World travel is a "bucket list" item for many people, and more and more people view travel as an educational experience. As such, they want to explore destinations that are off the beaten path, and meet local people to learn how they live and work. These types of trips have become known as "experiential travel."
Whether you're a recent college graduate looking to see the world before settling into a job, or a retired couple looking for more than a cruise, experiential travel goes beyond the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall of China. By immersing yourself in the local culture and environment, you can learn much more about the area you're visiting.
We sat down with David I. Thompson of Dave's Travel Corner, a website that promotes experiential travel. He shared his ideas on how to have a more authentic travel experience.
Where's the one place you'd most like to visit that you haven't been to yet?
Antarctica. The only reason I haven't yet visited is from my research it seems like a fairly expensive destination to get to. It is definitely on the top of my list of still-to-visit destinations! The untouched raw beauty - a place where few people live - and the wildlife all appeal to me.
Where's the one place you've been to that you'd most like to go back to?
Greece. The last time I was there, I rode a motorbike on one of the islands, stopping every so often to jump into the clear water for a swim, visiting small towns and taking lots of breaks to enjoy the famous Greek cuisine. I love the food, the history and the experiences I had on these islands. I will return at some point for lots more of this!
What's the one travel experience you've had that you would least like to repeat?
That would be camping in the Everglades in Florida in the middle of July without any tents, with only blankets for protection against the black swarms of mosquitoes that were relentless and persistent in their pursuit of a meal - not to mention the intense heat and humidity.
What are some things that experiential travelers need to consider (that those who travel on group tours might not need to think about)?
The willingness to "roll with the punches." An experiential traveler needs to be open to a variety of experiences, both good and bad.
Where, in your opinion, is the next great undiscovered travel destination?
Kyrgyzstan. Right now, travel within this country is very inexpensive. Tourism is still in its infancy stages (although more developed then some of its neighboring countries). Kyrgyzstan boasts incredible mountains, outdoor activities and unique natural beauty. It is easy to meet other travelers, and there are local tourism agencies that can help arrange trekking, horseback riding or other outdoor activities. Or the independent traveler can manage much of the logistics on their own.
For a recent college graduate who wants to see the world before settling into a job, what advice do you have? Where to start?
Do take a trip of extended length. Do not just take a trip of several weeks, as you can take a trip of this short length later in life. You are at an age where you need to gain perspective on the world and get out of your comfort zone. When planning a trip like this, keep your options wide open and consider visiting some countries that are not on the tourist route or destinations or regions that perhaps you wouldn't initially think of visiting.
Cost is a factor, more so at this age than later in life after you have established your work career. So live cheaply and seek out experiences. Use Couch Surfing or similar services to stay places for free. Buy your food in grocery stores and meet as many people as you can when traveling. Experiences will result from this.
What about advice for a retired couple whose travel experience to date has been group tours and cruises, but are now looking for a more authentic travel experience?
Ease into independent travel slowly. Choose a country you have been to before and plan out the specific regions you want to visit. Pre-book your hotels. Consider hiring private guides for part of your trip.