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As a freshly minted 50-year-old with a recently emptied nest, I’m reveling in this new stage that brings fewer family responsibilities and greater freedom to pursue my passions. Foremost among them is spiritual travel, which has been a source of fascination for me for as long as I can remember.

Over the past two decades I’ve gotten up at 3:00 a.m. to chant in Buddhist monasteries, lingered over morning coffee with nuns in Iowa, walked part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, splashed myself with holy water in Lourdes, and gathered holy dirt from the floor in Chimayo, New Mexico.

I’m excited to be part of the BetterAfter50 site because I share its philosophy that life can get deeper, richer, and more meaningful as we age. In my new “Holy Rover” column, I’d like to show you how that philosophy can apply to travel. I plan to introduce you to a rich array of holy sites around the world and give you tips on how to make any of your trips more meaningful. In my next two columns, I’ll introduce you to some spiritual retreat centers around the nation (and tell you why a contemplative, quiet vacation may be just what you need) and take you with me to ancient holy sites in Turkey.

Here are some reasons why I hope you might follow my Holy Rover musings:

Interest in spiritual travel is growing: Most religions have long recognized the value of pilgrimage, with Muslims traveling to Mecca, Jews to Jerusalem, and Christians to sites associated with Jesus and the saints. What’s intriguing about the current revival of interest in spiritual travel is how eclectic it is. Traditional religious sites like Rome still attract pilgrims, but so do newer sacred places like the memorial at Ground Zero or the D-Day Beaches in Normandy.

Spiritual sites appeal to baby boomers. Time’s winged chariot is approaching nearer to many of us. Pretending like we’re 20 again on a Caribbean beach is one way of dealing with this fact-of-life, but so is spending a week in silent meditation or walking an ancient pilgrimage trail across Europe.

Spiritual tourism is relatively inexpensive. Sure, you’re going to drop a lot of cash on a trip to Delphi in Greece or Angkor Wat in Cambodia. But almost everyone lives within driving distance of a spiritual retreat of some sort, whether it’s a Roman Catholic abbey, a Buddhist meditation center, or a conference center offering holistic programs.

Holy sites are often found in beautiful places. A spiritual journey can take you to the most beautiful corners of the world, from St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, to the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland. Rather than spending a vacation fighting the crowds in a major city, you can recharge your batteries by staying in a rural hideaway where the silence is punctuated only by the gentle chiming of bells.

Such trips differ, I think, from ordinary travels. In an era in which it’s easy to step onto a plane and be deposited nearly anywhere in the world, spiritual travels are a reminder of the power of journeys taken slowly and deliberately. The object of such a trip is usually not just rest and relaxation (though that may happen), but rather inner growth. It often begins with questions: Who am I? What is my purpose in life? What do I need to hear? (And here’s where I’m going to let you in on a secret: a pilgrimage can be made to any destination, as long as the trip is undertaken mindfully and with a seeker’s heart.)

When the Oglala Sioux visionary Black Elk was ready to go on pilgrimage, even the animals spoke to him. “It is time! It is time!” crows cried as they flew past him, bringing a message that could not be ignored. Perhaps it is time for you to leave on pilgrimage, too?

Lori Erickson writes about inner and outer journeys at http://www.spiritualtravels.info/.

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