Steps towards change: personal transformation through long-distance walking

by Robert Edward Saunders

Institution: Monash University
Department: Department of Management
Year: 2015
Keywords: Transformative travel; Long-distance walking; Well-being; Positive psychology
Record ID: 1064362
Full text PDF: http://arrow.monash.edu.au/hdl/1959.1/1145739


In the emerging field of transformative tourism, life-changing outcomes of travel experiences are often implied and sometimes overtly offered in the marketing of products. However, these claims are not usually based on rigorous or comprehensive research, and the longevity and degree of personal change is rarely examined. To a large extent, current knowledge of travel which contributes to changes in attitudes, values and behaviours is based on research involving young adults in organised educational and volunteer settings. In this study a range of personal changes portrayed by mid-life adults following personally significant experiences on long-distance walks has been explored incorporating elements of triangulation and longitudinal research. By focusing on lived experiences, the study has been opened to a variety of perceived effects. The nature and extent of profound and enduring change have been mapped against domains of life, and the resulting spectrum has been characterised as Significant Personal Change (SPC). The study uses a relatively recent form of hermeneutic phenomenology known as Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which to date has only occasionally been applied to the field of tourism. Developed in psychology, and increasingly used elsewhere in the human sciences, IPA lends itself to studies of lived experience and meaning-making. Content, narrative and thematic analysis have been used in order to explore individual experiences and personal change, and to seek patterns of effects across cases. Several complementary perspectives have emerged which help to structure the vast range of individual variations within the spectrum of SPC. Some patterns of personal change appear to relate to well-established stage-based processes which typically occur over extended periods and may conform to common cultural scripts. Claims of sudden or epiphanic change often seem to arise within relevant individuals’ explanatory narratives, reflecting moments of personal insight rather than necessarily describing abrupt life changes. Long-distance walking can also facilitate different steps in stage-based processes, particularly by enhancing confidence, optimism and self-efficacy. A perception of enhanced well-being through long-distance walking has been noted by other researchers, and this study has extended these findings by relating long-distance walking to potential gains in the distinct elements of well-being proposed by leaders in the field of positive psychology. In particular, deep engagement emerges as a central process in enhancing well-being, with engagement in the task of walking often generating a sense of achievement, engagement with other people developing relationships, and engagement with the context or setting of a walk promoting a sense of meaning in life. In this study personal transformation has emerged as an extreme form of significant personal change, but not as a singular phenomenon. Instead, three distinct modes have been identified: therapeutic, adaptive and induced SPC. Each mode has a…