to think how I can make my travel experiences more meaningful. Making travel meaningful will be different for everyone. For me, I’m still not sure, but I have faith that through my upcoming experiences, I will discover what meaningful travel means to me. Currently, I believe meaningful travel is sharing experiences with others, having engaging conversations with people from diverse backgrounds and experiencing the non tourist path. Once I experience more in life, I truly think this idea of meaningful travel will morph and evolve.

As I plan my 2017 travel destinations, I cannot help but think back to meaningful travel. This year will be an exciting year for me, because I will be moving to Berlin to study and begin my career abroad. I will be fulfilling my dream of living abroad, studying my masters and traveling. I know I will visit places like Amsterdam and London purely as a tourist, but I want to know how I can experience these places [and new places] in a more meaningful way. These are a few of my ideas, and I hope you will share yours in the comments.

When I visit a new place, I will attempt to make the experience meaningful by…

1 // Sitting in multiple coffee shops and people watching. I enjoy seeing how others live their lives differently, but also the same. One of the coziest ways to do this is by sitting in a coffee shop.

2 // Volunteer for a couple of hours in a new city. If I find myself in a city for more than 48 hours, I would like to encourage myself to volunteer through a soup kitchen, music, street cleaning or anything that will engage others and spark conversation.

3 // Plan at least one trip abroad that is focused on volunteerism and helping. The world offers so many options for this, and I’ve been researching them slowly. Some of them do not cost money, but instead are paid by donations or a corporate company. For example, I am looking into a English conversation program in south Spain, where I can talk and engage with the locals, while they practice English. That to me will make my experience more meaningful.

4 // Research, work with and buy from companies that are focused on a good cause. This could be anything, but I am particularly thinking about Stray Bus Tours in New Zealand. During our trip, we had the option to plant a tree one afternoon. It’s small, but that’s meaningful travel to me.

5 // Photograph the unseen. I travel for myself, to encourage others to do so, and to encourage them to think more open. Through my photography, I want to take more pictures of the locals, the unseen places in a city and goodness.

My idea of meaningful travel is still forming, but I love the idea of this being a next step in my traveling career. Through meaningful travel, I hope to enrich my travel experiences for not just me but others. How would you define meaningful travel? Please give examples in the comments, and I will share on social media.