In recent years there has been surge in people participating in experiential travel. Companies all around the world have formed solely to cater to tourists desires for this specific facet of travel. Similar to ecotravel, it is a form of travel based on respect for a place where the guests seek to form a deep connection to the country. Despite its increasing popularity, few people know what it is or what the companies advertising it actually offer.
So, what is it?
Experiential travel is a slight sub-branch of travel. (All the separate branches may be unique in appearance, but they still make up the collective body of a tree – know there’s some philosophy for you). The focus being to connect and experience a country through understanding and meeting its people, history and culture.
The emphasis is generally placed on the everyday life of the local people and forming real connections rather than just visiting an area because it was advertised or you needed a holiday. There is a desire to truly know a country and not some bastardized version warped and sold to tourists. Getting to know people, understanding their beliefs and values, looking at the world through their eyes, forming bonds etc. these are things that define experiential travel.
Is it just more of the same thing?
There are many people who are critical of this term, viewing it as nothing more than a marketing ploy to give people the illusion that they’ve really experienced a country; you go and do all these activities that revolve around you interacting and participating in ‘cultural’ activities that give a perception that you’re delving into a culture or as put by Nomadic Matt, “you can experience local culture like you do a gardening class” – he wrote an informative piece on why he believes the term is complete rubbish.
Others see it as the further exploitation of local environments and culture, just marketed differently. And it’s true, many of the places that advertise experiential travel are nothing more than people looking to exploit a niche for all that they can. But it would be ludicrous to say that these places actually embody what experiential travel is. These places have taken something beautiful, warped it into something else, and marketed it as experiential travel to draw in people. What experiential travel boils down to is not a checklist of things to do and see in a country that can be offered in a tightly wrapped package by a tourism operator, but wanting to travel for the very essence of meeting new people and seeing the world through the eyes of the many diverse cultures that make up this planet.
I would be very sceptical of these places that advertise ‘experiential travel’, but don’t avoid the term altogether. There’s nothing stopping you from travelling on your own accord to meet people from different cultures, explore the diversity of human cultures and so on.
Experiential travel. Ecotravel in disguise?
The more you look at the reasons and philosophy of experiential travel, the more they seem to align with the mentality of ecotravel. Both seek an essence of true travel, not the commonly seen mass consumerist version. Whether it be to experience and preserve the beauty of an area or create a deep understanding of its country, both can be seen as 2 parts of an overarching belief system that people adopt while travelling. One that seeks to travel in harmony with a country rather than viewing travel as a temporary state of exploitation; a commodity that can be purchased and used in the same way as an IPhone or laptop. But, everyone has different opinions. What are yours? Do you view experiential travel in a different way? Do you see an alignment in the mentality of experiential and ecotravel? Or is it all just a load of crock?