Don't worry: we've never read "Eat Pray Love" and we're not going to bombard you with wishy-washy quotes about journeys and finding yourself. We're here to talk about the true and concrete meaning of experiential travel. AKA, how travel experiences can actually change your life.
Let's start by pointing out that the concepts of experiential travel and transformational travel are hot topics right now. Various media outlets and travel experts have called these things the biggest travel trends of the year. But (you may be asking) haven't people always travelled for the purpose of seeking out experiences and personal evolution? Hasn't this trend been around since, like, the first canoe got carved out of a palm tree and launched down the Amazon river? Allow us to explain.
What is Experiential Travel?
Of course in some sense travel has always been about experiences, but the term was coined to draw attention to a new consciousness around this process. Basically, we've been through an era where travel, at least in Western culture, has been all about sight-seeing or pure escape. Jetting around European capital cities ticking off iconic landmarks. Spending a week at a beach resort doing nothing. Going crazy in Vegas. Whatever.
And then people started to realise that these things weren't true experiences. Not the kind that leaves a mark on you, gel into unforgettable memories, create a lasting impression on your very being. Experiential travel refers to the idea that we can deliberately and consciously choose to spend our energy and dollars on truly incredible experiences that go beyond the basic level of tourism. Experiences that allow us to connect more deeply to a place and its culture or provide something completely personalised and unique.
What's the difference between Experiential and Transformational Travel?
Transformational or transformative travel is basically the next buzzword in the travel trends field. It gives voice to the idea that experiential travel can also transform you in a lasting way. In other words, when you return home and slip back into normal life, you do so as a different person to the one who left. Maybe you're mentally stronger, more environmentally conscious, more at peace with yourself or equipped with a new skill. You've changed, for the better. To some degree this is just semantics: again, travel and transformation have always gone together. It's just that, again, there's a greater awareness around setting out to deliberately make it happen.
Learning as Experiential Travel.
One way you can embrace experiential travel is by learning. It might be doing a photography course in Tokyo or learning to cook in Tuscany; whatever it is, these kinds of experiences open you up more fully to a culture or environment and give you a new skill to take away with you. You might notice more and more hotels and travel companies incorporating classes and learning experiences into their offerings, and this is exactly why.
Pushing personal boundaries.
The phrase "transformational travel" definitely has a zen meditation retreat kind of vibe. But everyone is different. For some people, learning to still their minds and have greater control over their mental and emotional selves is the best kind of personal evolution. The experiential travel market has opened up to offer these kinds of experiences, from wellness retreats to yoga ashrams and holistic health centres.
But hey, that’s not the only way to be transformed! The concept of experiential travel encompasses so much more, and really any experience can be transformative if only you allow it to be. Does the thought of jumping out of a plane or climbing a mountain terrify you? Facing your fears and realising you have the power to conquer them can be completely life-changing. Any experience that pushes you out of your comfort zone — whether it be social, mental or physical — has the power to change you from the inside out. Even doing something as simple as going to a music festival alone can be transformational. One minute you’re feeling disconnected and friendless; the next you find yourself dancing under the stars with a group of random strangers in a mutual outburst of love and goodwill that reminds you, suddenly and with startling clarity, just how intimately connected we all are as human beings.
Social and environmental consciousness.
One of the biggest transformations people report from experiential travel is a deeper reverence for nature and the planet on which we live. Imagine seeing the effects of pollution and global warming first hand, witnessing the devastation of destroyed rainforests, or having your hand nuzzled gently by an endangered animal at a sanctuary. These experiences are jarring because they have the power to tear us out of our own complacency and expose us to situations that once seemed distant and unreal. Experiencing the warmth of locals who have little but give much, or appreciating how much hard work goes into handcrafting something can also give us a new perspective that carries over into our daily lives.
How to make your travels transformational.
Let's get brutally honest here. Booking into an experience that bills itself as "transformational travel" doesn't mean you're going to get to the end of it and suddenly rise up in a chrysalis of golden light with arms outstretched and a chorus of angels singing "Hallelujah". Transformation happens on the inside. In truth, it can't be bought. Instead, what you can shop for, are events and experiences that have been dreamed up with passion, planned with care, designed to be as unique and exciting and inspiring and filled with potential as they can possibly be. Once you've found these activities, the transformation part is easier; it just comes down to you.
So how to get the most out of every experiential travel event? Be open to it. Be open to others. Slow down and appreciate everything that's happening around you. Switch off from the digital noise and social media and live things for how they feel to you and the memories they make instead of for how they'll look in photos. Keep a diary to record your innermost thoughts and feelings about the experiences you’re having. The impact of the moment will fade over time, but reading about it will allow you to relive it in a deeper way than any iPhone snap ever could.
And most importantly, if it’s transformation you’re after, commit to changing your life post-travel. If you found peace in India, for example, continue meditating daily at home. If you were shocked by the factory working conditions in the Philippines, commit to buying ethical brands. If you gained a deeper understanding of different religions while touring the Middle East, use it to better interact with people from different cultural groups at home. And if you found something that scared the bejeezus out of you and did it anyway, just remember that the next insanely terrifying thing is out there, just waiting for you to conquer it.