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Faith tourism can lead the travel rebound

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posted January 13, 2021
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“What you do is so important,” said author Lori Erickson as she began her webinar, “How Faith Travel Changes Hearts and Minds” during the National Tour Association’s recent vTREX conference. “We need you,” she added, predicting that group travel will rebound earlier than other types of travel, because “there is an added sense of safety that comes with traveling in a group.” 

Erickson also anticipates that faith travel, in particular, will be at the forefront of that rebound. “Faith travel almost certainly was the first form of tourism, historically,” she said. “People needed a really good reason to leave their homes and villages, because travel was dangerous, and faith travel provided an additional motivation. It enriched their spiritual lives by adding meaning.”

Erickson, the author of “Holy Rover” and her most recent book, “Near the Exit,” shared many reasons why faith-based trips are different from other forms of travel. 

She said that pilgrimages have three parts: 

  1. The preparation, which includes prayer, reflection, seeking spiritual direction, and a discernment of where you want to go and why you want to go there
     
  2. The trip itself
     
  3. An integration of your experience after you return home.
     

“In a sense, the trip is just the beginning,” she said. “In fact, there might be a lifelong process of mulling over your experiences and reflecting on what you learned. The journey and the post-journey are as important as the destination itself.”

Faith travel isn’t always easy, said Erickson, who noted that the words “travel” and “travail” come from the same root word. “In my experience, it’s when travel is hard that it’s most memorable,” she explained. 

Those difficult trips can cultivate another distinct aspect of faith travel that Erickson mentioned. “There’s a sense of community that you don’t find with other travel,” she said. “You’re with like-minded souls, so there is a camaraderie that is unique in the travel world.”

Occasionally, faith travel helps participants discover treasures that can be found close to home. Erickson shared how, during a trip to the French pilgrimage destination of Taize, she found herself drawn to the simplicity of a small stone chapel where she went to pray early one morning. There, she realized that she could also have meaningful, quiet morning prayer in a spot at home each morning. 

“Almost every single day since that trip to Taize, which was four or five years ago, I have had morning prayer there in that spot,” Erickson said. “And it still amuses me to think that I had to go to France in order to see what was right in my bedroom. But that’s the power of pilgrimage. Sometimes we have to travel a long way to find the treasures that are hidden close to home.”

In a year that has brought so much turmoil and division, Erickson believes that faith travel is especially important. 

“2020 has been an existential shock,” she said. “People’s souls and spirits are really hurting. Pilgrimage and faith travel can be a powerful way to heal the world. 

“When you think about it, that’s a role that pilgrimage has played throughout human history. People have always gone on pilgrimage during times of difficulty. I think one of the things we’re realizing during these days of COVID is the connection we have to people of the past, and their resilience in the face of difficulty is something we can learn from.”

Erickson closed her webinar by touching on the theme of gratitude, and how it is increased by traveling. “Once we get back to traveling and living our normal lives, I hope we never again take these things for granted,” she shared. “We’ll have an extra layer of appreciation that we didn’t have before.” 

She elaborated by saying that “gratitude is one of the main fruits of a faith travel experience. You feel grateful for the gift of being able to experience these places. And people are generally more grateful in hard times than in good times, because hard times really strip life down to the essentials. Gratitude is the best foundation you can have, because almost every other spiritual gift flows from it.”

Links to Erickson’s books, articles, and other writing can be found at her website, lorierickson.net.

Top photo: ©chanwitohm/Adobe Stock

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