This slice of the Eastern Shore is an ideal destination for vacationers looking to try out “transformative travel.”
For modern tourists, every vacation is an opportunity to grow.
They’re seeking out travel experiences that transform their perspective or deepen their understanding of the world. Experts call this movement “transformative travel,” and it’s been hailed as a global trend by major tourism boards worldwide.
Transformative travel is about “having that space away where you can actually get to know yourself all over again,” said Annette Pritchard, a tourism researcher at Leeds Beckett University. And for those who live in the D.C. area, Dorchester County, Md. is the ideal place to have a transformative experience, by way of awe-inspiring nature, fascinating American history, restorative spa treatments, and a welcoming culture where the food and wine are as thoughtfully prepared as they are unpretentious.
As for what’s fueling the growing desire for transformative experiences, Pritchard points to the fact that many people are struggling to achieve a gratifying work-life balance, and looking for ways to feel recharged and reconnected.
“There’s something in everyone that wants to experience something a little deeper. It’s a matter of what’s going to trigger that state of mind,” said Dorchester County director of tourism Amanda Fenstermaker.
All types of transformation
Whether it means taking a walk and listening to the birds, or visiting historical sites, transformative travel can be whatever feels like an “adventure for the senses” to you, said Pritchard. Seeking out challenging physical or cultural experiences, and taking time to reflect on a journey’s deeper meaning, can also encourage personal growth and transformation, according to the Transformational Travel Council.
For Jennifer Layton, adopting an agricultural lifestyle proved transformative. She and her husband had no winemaking experience when they moved to his family’s farm and took up viticulture almost two decades ago. But the Layton family has been growing grain on the Eastern Shore since 1948, giving them an expert grasp of local conditions, from the soil to the weather patterns; so it wasn’t long before they were harvesting hybrid grapes like chambourcin and traminette, as well as cabernet franc.
Now, as general manager of Layton’s Chance Vineyard & Winery, Layton often witnesses visitors’ preferences evolve. They might start out drinking sweeter wines, for example, and then gradually open up to trying—and enjoying—drier ones. The process can be challenging, but transformative, for visitors, as they find themselves embracing less familiar flavors and styles. Tours from the vineyard to the grape-processing area to the tank room further enhance visitors’ understanding of winemaking and the local landscape, especially because Layton’s husband, winemaker William Layton, strives to make “pure wines that express the fruit that’s grown in the vineyard,” she said.
A new kind of adventure
Visitors can also reconnect with nature (and themselves) at the Sago Spa & Salon at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina. Treatments might mimic rainwater, envelop visitors in nutrient-rich sea plants, or detoxify the skin with frangipani flower. And whereas the spa used to be seen as a luxury, now people are making more regular visits to benefit their mental and physical health, according to spa director Meredith Higgins. A spa experience, she said, allows you to “find yourself healed if you needed to heal, or reset if that’s what you needed.”
That sentiment reflects a growing desire among travelers for a different kind of adventure. While transformative travel is an outgrowth of adventure travel, according to Pritchard, it doesn’t insist on physical exertion, like downhill skiing or mountaineering. Rather, people are feeling increasingly drawn to travel that encourages self-reflection, and leaves them more fulfilled.
Stirring a deeper understanding
A visit to the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center and National Historic Park can spark transformative shifts in perspective. Tubman was born and spent her formative years in the Choptank River region and the area is “where she learned the skills that helped her become the most successful conductor on the Underground Railroad,” said park manager Dana Paterra. And learning about Tubman’s life while discovering Dorchester County’s unique role in U.S. history elicits powerful reactions from visitors, whether they’ve come to get a better understanding of the era or their own personal heritage. Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, an essential part of Tubman’s story, is connected to the visitor center and park as well.
“We have a landscape that has remained virtually unchanged since the 19th century. So when you look out across the marshes of Blackwater, you’re seeing what Tubman would have seen,” said Paterra.
The 20,000-acre refuge features a wealth of land and water trails for cycling, hiking and paddling, with options for beginners and more experienced athletes alike. People can also travel by car along the approximately four-mile wildlife drive, stopping to capture photos of deer, Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrels, osprey and eagles.
There are many more opportunities to soak up the outdoors and history around Dorchester, like Choptank River sailing trips on the Skipjack Nathan, and visits to Bucktown Village Store, an authentic 19th-century country store with a display of artifacts related to slavery. And no trip to the Eastern Shore would be complete without experiencing its distinct cuisine. For that, people can visit the J.M. Clayton Company, a long-running crab-processing plant that offers a window into a regional tradition, and Old Salty’s, the perfect spot to eat authentic Maryland cuisine while reflecting on the day.
Regardless of how travelers choose to explore Dorchester County, they can expect to feel changed by the time they head home.
“Once you cross the Choptank Bridge and get into Cambridge, there’s a ‘reset’ [of your mind and body],” said Higgins. “If you allow yourself to just be part of the area and your surroundings, there’s no way you [won’t] have that transformative experience.”