12 best travel experiences + photos
We have a defining question for you. Would you rather travel to come home with stories or a backpack full of snow globes and keychains?
We figured you’d say that.
What is experiential travel? Experiential travel is about traveling more immersively. The idea is to go slower and more spontaneously, in pursuit of local experience. Perhaps you’re traveling for 3 days or 8 years, but by expanding your scope from a checklist of “to dos”, you open yourself up to interactions and unique experiences that can’t be bought or replicated.
As “experiential” is a mightily vague and wholly arbitrary adjective, we usually take it to mean opting for the long way when there is a shorter way available. This is trekking rather than riding the tram, traveling by train rather than by plane, learning how to cook local fare rather than sitting down at overpriced restaurants, and interacting rather than simply passing through. It’s hanging out too late at salsa bars, taking Portuguese classes, sampling regrettable Thai sausages at a night markets, and being an extra in a Bollywood film.
While you can often opt into these travel experiences, many of the best moments of experiential travel are stumbled upon — it’s the serendipity of them that makes the experience special. You start by giving yourself the time and flexibility to let things happen, and then are receptive when opportunities come your way. Show up for a festival, a class, a trek, or another kind of experience, and see what stories unfold!
And with that, ladies and gentlemen, we introduce you to our list of the 12 best travel experiences. Let’s get experiential!
12 best travel experiences
1. Event Travel
Events can transform entire cities — whether you’re visiting for the Olympics, a bluegrass festival, or a comic convention, traveling during a major event offers a unique opportunity to get involved in something fleeting. Not only will you have a chance to be part of the event itself, but you’ll get to experience the city putting it’s loveliest foot forward. Take advantage of the opportunity to work, volunteer, spectate, and experience the city in a way that many never will.
- Volunteering at the Olympics (Next up: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
- Listening Up at the Outside Lands Music Festival (San Francisco, California, USA)
- Screaming GOOOOOOOL at the World Cup (Next up: Russia)
2. Language Classes:
With our high school French behind us, we’re sure learning a language in-country is the best (and perhaps only) way to learn. Classes serve as a framework — when you get out to bargain or befriend, you’ve got a little something to work with. Come to class with your questions and your confusions, pick up a few new phrases, and practice them as you go about your day.
- Estudiando for Spanish Classes (Mexico City, Mexico)
- Brushing Up with Portuguese Classes (Lisbon, Portugal)
- Learning through Arabic Classes (Cairo, Egypt)
While we always seem to overestimate our cycling stamina, we do recommend at least a half-day bike ride whenever you’re in a new place. Whether you’re kicking around a city, getting outside on a day trip, or covering great distances on the seat of your bike, your method of transport can have more affect on your travel experience than you may think. You’ll take in more scenery, run out of breath, get lost, and appreciate your end point far more than if you had just hopped off a bus.
- Rice Terrace Gazing in Vietnam (Hanoi, Vietnam)
- Cycling the Camino de Santiago (Leon, Spain)
- Knocking Down the Death Road (La Paz, Bolivia)
If there’s one way to ensure you really experience another culture, it’s by working abroad. You’ll be immersed in local life in a way that you hardly can if you’re just passing through. Unlike backpacking around a country, you’ll do mundane things like set 7am alarms, get your haircut, buy groceries, and perhaps even sign a lease. With all that routine, you have the foundation to discover favorite bars, make new friends, and get into the culture in a much deeper way.
- Teaching English in Asia (Seoul, South Korea)
- Tour Guiding around Europe (Berlin, Germany)
- Staff at a South American Hostel (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
5. Local Classes:
We’re talking yoga, diving, cooking, drumming, painting, sitar, anime, you name it! When you learn more about an art in the place where it began, you’ll be better able to connect to the local culture and why the activity itself exists. Rather than leaving with a shallow understanding of ingredients in the soup, or what characterizes West African dance, you’ll learn the processes. Whether you’re specializing for professional development, or just pursuing an interest, taking local classes is a great way to give yourself a reason to stay in a place just a little bit longer.
- Getting into yoga Classes (Dharamsala, India)
- Attempting Salsa Lessons (Medellín, Colombia)
- West African Drumming (Accra, Ghana)
For some people trekking is an easy sell. For others, a trekking trip is less “vacation” and more “destination torture”. If you’re in the second camp, hear us out. Sore-footed, nearly exhausted, and miles outside of the nearest city, you’ll look at the view and really appreciate where you are. Pass through remote villages, trudge through the mud, and navigate through tangled flora to experience some of the world’s best nature. We swear you won’t regret it.
