At one extreme of the tourism spectrum you have cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill tours where you do nothing but visit iconic sites and follow a flag-waving guide around. At the other end there’s “adventure travel”, which involves exploration with a certain degree of risk (think activities like trekking and surfing).
The truth is, the demand for these two very different ways of travel is slowly but surely changing; there appears to be a shift in the style of preferred travel today. Today, intrepid travelers around the world welcome the ‘experiential travel’ trend with arms wide open.
The rise of experiential travel
Also known as immersion travel, experiential travel is a form of tourism in which vacationers focus on experiencing a destination by immersing themselves in its culture and history. Forming real, genuine connections with the locals is also a big part of experiential travel.
Experiential travel is about much more than just visiting a place. For many it means travelling “better” and on a deeper, more emotional level. For some, it’s even a way of finding oneself and embarking on a journey of self-discovery.
Participation > Observation
Be it a six-day yoga and wellness retreat in Bali, or a street food safari in Thailand, tour operators like Ker & Downey and Lightfoot Travel now offer just about every experiential travel package you can think of. Depending on your budget, some can even customise experiences just for you.
Before you sign up for anything, some factors you might want to consider include whether or not the operator will be providing you with experiences that teach you a thing or two about yourself, and whether or not they offer authentic social travel experiences that connect you to the local community. You can use these points as a checklist to make sure you’re getting what you want when it comes to experiential travel. Just remember, it’s about participation, not just observation.
How to get started
Tour operators aside, you can incorporate experiential travel into your trip on your own – if you know where to look, that is.
There’s a slew of social media platforms and digital apps that hold a wealth of information and opportunities for you to really get to know a country’s culture and its people. Obvious places to start include Airbnb and Couchsurfing – two organisations that offer hospitality services to cover your accommodation overseas. While Airbnb involves charges for lodging and Couchsurfing doesn’t, both require local hosts to open up their homes and properties for travellers. It’s a great way to meet new people around the world (especially if the space is a shared one) – who knows what kind of hidden gems you’ll unearth with tips from your host, or adventures you’ll have with your temporary housemates.
One other interesting site worth checking out is travelgogo, whose tagline is “Design. Interact. Earn”. It aims to bring together travellers and hosts in order to share local products, skills and more. Hosts basically need to be open to sharing their knowledge with visitors who are looking for an alternative tourist experience.
Other reliable platforms to consider include TripAdvisor, particularly if you’re looking for legit, reviewed activities and tours, but don’t want to commit to anything more than a day or two. It’s a great way to get honest reviews from like-minded travellers and cut through the “marketing speak” and idyllic images of tour company websites and brochures.
Facebook is another excellent resource for experiential travellers. There are groups – some closed (if so, send in a request to join it), some open – catering to all different types of travellers, including solo explorers and women only. Ask a question about a location and you’ll be surprised to see how many others offer to meet up with you and show you around at no cost at all. It remains a highly social experience, where both parties gain a new contact from a different part of the world.
So there: if you’re looking for a different kind of vacation, one that’ll change you in more ways than you can imagine, jump on the experiential travel bandwagon!