What’s on your travel bucket list? Glamorous locales to chat about over cocktails? Destinations that your friends have visited and you think maybe you should too? Perhaps it’s time to look at that travel bucket list a bit differently. Instead of things you want to do, let’s consider the person you want to become. Yes, let’s turn the attention a bit more within and ponder how a travel experience might change you.
If you’ve ever traveled with kids, you’ll know that they help you see the wonder of travel experiences more clearly. You might drag your kids to the top of the Eiffel Tower where they can look out over Paris, but when you are sharing stories once home, the kids will remind you how funny it was to watch your red, sweating face force a smile and try to convince them that the trek upwards was “having fun.” They’ll remember how you all cracked up about that moment, and the memory will likely leave you laughing all over again.
Experiences settle into your mind and our heart much more deeply than a hurried bus tour of sites. Experiences let you get a real flavor of a new location, as well as provide insights into the lives, hearts, and tastes of other people in the world.
So, the goal of experiential travel goes deep. While you might not remember which beach had the prettiest views, you might never forget your first taste of kimchi or the time you fed a baby elephant or felt a hummingbird land on your hand.
What Do You Need in Your Life?
Each individual is unique. Some people can get so wrapped up in their careers, businesses, and worries that it’s hard to even begin to unwind on vacation. When you live life at full speed, perhaps choosing a “sit and chill” vacation isn’t exactly what is best.
If you simply must spend time in a tropical paradise, do that. However, also consider taking a look at other experiences at your travel destination. A serious business person might really resonate with visiting an organic farm that was built by local women to support their families. Staying in a small hotel consisting of cottages built by hand by the business owner can give you an up-close look at how one family built a business. Perhaps you’re a busy pet lover but can’t find time in your schedule to volunteer regularly with a local pound or rescue. Often, there are similar opportunities on the road when your schedule is free.
So, first, take time to assess what you really need from your travel experience. Do you want some downtime? Are you looking for inspiration? Would you like to expand your knowledge of some field of study you’ve always loved? Do you need to build your compassion or ability to identify with different groups of people? You can make any of these focal points a highlight in your travel plans—finding this focus can change the way you travel.
A Sense of Authenticity
Most people have experienced a tourist trap—this is an environment that seems to have been constructed just to entertain or amuse you. Sometimes, these environments are fun, but many individuals are often seeking something deeper than flashing neon signs, rides, and souvenirs.
Authenticity has become a bit of a buzzword in the travel world. Many travel planners and destinations boast that they offer an “authentic experience.” However, authenticity is available to all individuals with the proper mindset. So, what is authenticity in travel?
Walking through the streets of Bangkok with your nose in a travel book or your eyes on your GPS isn’t exactly the authenticity you seek. Close the book and ask someone where they go for lunch. Talk to a staff member in the place where you are staying about their favorite things to do locally. Look around you and savor the architecture, the clothing, the smell of the food, and the sounds that drift by. Open your senses to this new world and explore it.
Authenticity gives you a real experience of how someone else lives. It lets you get to know real people, in real situations that might be very different from your norm. Differences give flavor and depth to life. Traveling for the experience lets you put your feet in another world and sometimes feel what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes these sort of escapes are what really allow you to unwind, let go of your stresses, and come home refreshed and with perspectives, you may not have had previously.
What Inspires You?
Getting away from your normal day-to-day life is one of the great gifts of travel. As you begin planning travel with a focus on experiences, think a bit about what might inspire you as you travel. Do you want to explore rugged, beautiful vistas? Do you want to eat food you’ve never tried and maybe learn how to cook in new ways? What experience would inspire you?
Visiting an underprivileged community or one ravaged by a natural disaster can sound difficult, but if your presence there helps them rebuild a community center, you might feel empowered and know that you’re making a difference. That could be just the inspiration you seek.
Maybe you have given the media too much of your attention lately. That medium often shows individuals the worst of humanity. In your travel, maybe you know you need a big dose of the goodness of people. It can renew your faith in humanity and inspire the goodness in you.
Experiential Travel Can Require Extra Planning
Research is the key to fulfilling your personal travel dreams. Do your homework, check references, compare prices, and study reviews. You might also choose to work with a company that specializes in experiential travel. Most travel specialists are developing products that appeal to this very popular travel trend.
If you are visiting a new country or are venturing internationally for the first time, consider booking a group tour. Companies that specialize in group tours take all the stress out of planning. For example, Intrepid travel has been in business since 1989. 1 In the beginning, they arranged more rugged adventures for young travelers. As the market has changed and some of their clients have aged, they have expanded offerings.
