Travel Trends 2016: Experiential Travel

Another travel trend that’s gone mainstream in 2016 is the idea of experiential travel – a term that can be confusing to some people. After all, isn’t all travel by definition “experiential”? Well, yes and no.

experiential travel

In the past, tooling around a country in an air-conditioned tour bus on a prepackaged tour was a popular and desired option for U.S. vacationers. These days, travelers are looking for a more personal, emotional connection to their holidays, with an emphasis on immersive, local, authentic, adventurous, and active trips. Read on for the deets!

indian market

Experiential Is Immersive
Never has the term “Do as the Romans do” had more resonance. Digging deep into whatever scene you’re feeling is an essential part of this trend. Whether you’re exploring local markets with a respected culinary expert in the area or taking an off-the-beaten-path DIY bike trip through the countryside, there are an unlimited number of ways to avoid being a tourist (sticking to your guidebook dining establishments and the comfort of other travelers just like you) and become a traveler and citizen of the world.

thai local train
credit: Matyas Rehak/

Experiential Is Authentic
The only way to get an authentic experience is to dine where you see other locals dining, reach out to local guides instead of relying on your Lonely Planet for advice, and push yourself to start conversations/interactions with local people beyond transactional haggling with vendors. Opening your mind to cultural exchange, spending more time listening than speaking, and letting go of preconceived notions will mean your travel experience can be richer, be more nuanced, and lead to learning about other people. Whether you’re in France or Guyana, be respectful of local customs and open to situations that challenge you.

northern lights

Experiential Is Adventurous
One of the hallmarks of a truly experiential holiday is pushing your personal limits beyond where you might naturally go on your own. For some people, this might be riding public buses instead of hiring a private driver. For others it might be swimming with sharks. The point is that everyone has their own limits and testing those limits is part of what this is all about!

mekong delta, vietnam

Experiential Is Local and Responsible
An important component of experiential travel is putting money back into the local economy and being respectful of the local resources that can sometimes be limited. If you’re going with an organized tour, seek out respected organized tour operators who work in partnership with local guides and charities to help improve local communities. The best operators use local transportation and only small groups (less than 12 people), to avoid straining local resources and to leave a small footprint.

bolivian cycling trip

Experiential Is Active
A word to the wise: Getting real is not for the couch potatoes among us. You’re going to get your heart pumping when you’re going for a vacation that pushes boundaries. If you’re not in a tour bus, you’re going to be spending a lot of time walking. Make sure you’ve done the proper prep work before heading out for an active vacation. Get comfortable on long walks, stay well hydrated, and plan ahead for the most positive experience.

Adventure travel types (and students) have been traveling like this for many years. Is 2016 going to be the year you take the plunge?

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Read about other trends in 2016 like solo travel, the U.S. National Parks revival, and how airports are expanding their amenities to delight you while you’re waiting for your flight. Next month on the blog, we’ll dive into the trend toward vacations with your parents (or grandparents.) Multigenerational travel is on the rise! Happy travels!


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