Helen Tomei’s passion for travel to exotic, soul-stirring places started at an early age. As a child, she was fascinated by National Geographic and other programs which focused on ancient cultures and far-flung destinations. At age 12, she embarked on a travel adventure with her father that would forever impact her life: a summer vacation travelling all over Peru in a dusty rental car, from the Nazca Lines to Arequipa, Cusco to Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and even up the Amazon River and back. This magical journey really set the stage for her lifelong passion for travel and sacred places.
In 1987 she started work in the travel industry: she travelled extensively, learned all aspects of the craft, and honed her skills, before founding her own travel company in 2003. With the launch of Sacred Earth Journeys she was successfully able to transform her passion for travel and spirituality into a successful tour business devoted to providing travellers more meaningful experiences at sacred sites around the globe.
From the outset she has cherished collaborating with tour leaders to create compelling itineraries and she especially looks forward to the feedback from participants after a journey, hearing about the profound and lasting impact travel has had on their lives. Travel is a blessing and the very best education you can have in life – Sacred Earth Journeys has given Helen a way to make positive changes by sharing her enthusiasm for global awareness and personal growth through these journeys of transformation.
How do the experiences you offer at Sacred Earth Journeys give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of the regions where you travel?
One of the most important things we do at Sacred Earth Journeys is work extremely closely with our Tour Leaders who are either based in the country we are visiting or who have a high level of knowledge about the country and culture. Because of our long-standing relationships with the Tour Leaders and local operators we are able to put together itineraries that take participants to the most powerful sacred sites – rather than only the most popular tourist destinations. We are also able to provide opportunities for genuine connection with the local peoples and cultures – from Homestay experiences to meeting friends of family of our Tour Leaders. We always look for ways to truly communicate the essence of the spiritual journey to participants and, depending on the location and type of journey, this could include daily discussions, meditation, wisdom teachings, ceremonies, journaling, and so on.
How have the journeys that you offer evolved since you began back in 2003?
The concept of what we do is the same now as when I started the company in 2003 – to provide opportunities for spiritual growth and personal transformation by visiting some of the world’s most important sacred sites. In terms of evolution, we just underwent a very exiting major website update last year which enabled us to fully communicate our key messages and values through words, photos, and the visual layout. This feels like a really positive evolution! We are also now able to offer more tours per year than when I first started as the company has grown and we have a wider network of Tour Leaders and participants. I am always excited when new Tour Leaders approach me too with new ideas – knowing that we have the knowledge, experience, and capacity to run with them. As we have grown, however, I am careful to ensure we stay true to our higher goals and values, and keep focused on offering a quality product and a more meaningful and rewarding travel experience.
What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important? Please explain why.
There are actually lots of small “behind-the-scenes” details that guests may be unaware of, from checking on the types of travel visas needed to ensuring accommodation choices are of an acceptable standard. I think the one really important detail is the work I do with the Tour Leaders to ensure the itineraries are perfectly balanced. I have enough experience to know when an itinerary seems too overloaded or has too much travel time between sites or places, or seems to be missing something. It can take a long time to craft the “perfect” balance of sightseeing, transformative experiences, wisdom teachings, and alone time to digest everything. Before a journey makes it to the website, it goes through many stages of evolution to ensure that both the practical details are accurate AND it has just the right balance of experiences.
What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in the experiences you offer?
What a difference a sacred journey could make in their lives! I feel that most of our participants are drawn to our journeys for a particular reason – they may not know what that reason is when they book, but there is something that really pulls them in and ignites a spark in them. What I see – both from my own travels and through the feedback and testimonials that we receive – is that this reason usually becomes clear during the course of the journey, and an inner transformation will occur that encourages them to more fully connect with themselves and the world around them. Once this happens, they’ll have a clearer sense of their own personal longing, and reasons for their pilgrimage, and will also be able to bring this clarity and sense of purpose back home with them after their journey. The knock-on effect of this personal transformation can be wonderful and far-reaching as they make positive changes on a personal and societal level.
What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of the experiences you offer?
Some kind of travel journal to capture the experiences they will encounter! Apps can be useful, but I also encourage guests to bring a paper journal so they can write or draw whenever the urge strikes!
What is one travel trend that really excites you?
I am excited by a general move toward more sustainable, respectful travel that focuses on personal and spiritual growth. I think people are moving away from the mass tourist resorts to more of a boutique, customized travel experience. Guests are looking for a more authentic, connected experience where they can escape their daily stresses and “turned-on” lifestyles and really live in the moment and engage with local culture when they travel. It’s more than “doing nothing” or sitting on a beach for a week though – it’s about getting back to the things that have the most meaning to us as human beings – cultivating our relationships with other people and our planet, seeking out opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, connecting with ancient wisdom and traditions.
Perhaps more so than for many other travel companies, it seems that ensuring guests are like-minded would be important, how do you strive to achieve that goal?
We strive to clearly communicate the essence of each of our sacred journeys and retreats so guests can fully understand not only where they’ll be going and what they’ll be seeing but also the spirit of the journey – what makes this journey special. When we do this we find that people are naturally drawn to certain journeys as they connect with the goals of the journey, the Tour Leader, or the ways in which experiences are presented. If two people are both drawn to the same journey for similar reasons, it makes sense that they will have a lot in common even if they come from totally different countries or backgrounds.
What is one insiders’ tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?
I would say to be as open minded as possible. Travel is all about unexpected adventures and experiences, and the more flexible and open you can be, the more you will get out of the experience. Stay curious – see what happens – and trust that you are where you need to be right now.
What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?
There has definitely been a growth in the spiritual travel industry over the past 10 years or so with people looking for vacations that offer opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. This trend has definitely helped us grow and develop our journeys. In terms of one strategy, I would say it’s being flexible and able to adapt to what people are looking for while staying true to our goals and values.
What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?
Taking the time to work on my own personal and spiritual growth. “Professional development” is very important to me and I continue to invest time in my own personal evolution in a well-rounded way. It’s important to know what’s happening in the travel industry, of course, but it’s equally important for me to take courses or attend workshops in areas of spiritual interest. And I go on at least one of our sacred journeys every year – last year I travelled to Mexico on our “Maya Temples of Transformation with Freddy Silva & Miguel Angel Vergara” journey and am hoping to join the group on a similar journey again this year. This keeps me connected to my own goals and purpose in life and also helps me to more fully understand participants’ reasons for wanting to embark on their own transformative journey.
Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to an experience you provided to them.
There are so many to choose from for this question and I truly relish receiving feedback from our guests after their journeys with us. A couple of recent experiences stand out for me. One participant, a biological scientist, journeyed to Ireland with our wonderful Tour Leader Phil Cousineau. The whole experience – from visiting “centuries-old ruins steeped in rich history” to “retracing the steps and words of the great writers, and learning about the myths of the countryside that fueled independent spirits” moved this participant so much that, after closing “the door long ago to art, music, mythology, poetry, and literature … after this tour, something ignited in me and I have set ajar that door once again”. Another participant shared his incredible experience of travelling to Peru with our Tour Leader Puma Quispe Singona: “I am still pinching myself to make sure we really did some of what we did. Standing on top of Amantani Island was awesome – body was light & agile, mind was clear, view was amazing – really was on top of the world.” So many of our participants have graciously let us know how they have felt transformed after their journeys, how they see the world differently now, and how they will forever cherish the memories of the incredible experiences they had.