Standing in the grounds of a Portuguese church, in the town of Kochi, a city in the southern state of Kerala, India, was where I had my moment. You know those moments that pivot the course of your life and take you in a direction that you didn’t even know was an option. Some call them “A Ha” moments or epiphanies, for me it was just a moment of clarity.
After 20 years in the travel industry in a variety of roles from consultant, to manager, to trainer I was currently working as a freelance travel consultant through my husband’s agency. In the last year I had made the decision to further my skills in a totally different field and had retrained as a life coach. Now I was at the crossroads of deciding which career path to follow, that of a coach/trainer or that of a travel agent.
It was also a tumultuous time for me personally, as after 10 years my final attempt at IVF to expand our family had been unsuccessful, and I was just in one of those moments in life when you don’t know which direction to move. Therefore, when I was invited on a Travel Agent Famil trip to India by the Taj Hotel Group, a country I never had any intention of visiting, I found myself accepting with a resounding YES! India wasn’t even on the bottom of my bucket list, it wasn’t even in the bucket as far as I was concerned, but I think that day, my soul knew something that I needed more than my logic or rational mind could ever decide.
There I was travelling with a group of other agents, arriving into Kochi, in what felt like 100% humidity, on a 12-day adventure. Matched with a roommate, an old friend from another time in my career, we found ourselves being introduced to an India I never imagined. To culture, food, music, dance, nature, waterways, incredible hotel locations and a way of life that intrigued and captivated me from the first moment, India took her grip on me early and to this day, 4 years later has not let go.
Standing in that courtyard of the old church I had an idea from nowhere. Well if you believe the Hindu way of living, that all in this life is predestined then it wasn’t from nowhere. I was just showing up at the place intended, pre-planned, predestined, to receive the message that had already been chosen and would start me on a trajectory that I never thought possible.
The thought, why make a choice between the two career paths? Why not combine them, bring groups of women to India. Use your travel planning skills, contacts and experience to design a tour for them that is focused around bespoke experiences that take them inside the real India, into people’s lives, homes and culture. Expose them to the food, the culture, the spirituality, the way of life in a way that leaves them changed, transformed for having been there. Then, along the way as they experience this journey, support them in a way that helps them observe, process and reflect on what is happening internally as India creates its own lessons and education. It is a place that teaches you about yourself, how you feel, how you respond and what moves you. What better time to have a life coach by your side guiding the process.
I discussed the idea over dinner with our host and guide on the trip, an Indian man from Delhi who with two other business partners ran the local ground operator we were travelling with. We chatted about the idea, how it could work and what it could look like and then left it, to simmer as an idea which quickly started to take immense space inside my head. When I returned to Australia, changed from having stepped onto Indian soil, I made contact with the company in India and began to plan a what I saw as the perfect introduction to India 10 day Itinerary to depart the following March, only 9 months away, catering for a group of up to 12 women.
Was this a crazy idea? I had no clue if it would work, how it would look and if success was possible. But I forged ahead, designed the tour, wrote the complimentary program Spirit, Love, Joy and after 5 weeks of launching it to friends and family on Facebook we had 9 participants signed up to travel with me, making it a group of 11 including myself and the local guide.
As the days drew nearer to that 17th March 2017 departure, the fear and anxiety hit an all time high and I started to second guess myself. I had put my entire being into this trip. This culmination of all my skills, experience and hopes. But not for me, but for the women who would join me. I already knew the transformational power of travel let alone India, and all I wanted was for this group of women to come home enriched, engaged, connected to themselves and others with a new appreciation of their life and the world we live in. Pretty huge intention, and totally out of my control, but I was clear and set this intention daily before, during and ever since that first trip.
When we left as a group of 10 soon to be 11, there were some that knew each other, some were strangers, but I was connected to all of the participants in some degree of separation. What I was never prepared for was the way these women would connect, share and come together on this life changing trip.
From the moment we arrived in India, she opened her arms to us. We were held, nurtured, loved and cared for every step of the way on this journey. It was as if the paths were cleared, the obstacles were removed and now I realise that perhaps this was part of the destiny of things. Not one flat tyre, not an illness, not a missed connection, not a bad meal, every part of the trip was perfect which I believe to be destined so that I would do it again. A culmination of an over eager tour planner, me, a fantastic crew on the ground in India taking care of my every request and a very clear intention for a successful journey gave me just that.
However, what made me continue, wasn’t the ease of the trip or the overall experience. It was the individual experiences that I was privileged to witness that I will never forget and what drives me even now as my business Soulful Escapes evolves.
When you’re placed together with a group of women, to travel to a country that pushes your buttons, evokes the senses, soothes you with it’s spirituality, shocks you with it’s diversity, saddens you with it’s poverty and overwhelms you with its wealth, you experience your own rollercoaster of emotions and your perspective can’t help but be drawn inwards.
For some this was the first time they had travelled without their children. So just having time to be on their own, reflect, focus on their own needs was for many long overdue and welcomed. Mother and daughter travelled together sharing a side of life they hadn’t before. As we witnessed things that touched our hearts, experiences of love and loss, grief and change in our own lives came flooding to the surface and were shared in the confidence of the circle we had created.
Each city we travelled to took on a different focus. We discussed our senses and emotions as we began in Delhi, a city that calls on every sense you have and forces you to be present without question. Then Varanasi, a most spiritual place for Hindus, was where we reflected on our own spiritual practices and what they may or may not look like. The world’s biggest testament to love, The Taj Mahal became our opportunity to assess the love in our own lives and then the pink city of Jaipur became our focus for joy, fun and all that is light in the world.
I’m not sure this trip was all my design or doing, I’m just the conductor. No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, there was a greater power in charge here. And I will be eternally grateful for that intervention.
Since that very first tour there has been one each year to India. Each group has been perfectly formed, all with common interests, shared ideas and values. Something I cannot control but that has just occurred. The women that participate come for a variety of reasons. Some have always been drawn to India due to the influence of a friend or family member, some have experienced great loss like the death of a parent or partner and have this as something to look forward to, to help them process or just to be together as mother and daughter. Friends travel together for the experience, leaving the husbands behind, so they too can have their own journey. Sisters take the time to travel together and step away from their busy lives to spend some quality time with each other. And then those that travel solo, who want to have their own adventure in life, their own exploration, in the safety and comfort of a group.
All come for their own reasons and all have their own experience. But to witness each one has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.
A Soulful Escape is designed to take you to a place that is unique, leaves you curious and has the potential to transform you, just for having been there. Each escape is curated with the 3 elements in mind, Spirit, Love and Joy. Essentially it is a travel experience first. They are not retreats, as we do not stay in the one place. We move through a section of the country, experience the sights in an authentic bespoke way, leave a light footprint and connect with the real country and people in our travels.
Yet sitting alongside this itinerary will be a program that is designed to facilitate an inward journey, through reflections, seminars and meditations.
As Soulful Escapes grows and adapts to the world we are living in, there will be 1-2 hosted escapes every year. One will always be India and then each year another destination will be included. If that doesn’t suit the traveller there are a selection of itineraries already curated with Spirit, Love and Joy as a focus, to be taken anytime in a way that suits the travellers budget, lifestyle and group size. The intention is to provide transformational travel however that looks for the client.
When I reflect back on what I’ve witnessed I stop in my tracks. To see women, farewell the spirit of their partners, fathers, mothers on the banks of the Ganges in the holy cities of Rishikesh and Varanasi, I can’t help but be forever changed.
Travel has the power to transform those that are willing. Women have the power to support themselves and one another through that transformation. But so far, my gratitude is to India, who provides the canvas every time.