The Guide to Experiential Travel
Most people think of travel as synonymous to tourism. As a chance to stay at the finest hotels, tour to guidebook attractions, get the ultimate textbook pictures before the ultimate must-see monuments. While these are perfectly fun tours, it isn’t travel, certainly not experiential travel.
I have travelled across five continents, over a period of 15 years (although most of my backpacking has been focused in and around India). Here is what I have learnt about what distinguishes travel from tourism, and experiential travel. Here for you, is the guide to experiential travel.
What is Experiential Travel
Experiential travel can be defined in various ways. It is a form of tourism in which the traveller focuses on experiencing a particular place by connecting to its history, people and culture. As opposed to looking for amenities and material comforts, it is the experience-seeking kind of travel. Experiential travel is about looking for real experiences instead of touristic attractions and canned entertainment, and the must-dos.
Experiential travel, in what it seeks from the journey or the destination, and backpacking are a flawless fit. Backpacking acts as the perfect medium to experience a place.
To me personally, experiential travel or travel isn’t always about pleasure, or the high points. Just like life, it is about experiences. During travel, unlike life, experiences are sped up. Travel is like life lived in fast forward. Every day of a journey seems longer. An hour feels like a day, a day like a week, and sometimes I come back after a filled up week, feeling like it must have been a month. That, in itself, all the newness,the chance to see tons of fresh people and perspectives, make up my journey. From attending festivals, to being invited for weddings to grabbing an impromtu cup of chai with the giggly girls at the next table, all the new and exciting experiences is what experiential travel is about.
Getting the rush
To me, travel is not all about the stereotypical backpacker high-seeking, Adrenalin rush train either. But about experiences. Not that partying isn’t an experience. But travel is so much more. In Goa, (where I worked for a few months) I saw so many people having cocktails for breakfast everyday. I shudder to think what they might have for dinner. I don’t understand people who travel to go exotic places, and then block out that very reality with excessive alcohol and drugs. Sure, I enjoy a drink too, but I don’t travel in order to get high.
The appropriate approach to travel (according to me)
Befriend the cows (just kidding ;P)
Since experiential travel brings you unpredictably close to the locals, it is quite important that you behave in accordance. Travel to me, has its sanctity, like everything in life does. When you go to a place different from home, offer it due respect. Don’t disrupt your surroundings, because they are somebody’s home too. Try to contribute. Don’t try to tame your surroundings, let them tame you.
A traveller is an ambassador
In 2004, I went for a Rotary cultural exchange to USA. During orientation I was told I was an ambassador for my country. I would be overseas and would face many different kinds of people. Through my behavior and conduct, I could make a huge impact on how they would think of India. As a traveller, you have an awesome responsibility. Live up to it.
Do not judge
Meeting different people is exactly why we travel. For example, most people who go to Malana (Himachal Pradesh) come back hating the people of Malana. Malanians have strange traditions. They believe that any outsider touching them or their sacred temple would impure-ify it. If you have a problem with this approach, I suggest you don’t go to Malana. During my trip there, I genuinely respected their traditions, and they, in turn respected me. They are amongst the nicest people I have met in my travels. Their good heartedness and respect for women is genuine.
A traveller must be open, get out of that comfort zone
If you are going to travel and do exactly what you do everyday, expect the exact food that you’r used to, and the same amenities, then travel has no ultimate benefit. Travel is about breaking habit, emptying your cup. It is about doing something different each day. To be dragged out of your comfort zones and be remade. Travel is about learning and growing as a person. You could think about traveling as a therapy. So many come back home happier, de-stressed, cured. Sorry, if I’m making travel sound like work. But the process is so much fun, and so amazing, once you’re there,
Some come back hung over, some tanned, and others wiser. Yet, others, like me, never come back. When I am home, a part of my heart is out on the road, fluttering, calling me. Like a first love. There is nothing quite like travel.