With companies like Intrepid, you can choose a destination, length of stay, how rugged or comfortable you’d like your trip to be, what kind of accommodations you’d like, and how much physical activity you’ll have. Travel planners have suggestions of what you should pack and checklists of things to do before you leave home. So, consider a group trip, especially if destination travel is something new for you. 2
Leave Room for Spontaneity
Don’t let yourself get carried away with travel planning. Yes, you must cover details of transportation and places to stay, and you’ll also want to research features of the area you are visiting so you have some ideas of what to do. However, don’t fall victim to over-planning.
When you arrive at your travel destination, you have a resource that you did not have at home: people who know and live in the place you’re visiting. They have favorite restaurants, know beautiful hiking trails, or may even have a cousin who is an amazing guide. Additionally, for the most part, these individuals want to share their love of their home with you. Not all this information is on the internet, so leave some room in your travel plans to spontaneously enjoy opportunities you’ll learn about on the road. Often, it’s these unplanned experiences that provide the sweetest memories.
Live Like the Locals
If travel for you has always included checking into a hotel, you might consider a different sort of experience—staying in someone’s home. Renting a home in your travel destination really changes your experience and allows space for you to live more like you normally do at home. You can cook, sit on the patio, walk down a street in a neighborhood, and explore the local parks, restaurants, and bars.
You might think this is an option only for those with huge travel budgets, but that isn’t the case. You can find short-term rentals in all sizes and price ranges. There are reputable companies that help you rent a home, apartment, or even a spare room in homes all over the world. Some companies allow you to see the reviews from others who have stayed at a property and also allow the people renting their homes to learn a bit about you. For some ideas, take a look at Airbnb or VRBO. 3, 4
Adventure doesn’t have to mean rappelling off a sheer cliff. Some travelers skip over adventure travel ideas without realizing that adventure doesn’t always mean rugged, survival-style travel. Adventure can mean very different things to each individual. Sampling local foods in a faraway place can feel quite adventuresome to some people. Staying in a small, homey hotel rather than a name-brand hotel can seem even a bit intimidating to some. Take a look at adventure travel options, and you might be surprised how varied the experiences can be.
Adventure travel options can include cultural tours, walking, hiking, trekking, culinary tours, small ship expeditions, kayaking, biking, safaris, rafting and more. 5
Do you love good food? Perhaps you love to cook, eat, and even consider yourself a foodie? If so, you are among a large number of travelers who have embraced experiential travel through cuisine. The options are endless when it comes to culinary travel—from local food tours near your home to planning a grand travel vacation all about your passion for cuisine.
Plan your travel around a favorite regional food or explore something totally different. Some of the options in an article from Fodor’s Travel, 10 Mouth-Watering Culinary Tours Around the World, include these destinations:
- The Dolomites in northern Italy where you wander the mountains and dine on unique dishes that are truly Italian blended with a sense of the Alps.
- The Burgundy region “Bourgogne,” in France, which features traditional French cuisine and renowned wines.
- Tepoztlán, known as the “Sedona of Mexico,” offers rich Mexican specialties near ancient pyramids.
- Beijing offers options ranging from traditional Peking Duck to such delicacies as lizards on a stick while you explore the amazing historical beauty the country has to offer.
- Lima, Peru, boasts ceviche; pisco, Peru’s national liquor; and a host of other traditional Peruvian meals.
Other ideas from this resource include Northern India, Morocco, Andalusia, and Thailand. 6 Ideas to help you plan your culinary travel experience abound. Use the internet, food-related television shows, and even social media for amazing resources from food travel pros.
Travel for Service
Tired of your daily grind? Sometimes the routine of life calls you to do something totally different on vacation. Volunteer vacations are popular all over the world and can offer you one-of-a-kind experiences. Consider an organization like Volunteer Experience HQ or GoEco which include projects as diverse as conservation, construction, childcare, wildlife, and refugee support. 6 These experiences aren’t for everyone, but they can provide meaningful, and lasting memories.
So, hopefully, you’re now filled with ideas and enthusiasm about experiences you might dream about on this summer’s vacation. Here’s one more final encouragement that has to do with trust:
Some people, especially those who watch a bit too much news, can feel a bit fearful when traveling. As you consider planning a different sort of vacation in a new and unknown place, remember one thing: no matter where you are in the world, if you fall down, someone will most certainly help you up, dust you off and offer to ease you along your path. Believe in the goodness of humanity. It will be the sweetest experience in all your travels. Have fun!