What’s the most valuable thing in travel? A first-class ticket? The boutique hotel of your dreams scrapping its five-night minimum-stay policy? Finding 50 euros in your admin drawer? They’re all great, of course, but useless without one thing: time. In a world where we’re either working or on a waiting list for something, maximising every second OOO has never felt more empowering. In 2018, 59% more TripAdvisor travellers ditched beach breaks for cultural trips than in 2017, with outdoor adventures such as glacier hiking rising 67% and immersive classes (eg cooking) up 61%. Experiential travel – the trend for ‘doing’ – is the new being horizontal.
‘The need for creative and innovative journeys that few others have done is ever increasing,’ agrees Jimmy Carroll, co-founder of experiential travel specialist Pelorus (pelorusx.com). While going off grid looks good on the other grid, Carroll believes there’s a worthier motivation. ‘As we potentially go beyond peak Instagram, experiential travel will move away from visual experiences to authentic engagement with local people and landscapes,’ he explains. ‘The scarcest wildlife and environments may cease to exist in our lifetime, so experiential travel is about “wow” moments that broaden our perspectives, challenge us, even heal us.’
If you’re in pursuit of new learning or a lasting skill, these experience-first adventures ensure you return home with way more than freckles and three loads of washing.
Hoping to come out OK was once reserved for eating plane food. Today’s high-risk travel involves actual survival training. Take the aforementioned Pelorus, which, instead of travel agents, is run by two ex-Army officers who toured Afghanistan. Carroll has since led the largest-ever medical-research expedition up Everest; his business partner, Geordie Mackay-Lewis, is a paragliding pilot and advanced diver. When they’re not underachieving (*coughs*), they’re tapping their contacts to carve adventures – think TV production teams, scientists and government agencies. Bushmasters, also coordinated by an ex-Army officer, Ian Craddock, runs desert and jungle expeditions and warns travellers to expect no wi-fi or mobile signal. Instead, you’ll learn staying-alive skills – how to make sea water drinkable, start a fire, build shelter. Meanwhile, Docastaway plonks you on an uninhabited island. Why? To feel real personal accomplishment, something we can’t get with Siri on call.
Allergic to roughing it? Hold the antihistamines – nowhere in the definition of experiential travel does it say no to Le Labo. But think beyond run-of-the-mill. Airbnb Luxe – a curated platform of design homes with the ‘holy sh*t’ factor – sells each space as an experience in itself. Every booking comes with a Trip Designer, who can arrange a driver and a weekend itinerary as well as filling the fridge (or hiring a chef, or securing the Michelin-starred restaurant that’s booked for six months). Stay One Degree is a new luxury members’ home-swap club built like a social network. Only vetted members can stay in each other’s pads, and you can DM contacts to mine their knowledge of what’s hot.
With David Attenborough’s next social-life-cancelling series, Seven Worlds, One Planet, airing this autumn, our fascination with animals is going nowhere. How we experience nature IRL is getting more impressive, too: you can stealth-stalk Swedish brown bears via a secret hide at night; kayak the mangrove swamps of Costa Rica; spot jaguars from a motorised canoe in Brazil; take a pre-dawn gibbon trek in Cambodia; even undergo bush-guide training in Botswana. There are many great, immersive wildlife tour planners – Nature Trek, Reef & Rainforest, Explore! (exploreworldwide.eu), Scott Dunn. Or use Travel Local to book itineraries directly with locals on the ground.
According to Google Trends, interest in solo female travel trips rose 131% over the last two years, with the Travel Leaders Group naming women-only tours as its sixth most popular speciality booking for 2019. Best bit: there’s not a fluffy spa robe in sight. Last year, Intrepid Travel took advantage of its 70% female customer base and launched Women’s Expeditions – female-only, female-led adventures in India, Iran, Morocco and Turkey that let you interact in a way that mixed-sex groups can’t (say, due to gender segregation). In its Iran trip, for example, you visit a beauty salon and a women-only park – some of the places where local women can chat freely. See also: Elle Voyage, Gutsy Girls and Rock & Sun, for women-only climbing.
OK, you mastered the minibar’s corkscrew – but most of us want to come home with bigger brags, such as a seafood recipe passed on from fishermen in a tiny Menorcan cove, or a few Merengue steps for the next wedding. Travel futurist Globetrender predicts that 2020 will be the year when upskilling escapes – or betterment trips – take off. How geeky to go? Black Tomato’s Bring It Back doesn’t work by destination, but by what you need in life – eg ‘better work-life balance’ or ‘to ignite my creative thinking’. It will then whisk you to an exotic location, where you’ll be surrounded by inspiring people and brain-sparking stimuli. Closer to home, Heckfield Place (heckfieldplace.com/the-assembly) has a daily skill-imbuing schedule, spanning bench-building to pet massage. You nerd it here first.
IMAGE CREDIT I SHUTTERSTOCK