So what is Experiential Travel, and why is it so important? Let me explain.

It was the imperfect start to a perfect day and the start to our immersion experience in Valencia Spain. Chef Cross, and yes that is his real name, was cranky. We were unavoidably late to our paella class in Valencia, Spain. I tried to explain why we were late, but he didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Spanish, so my explanations were sort of pointless; and well, he seemed just a little ..well…angry.

I was hot, and I was bothered because I have this punctuality fetish. He was hotter and seemingly more bothered that we were late to his Academy of Paella and he appeared to be a proud man. It was a Mexican standoff between one short, red-headed Australian with a bit of a temper and one big and cantankerous Spanish chef. Chef Cross had a beer in front of him, in the cobblestone alley outside of his school in this appealing Spanish city. I pointed to it, grabbed it, and took a sip…ok, ok, I took a gulp. He looked at me, smiled and therein nearly ended our Mexican standoff.

But more of that later.

I will just say that the best thing about experiential travel is the people you meet. The lovely man who was the volunteer tour guide in Tokyo, Japan, the girls from Antwerp who were hungry and chose to help us eat our meal. The ski instructor from Kitzbuhel and even the man from Kitzbuhel who firmly believed that I was his first affair at Bondi Beach. That is where the stories come from, and where the invaluable travel experiences come from.

It is rare that you will meet a person telling you that their travels went perfectly. The best stories are the ones where ‘things just happened’.

What is Experiential Travel

Gordon and Ichiro – our volunteer Tokyo Tour Guide

What is Experiential Travel?

Well, experiential travel, often called immersion experiences, and are what a lot of travelers have been doing for a long time, but what a lot more are now demanding from the travel industry. It is about experiencing a place with all of your senses. Your sense of smell, taste, touch and the other ones, and getting a better feel of how other people live. Many people want to walk into a boulangerie and practice saying ‘Bonjour” and order a baguette in France, to drink kava in the Pacific islands, and to get naked and have an onsen in Japan, because these are examples of experiential travel. It can also be a cooking school, working with local people, and more importantly it is those serendipitous moments that you can never plan.


what is Experiential Travel

Outside the male and female onsens in Nozawa Onsen, Japan


It does not mean forsaking seeing iconic things like the Eiffel Tower, the Colisseum, and the Taj Mahal because there are very good reasons why these places became famous in the first place. Experiential travel means having it all. Seeing wonderful things, and watching people do their washing, or shopping at the markets.


What is Experiential Travel

What Travelers Want

Let’s think about this logically. Are you going to go to Ireland and not have a Guinness? Now, I don’t even like the stuff, but I will surely be having one when we go later next year be sure, to be sure. I am planning on sitting in a pub, listening to Irish music, hearing lamentable and drunken poetry readings, and there will be a Guinness in front of me. I will listen to James Joyce, and Oscar Wilde readings, and probably endure Waiting for Godot just once. Why? Other than I don’t like Samuel Beckett’s play, these are the things that I associate with Ireland. The literary heritage that emerged from the pubs. And I will be looking for Leprechauns too. You can read all about our experiences in Ireland.


What is Experiential Travel

Music in an Irish Pub

Photo: Mitternacht

I associate struggling artists like Van Gogh in the Parisian cafes of Montmartre. It is why you could have a totally immersive and drunken travel experience if you trod in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. The man was everywhere from Paris to Madrid, from Cuba to Idaho. In fact, what an amazing experiential travel experience that would be, except that he might have committed suicide after this, possibly linked to his lifestyle choices, or it could have been Haemochromatosis.



street scene Montmartre

Why the Rise of Experiential Travel

Experiential Travel is the catch phrase in the travel industry, and is all about the rise of having immersive travel experiences. This travel term has been spoken about over the years, but 2017 would appear to be THE year where people are seeking these experiences in the places that they visit. This has been touted at many travel conferences like to World Trade Market held in London and will be a focus at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai in 2017.

Trying to organize these serendipitous moments of getting a glimpse into others lives is difficult. It sometimes just happens like the barman we briefly met from Newport, Rhode Island, where he worked at a fish whisperers restaurant, and who we still keep in contact with, despite him not living in Iceland.

The People You Meet While Traveling

People you meet while traveling

As Jeremy Smith, at the World Travel Market said,

“If there was a First Rule of Authenticity, it would be: You cannot create Authenticity. […] If there was a Second Rule of Authenticity for 2016, it would be: You do not talk about being authentic. At least not if you actually are.”

But, one of the best qualities of man is our ability to try to understand others, our innate curiosity in others and this is why experiential travel often just happens.

New? No, and many will correctly argue that no transient traveler, can ever truly be immersed in another culture. Does it matter if they or we are only getting a snapshot or a caricature of the place? I don’t think so. It is better than not getting any insights.

experiential travel

On the way to Battambang, Cambodia you see people living on the Tonle Sap River

What does Experiential Travel mean for Travel Bloggers?

People will base their travel decisions on many emotive factors. They have seen a beautiful photo, read an engaging story, seen an amazing video or documentary that makes a destination or/and an experience more appealing to them. Yes, there are iconic things that they want to see, but they and we also want to get a feel of the place. They and we want that Guinness in the pub in Dublin.

It means for travel bloggers and writers that as we share our experiences, our readers can get a feel and a sense of a place. We involve readers and fellow travellers in our stories. It could probably be suggested that the trend for travel bloggers in 2017 is the rise of the story teller. The rise of humanistic storytelling, grammatical errors and all, show we as travel writers are human also. OK, I made up the grammatical errors because this is not my forte, but at least people know when they are reading a Paula article. Travel blogs need to engage on this personal level with the readers and fellow travelers.

If you want to start a travel blog, click here.


what is experiential travel

Doom Island is in Indonesia on the way to Raja Ampat


Let me tell you about more Chef Cross

Chef Cross rode my ass all day as I learned how to make this Valencian dish of paella. This was probably because I was busy chatting to two lovely people from Switzerland, and figured that Gordon was sanctifying himself by being a model student. Chef Cross called me outside. I thought, OMG he is kicking me out of his school. But no, he sat down to have another beer and gave me another sip. We looked up and down the cobblestoned lane, and we just enjoyed a day in the sun in a Spanish city with little to no words spoken.



It was a perfect day, and he presented us with our Paella Graduation Certificates because he and I had got to understand one another a little better, and Gordon is just a good student. It was an authentic travel experience. The experience where you don’t mention the word authentic.

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