Experiential travel – making the journey the experience

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Experiential travel – making the journey the experience

What makes a great travel experience? I’m not talking about taking selfies with your friends at the beach with fruity cocktails in hand. I’m talking about those meaningful travel experiences that change you forever. The special moments that reshape the way you think, act and feel.

There’s a new buzzword floating around the travel industry these days – experiential travel.

Basically, experiential travel is an approach to travel that goes beyond tourist attractions and manufactured entertainment. It’s about connecting with a destination and its people on a much deeper level.

Often times, the most impactful and memorable moments are the ones that happen unexpectedly.

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We’ve all heard the quote, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”.

Experiential travel is about making the “journey” the experience. It’s about choosing your own adventure and letting your curiousity guide you, instead of having the travel experience that your outdated guidebook told you to have.

“The vacations that impact us in lasting and powerful ways are the ones where we aren’t ‘going away’ from something but rather ‘going to’ something, where it’s more about the experience than the destination,” says Julian Bolster, life coach and motivational speaker. “Travelling can help you reprogram your brain, recharge your energy, reconnect with loved ones and cultivate an appreciation for daily tasks.”

It’s not a new concept. Backpackers and long-term travelers have embraced this travel style for years. But what has changed in recent years is the number of people that now prefer experiential travel experiences over traditional vacations.

Whether the experience is learning to cook traditional Italian food in the foothills of Tuscany or volunteering at an elephant orphanage in northern Thailand, today’s modern traveler wants more interaction and authenticity. They want travel experiences that reflect their personal style and individuality.

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Why are we talking about Experiential Travel?

We read a press release last week that talked about why vacations aren’t just for soaking up the sun anymore. In the article was the results of a recent TD survey that revealed “approximately three-quarters (74 per cent) of Canadians have already taken or are interested in taking an experiential vacation, and almost two-thirds (62 per cent) would consider it if they could find ways to save on the cost of those trips”.

We found the results quite interesting, especially the number of Canadians that perceive experiential travel to be more expensive than traditional all-inclusive-style vacationing.

We snipped the below graphic from the press release.

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Is experiential travel really more expense?

“A lot of people think experiential vacations cost more than ordinary vacations, but that doesn’t have to be the case,” said Christine Hunter, Vice President, TD Credit Cards. “It all depends on where you want to go and what you want to do, but you can always find ways to help you save that could make your trip more affordable.”

We’ve always had a backpacker mentality. We prefer to stay in guesthouses and hostels (though we’ve had to adjust that travel style since having kids) and we would much rather create our own itinerary. In fact, I think the only time we’ve ever used a travel agent was to plan our destination wedding to Mexico (and we still ended up booking our personal itinerary separately from the group).

“While there are some really exotic examples, such as an African safari, that can have a hefty price tag, there are also lots of less expensive activities closer to home you can do,” says Christie. “Or you can make the experiential element part of a more traditional vacation and spend the rest of the time enjoying the pool or beach.”

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We actually find experiential travel more cost effective, contrary to the perception of many Canadians. 

We find that accommodation and food prices are often less expensive when you stay away from tourist zones. We look to redeem our loyalty rewards whenever possible, which significantly reduces travel expenses. We try to stay at apartment rentals whenever possible – this allows us to cook at the apartment instead of eating out at expensive restaurants multiple times a day. You’ll be amazed at how quickly these food expenses eat up your budget (pun-tastic!).

That said, don’t overlook redeeming miles/points for hotel stays – you rarely have to pay taxes or fees and, in some cases, you’re points will go much further than redeeming miles/points for air travel.

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Experiential travel vs traditional beach vacation

When we hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a travel experience that ranks high on many people’s wish list, we booked with G Adventures after doing much research. On the surface, one might think this type of adventure would be insanely expensive. Surprisingly, we only paid $1,300 each at the time (Note – we were backpacking in South America at the time, so this trip did not include our original flights from Vancouver to South America). 

This particular tour was 11 days and included a 3-day jungle adventure to Peruvian Amazon, staying at a beautiful jungle lodge located deep in the rain forest. The trip included flights from Lima to Cusco, Cusco to Puerto Maldonado and back to Cusco. The hike to Machu Picchu included several porters, camping gear, a personal guide and all food and water required for the 4 day hike. Not a bad deal, right?

Comparatively, we spent $2,200 each for an 8-day vacation at a 5-star all inclusive resort in Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. We thoroughly enjoyed our beach vacation (this is where we stayed) and we feel like we received good value for our money. Sure, we could have easily found a last minute deal for half that price, depending on where we stayed and what time of year we visited, but the same can be said for our trip to Machu Picchu. Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

My point is that you can always find a great deal online if you are patient and persistent.

Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu remains as one of our most memorable travel experiences of all time – and it cost us less than a traditional beach vacation to Mexico.

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Sure, a last minute all-inclusive package may be economical and convenient, but if we only have a few vacations per year, we want to make them count. We want to experience as much as we can on every trip we take and sometimes your best memories will happen while cruising down an unknown street.

You never know who you’ll meet or what you’ll stumble upon!

For example, a highlight from our trip to Kyoto, Japan was drinking beer on the banks of the Kamogawa River. At night, hundreds of locals flock to the riverbanks to socialize with friends.

Instead of dining at an expensive restaurant that overlooks the river, we grabbed a couple large bottles Asahi beers from the convenience store and sat on the riverbanks. We people-watched for hours and helped a few locals practice their English with us. It was a fantastic cultural experience! And the best part, it only cost $10.

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Another inexpensive adventure is simply showing up unannounced. 

When was the last time you showed up to a new destination with nothing planned? No hotel, no tours booked, no guide books, no plans. You just arrive and let the city take you under its wing. It’s exhilarating!

You’re instantly forced to step outside your comfort zone and trust the kindness of people. You’re forced to talk to strangers and ask questions, to learn the transportation system and to learn how to order food in the local language.

Without question, you will connect with the destination and its people on a much deeper level.

If you’ve never done this before, we highly recommend you give it shot at least once in your life. You never know what adventures you’ll get up to.

The infographic below shares a few easy ways to make experiential travel more affordable.

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What about you? Do you prefer to take traditional vacations? Or do you look for experiential travel opportunities? 

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

About Traveling Canucks

Cam and Nicole Wears are newbie parents living in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. A passion for travel and outdoor adventure has taken them to over 70 countries on 6 continents in the past 10 years. Learn more about their story here. Follow them on Instagram and subscribe to their monthly newsletter.