- Trekking the Annapurna Circuit (Pokhara, Nepal)
- Conquering the W-Trek (Torres del Paine, Chile)
- Summiting Kilimanjaro (Marangu, Tanzania)
- Trekking to Inle Lake (Kalaw, Burma)
7. Wildlife Safari:
Wildlife experiences are some of the most memorable. In an instant, your answer to questions like “have you ever seen a lion in the wild?” change from “definitively no” to “ohhh yeah”. When you go with responsible company and naturalist guide, you’ll have an opportunity to see animals you’ve only ever seen in zoos. Go by jeep, on foot, or by canoe and explore some of natures most majestic and endangered creatures — they really may not be around forever!
- Lion Spotting Serengeti National Park (Seronera, Tanzania)
- Checking out the [Blue-Footed] Boobies (Galapagos or Isla de la Plata, Ecuador)
- Rhinos, Tigers, & Bear Viewing at Chitwan National Park (Chitwan, Nepal)
While the stars above may stay the same, the options on just where to pop up your tent are nearly endless. Camp out in deserts, national parks, in the African bush, out of a van, in a Yert, in a luxury tent — you can camp however you will, as long as you promise to camp somewhere. While no one can deny the comforts of a hot shower and a sand-free bed, there’s something worthwhile about getting out into the wild for a few days to take in the landscapes and experience everything at a slower pace.
- Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park (Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA)
- Desert Camping in Wadi Rum (Wadi Rum, Jordan)
- Bush Camping in Kruger National Park (Komatipoort, South Africa)
9. Farm Stay:
Learn local industries like wine-making and coffee-growing, or simply help out with some good old fashioned poop-scooping in a lesser traveled town or village. Organizations like WWOOF and HelpX can help you scout some pretty amazing farm stay opportunities — read traveler reviews, and communicate with your host before picking your place! You’ll get an immersive opportunity to learn the language, get your hands dirty, and refine your farming skill set all the while exploring a new culture — the local produce and free accommodation doesn’t hurt either.
- Picking Beans at a Coffee Farm (Salento, Colombia)
- Petting the Ducks (Nuwakot, Nepal)
- Harvesting Olives (Ouarzazate, Morocco)
10. Home Stay:
Missing mom? There’s probably a Jordanian mom out there that would love to have you. Experience the local culture at an accelerated rate with a home stay! If you don’t have much time at all, buddy up with hostel or hotel staff to see if you can’t get them to show you around. If you’d like to explore a new city with a guide who really knows what’s happening, Couchsurfing or staying with an Airbnb host is a great way to go. Finally, if you have the chance for longer term opportunities, you also might want to investigate opportunities at AuPairWorld or study abroad programs that will place you with a local family.
- Au Pairing in Europe (Madrid, Spain)
- Sleeping at an Airbnb (Prague, Czech Republic)
- Studying Abroad in South America (Valparaiso, Chile)
11. Festival Travel:
We like festival travel because you get to travel with the certainty that the whole city will come outside, celebrate, and get silly with you. Squirt guns, mud fights, and horse races are just a few of our favorites, and in our book. The more ridiculous the festival, the better. Much like event travel, festival travel is a great way to experience a city at it’s best (and worst). While you’ll have to deal with the crowds, you’ll also get more exposure to the culture and have lots of opportunities to make friends (or squirt someone in the face.)
- Getting Wet at Songkran (Chiang Mai, Thailand)
- Joining the Sambadrome at Carnaval (Rio de Janiero, Brazil)
- Running with the bulls at Fiesta de San Fermín (Pamplona, Spain)
12. Overland Travel:
We’re not going to end this list by saying that the journey is more important than the destination but… journeys are just pretty good. From Trans-Siberian train excursions, to driving the length of South America by camper van, any method of transport can totally count as a type of travel experience. Whether you finishing your trip recalling shared chapatis in an Indian train or the time your Colombian bus got drug searched and your luggage stolen, all the miles add up to something interesting. Make some of your travels about the journey itself — if you’ve got the time and you’re looking for something interesting to tell about, this type of trip will really increase your odds.
- Venturing the Trans-Siberian Railroad (Beijing, China)
- Taking the Train in India (New Delhi, India)
- Eurail Hopping through Europe (Anywhere in Europe!)
- Car Camping in Oceania (Christchurch, New Zealand)
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We’ve got more experiential travel-lists to come! Where did you have your favorite travel experience? We’d love to hear from you!