New Series: The Rise of Experiential Travel

Photo via via  @elizabeth.sensky

Photo via via @elizabeth.sensky

It was nearly five o’clock when we pulled our motorbike up to the entrance of one of the most talked-about locations in Nicaragua, the Masaya Volcano, one of the few places in the world where you can witness red hot lava with your own eyes. Most people went with a tour bus, but after spending the day riding around the nearby Apoyo Lagoon, a still and quiet body of water set in an ancient crater, we figured, ‘why not drive out there ourselves?’

The sun was setting in hushed pink tones as our motorbike struggled up the gradual incline towards the summit. Surrounding the newly paved road was nothing but scraggly brush and piles of hardened lava rock. The faint scent of sulfur got stronger with our ascent and the sky became increasingly hazy, our excitement rising in anticipation. Reaching the summit, we quickly parked the bike and ran to the edge. We still had some time before the tour buses arrived and people would pack in behind us, a fact we were grateful for as we peered down into the crater, an unobstructed view of molten earth bubbling and spitting up before us.

It’s these kind of moments in travel that stick with you — the moments of discovery, when you find something you never expected, when you explore a place on your own terms. It’s also these kind of moments that many travelers are seeking out more and more. The “authentic” experiences that take us to the heart of a place — its people; its nature.

Nicknamed somewhat paradoxically as “experiential travel,” it’s quickly gone from travel trend to industry leader. Here at Modern Getaways, it’s even ingrained in our identity and editorial direction. And while we seem to have a clear idea what experiential travel means to us, we realize that it’s still not all that clear or totally defined as a subset of travel. For that reason, we’re kicking off a monthly installment which will explore experiential travel and what it looks like to others. We’ll ask questions like, “ How is it different from other forms of travel?” and, “What are some ways that we can create these experiences for ourselves?”

To kick the series off, we’ll start off by exploring what it means and why it matters.

Photo via  @elcaminotravel

Photo via @elcaminotravel

Photo via  @elcaminotravel

Photo via @elcaminotravel

Experiential travel emphasizes immersive experiences

While many would argue that any kind of travel is an immersive experience, it’s true that some approaches are more immersive than others. Anywhere you visit, you are thrusted into a new place and a new culture. But, how much you allow yourself to really sink into it and get to know it is up to you. Do you try the local specialty or stick with food that is familiar? Do you go to the neighborhood watering hole or stay at the hotel bar? Experiential travel chooses the former and creates opportunities to make embracing the culture and place you’re in easier.


It means, quite literally, going off the beaten path

Off the beaten path is another phrase you end up hearing a lot in the world of travel, but experiential travel is really challenging the notion of the path itself. This approach to travel invites the traveler to explore destinations and experiences outside of the typical travel brochures and tour offerings, the already well-worn routes.

It means alternative tours or guides that allow travelers to get to know an unvisited village deep in the countryside, or that connects locals with travelers for a personalized cooking class.There are many ways this can manifest, but the point is that the traveler is putting themselves in the way of the unfamiliar and genuinely connecting with the people and history of the place they are visiting. It’s carving out new routes and pushing people to find their own paths in the process.

Photo via  @elcaminotravel

Photo via @elcaminotravel

What’s new about this experiential travel trend

While many travelers and backpackers have already been traveling this way for decades now, in a sense, it’s gone mainstream. While this could inadvertently create a new, yet equally worn path, at its heart, we see this travel trend as a call for people to go deeper and connect with their destinations in more mindful and meaningful ways — whatever that means for them.

It’s asking people to think of travel as more than a list of sights or historic landmarks to check off, and more as a dynamic way of interacting and being in a place that is foreign to you — a way that is respectful and not exploitative of the local way of life. Beyond the commercialism and marketing, beyond the new kinds of guides and responsible tours this trend is fostering, experiential travel represents a change in values that is ultimately a reflection of this moment we’re in, where experiences are valued above all else.

Already curious to learn more? Be sure to follow along with this monthly series as we dive into all of the exciting facets of experiential travel — from new tour operators to alternative destinations and more.