Learning how to identify bush tucker and track animals with an Aboriginal guide at Monkey Mia, how to be an elephant-training mahout in the Golden Triangle, and learning about Bedouin culture over glasses of tea with a family in their goat-hair tent at Jordan’s Feynan Eco-Lodge are some of the experiential travel opportunities that have formed our most memorable and meaningful travel experiences of the last few years.
Along with learning about ancient rock art from an indigenous artist in Arnhem Land, how to cook Thai food with a Thai chef in Chiang Mai, how shirts and leather bags are handcrafted on a bespoke walking tour in Rome, what it takes to be a ‘Master Chef’ in a Michelin-starred kitchen, strolling with a shepherd watching his flock and making bread with the village baker in Northern Cyprus, bird-watching from an airboat in remote Bamurru Plains… you get the picture.
This isn’t a new way of travel for us. We’ve both travelled in engaging and interactive ways with local communities thanks to childhoods that were very different, but were both filled with travel.
What all of these experiences have in common is that we were actively doing things and learning stuff by engaging with locals. Rather than just looking at sights, we were interacting with people to learn about their history, country, culture, language, traditions, customs, art and crafts, cuisine, and everyday life. And we came away feeling all the more enriched because of those experiences, and so made it a habit to seek them out whenever and wherever we travelled.
Experiential travel – along with local travel – made our travels all the more meaningful and memorable. Hence our motto, which has become our mission.
One of the most frustrating aspects of working as guidebook authors has been not having enough time to do more of these things – especially when part of our research for books has been to identify these kinds of experiences, classes, courses and tours – which is why it was essential that experiential travel be one of the major focuses of our Grantourismo Project and of the site into the future.
For us, the thirst for more authentic local experiences was partly a response to a growing materialism we’ve witnessed on our travels in recent years, and partly the result of our frustration with the globalisation and the homogenization of the world. The more we’ve travelled the more we’ve witnessed things becoming the same, and the more we’ve wanted to search for and experience what’s different and unique about places.
We predict that experiential travel will be a growing trend. We are already starting to see tours including more interactive learning experiences in their itineraries, from cooking courses in Venice to flower arranging classes in Tokyo.
Further evidence is the rise of travel businesses such as Context, which specializes in offering more meaningful tours, learning activities, and ‘walking seminars’ that are right up our alley. Not to mention superb magazines such as Dutch publication Ode, about “the people and ideas changing our world for the better”, and San Francisco’s Afar, a new magazine whose mission is similar to ours: “to inspire and guide those who travel the world seeking to connect with its people, experience their culture, and understand their perspectives”.
Still, there are far fewer people travelling experientially and travelling in a more meaningful and memorable way, than there are people travelling with the same old sightseeing and bucket-list mindset. We’d like to see that reversed and that will be our goal hereon, in 2010 and beyond.
Like the Grand Tourists who went to Europe to learn how to speak Italian or French, how to draw or paint, how to fence, play boules or do archery, we’re going to spend our Grand Tour learning and doing things in the hope that we can inspire you to do the same.
Expect us to be doing thing from cooking tajine with locals in Morocco to learning flamenco guitar in Spain, anything that’s local, that’s connected to the place we’re visiting, that gives us an insight into a culture and its people, and helps us get under the skin of a place.
As we’ve also talked about in other posts, we’ll be learning to live like locals wherever we go and giving back wherever we can, as we explore a more enriching way to move. We hope you’ll join us on our journey.