Immersive travel is having its moment. And if you favor vacations that incorporate plenty of local interactions and culturally authentic experiences, you're probably inadvertently helping to popularize it. There are plenty of reasons why immersive travel is the best way to see the world, though: you help boost micro-economies and you get to create the kind of travel encounters that extend far beyond Instagram in the process.
I spent a year working and traveling internationally and can attest that my most enjoyable travel experiences were the immersive ones. And most of them took place in Cuba, South Africa, Zimbabwe, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua — all very different locations with one important thing in common: it was easy to find intimate, hyper-local travel experiences there, as these places were free of much of the commercialization that plagues the more popular traveling hotspots.
My favorite immersive travel experience was a truly epic participatory camping safari tour in South Africa and Zimbabwe, with Gecko's Adventures. Along with my newly-made camping buddies, I assisted my African tour guides with cooking, camp set-up and planning some of the activities at each stunningly beautiful safari we stayed in. This kind of trip definitely facilitated group bonding (nothing says "new friend" like sharing cleaning duties at dawn) and helped me uncover authentic Africa with other like-minded travellers.
So if you're after similar trips, try and find emerging destinations; places that aren't yet known for their range of chain hotels or package deals. Remember that your experience may be may be a little more rough around the edges (think less rigid itineraries and more DIY, carefully-curated travel that can be a little unpredictable), but it will all the more enjoyable for it. This is why you need to try immersive travel.
Immersive Travel Is Easy (And Cost Effective)
Instead of paying for the organization and expertise of a huge travel agent, plot a deliberate detour and leave things to chance on your next vacation by going immersive. Whether through volunteering or simply changing up a few of your normal vacation habits, going immersive is easy. Forgo traditional accommodation and opt for sites that will save you serious money and place you in the company of locals such as Couchsurfing or MindMyHouse. Keep it hyper-local when it comes to plotting your eating activities too; VizEat allows you to meet people and eat locally as it hooks up hungry tourists and adventurers with expert chefs and guides in an intimate homely setting. I used it in my home city (London, England) to uncover mind-blowingly delicious Brazilian food on my doorstep from a local resident and Brazillian national, Jane. I made tons of new friends, swapped travel and food tips and got recommendations I'd never heard of before for my local area.
You'll Make Travel Friends Easily
Not only did immersive travel help me meet locals, but my experiences often brought me closer to other like-minded travelers, which I loved because a year of solo backpacking sometimes got a little lonely. In Cuba, I used Intrepid Travel to arrange amazingly informative locally-led tours of Havana — and of course, it this was a great way to connect with backpackers in the process.
You're Helping Local Economies To Grow
If you're conscious of supporting local economies when you travel, immersive travel will help you see just how your money is impacting the area you're visiting. Most of the time, your money won't stay in the community your visiting, they'll end up in a foreign-owned company. But if you arrange your travel experiences with local tour guides, home-owners, renters and small business-owners, you'll aid community development and boost the local economy in the process.
You Help Preserve And Protect Cultures
There's a fine line between an immersive experience and an exploitative one and it's up to each traveler to employ a certain level of personal responsibility in sourcing tours and experiences that are both ethical and beneficial to the local community. There are ways in which local traditions can be preserved in the face of modern technology and globalization. Many immersive experiences give locals the chance to celebrate their culture while simultaneously educating tourists and making a sustainable living. Choosing to stay in a casa (homestay) over a big hotel in Cuba as I did, is a perfect example of this.
You Get To See How Locals Really Live
On my incredible experiential Gecko's Safari, I found that the best way to learn about Africa was by chatting to trip leaders and locals. I uncovered the hidden truth about the current economic situation in Zimbabwe, the besy way to cook a traditional (and delicious) South African meal of chicken and "pap" (polenta), about race relations in Johannesburg and so much more. Immersive travel facilitates shared experiences and ideas and can leave you with an expanded world view and alternative way of thinking - at least it did for me on my Safari trip.
Going Immersive Suits Time-Strapped Travelers
You don't need a huge stretch of time to benefit from an authentic vacay; in fact, having a few days or a long weekend actually gives you more scope for planning all the little details by yourself. If you want a quick break from the rat race and want to keep it real, try 48houradventure which is great for arranging short and immersive travel experiences around the world.
You Experience Travel With Purpose
Immersive travel is to travel with mission, purpose and reason. You'll be privy to a set of intimate, once-in-a-lifetime experiences that can't successfully be replicated by larger corporations and, you'll connect with people beyond the usual vacation staples of beach-parties and cocktails. Perhaps you'll want to volunteer your time building a school in Peru with other travelers, save tigers in Nepal with locals or simply source projects that you feel make a difference as you travel around. Whatever you choose, remember that travel isn't just about selfies and bucket lists; it's about giving back and going deeper.