Travel has always been a way to escape our day-to-day lives and experience something new and different. As our at-home realities evolve, the way we travel changes. Although the travel industry is slowly catching up to travelers' changing needs, individuals are increasingly shaping the industry and bringing to the forefront what matters to them most: the meaning achieved through one-of-a-kind experiences. Enter Experience Travel.
Of course, any travel can be an experience. What defines Experience Travel is the level of authenticity and cultural immersion that travelers seek. Experience Travelers differ from other types of tourists because they want to connect to a place through its local people, environment, and culture, not just through the lens of an outsider. Experience Travel accounts for our natural subjectivity—because we all have different thresholds and desires for local immersion. For one person, that could mean living and working with another family for six months; for another, it could mean taking a cooking class with a local chef.
The underlying red thread of Experience Travel is that they are pushing their boundaries to get a deeper grasp of another community. That means peeling back the onion layers a bit further when you travel someplace you've never been before—or somewhere you've been a dozen times. Vayable (www.vayable.com), the company I founded, is committed to bringing this kind of travel to the mainstream.
Changes in our daily lives affect what we need from the escape we seek in our lives. In an era with so much commoditization, automation, and connectivity, the challenge of shifting perspectives and discovering something new can seem particularly daunting. The speed and demands of our daily lives discourage breaking out of the ordinary, but that’s exactly what we need to do. And it’s not as hard as we think. Just as we no longer have to book a flight to have a face-to-face conversation with our friends halfway around the world, we can also now access new, meaningful experiences as close as our own backyard with unprecedented ease. When you strip away the flight, accommodation, and other logistics, you’re still left with the meat of what matters most: the experience. Here are five reasons Experience Travel is good for us:
- Allows us to unplug. Fewer and fewer people actually unplug during their vacations. More than 80% of U.S. workers still check into the office during their time off! Now when we travel, it's important to remember that as much as the Internet can help us explore, we also should unplug from time to time and take a look around. Connecting with local people and culture allows us to engage with something other than our smartphones.
- Change of perspective. We used to look for familiarity when we traveled. But now with our work/life balances out of whack, we crave a break from the familiar and search for authentic experiences that let us totally unplug from our day-to-day lives. With Experience Travel, checking into the office will not cross your mind once.
- Boosted happiness. Research shows that a vacation can boost a person’s happiness eight weeks before the vacation, but two weeks after the vacation, that person’s happiness falls back to baseline levels. Experience Travel helps us connect meaning back to our everyday lives, so that boosted happiness can last long after the vacation ends, instead of just two weeks.
- Escape. Experience travel doesn't mean you lose the vacation, either! It's relaxation taken to a new level, because you're not worried about being stuck in a tourist trap, and you're truly escaping your sources of stress.
- Empathy. Developing a greater understanding from others by walking a day in their shoes (perhaps literally, depending on the adventures you seek) delivers tremendous rewards on our ability to connect with others, especially those at home who matter to us most. And perhaps more importantly, this empathy helps us gain a better understanding of ourselves in relation to others.
Travel is about more than a holiday; it’s about creating meaning through experiences we share. Clever marketing will have you think that staying in a five-star hotel and touring famous sites in a Mercedes-Benz will give you the escape and meaning you’re looking for in a holiday, but it won’t necessarily do so. There is no inherent meaning in these experiences. The meaning comes from the perspective we bring and the relationship between the experience and the average of our personal experiences. In other words: It’s relative.
One person’s escape is another person’s prison. Oftentimes gilding our vacations with luxurious extras insulates us from the very feeling we’re trying to achieve: a sense of exaltation, catharsis, and betterment. We all want to return home feeling better than when we left, and we hope that feeling stays with us for as long as possible. While turn-down service and priority access at the airport (and I am a sucker for both) can certainly enhance our experiences in the moment, the benefits won’t last after we return.
What lasts are the connections we create with others and with ourselves and the new insights and understandings we extract from our time away from the familiar. With a newfound emphasis on experience above all else, the industry is shifting toward a more human way of traveling that finally addresses one of our most basic needs: living a meaningful life and connecting with others. To achieve meaningful experiences in our travels, we must have access to experiences as unique as we are. To adhere to someone else’s sense of adventure or relaxation is to neglect our own reality. Experience Travel is the antidote to this because it embraces these natural differences rather than denying them.
Logistical constraints, profit margins, and an assembly-line mentality inherited by the Industrial Age have forced travel away from the unique and centered it around the canned. Pre-packaged experiences are the lifeblood of many travel businesses and the travel trope of "top tens" has become as ubiquitous as a family vacation to Disneyland. In this model of travel, we become anonymous, rendering it difficult to achieve a meaningful, lasting experience.
At the other end of the travel industry, Experience Travel is gaining traction among the mainstream because it goes beyond the status quo. Travel is becoming an industry powered by individual entrepreneurs who are able to make a living by offering their time, space, and assets to others. Rather than allowing a nameless industry to determine how precious vacation time and hard-earned money are spent, people are increasingly turning to local insiders—their in-destination counterparts—to help guide them to the highest return on the time, energy, and money they invest in their travels. For travelers, there’s no doubt that access to a destination will be vastly different when it’s designed by people whose primary incentive is sharing the parts of their community that they love.
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Jamie Wong is the Creative Braintrust Leadership Expert and Co-Founder & CEO of Vayable.com