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December 6, 2018

It’s all about the experience

Called experiential travel, the best vacations immerse you in the destination’s culture and people. Here, five inspiring trips to consider.

The best kinds of vacations are about more than just visiting a place. They let you become absorbed in the destination’s culture, people and history.

Called experiential travel, it is “the No. 1 trend in vacations,” says global trends expert Daniel Levine. “People have done the sightseeing tours, and now they’re looking to take things to a more intimate level.” Experiential trips are also fueled by a growing desire for authenticity. One study found that 74 percent of people would rather spend money on experiences than things—a mind-set that spills over into travel, encouraging individuals to find ways to interact with local people and their way of life.

“We all want to come home with a sense of transformation after a getaway,” says Judith Fein, author of Life Is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel. “We want to feel different in a meaningful way.” The benefits can be substantial: Studies have linked immersive travel experiences in unfamiliar cultures to an increase in creativity. Engaging with a new environment improves your cognitive flexibility (a prime component of creativity), and contact with people from diverse backgrounds can strengthen your self-esteem. “Spending time with those who are different from you makes you question your own beliefs and ways of doing things. As a result, you become more self-aware, and you feel more confident,” says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuroscientist and psychologist in California.

Ready for an experiential trip of your own? Booking one has never been easier. Hotels, outfitters and travel companies offer packages that immerse you in exciting destinations worldwide. These five amazing trips are a great place to start.

Tourissimo: Chef Bike Tour

This company offers signature and bespoke active travel tours throughout Italy. On the Chef Bike Tour in Piedmont, for instance, you’ll get tips from chefs on wine pairings, enjoy famed local truffles and attend a lecture at the Slow Food University of Gastronomic Sciences (where the slow food movement was born)—between bike rides through rolling hills, medieval villages and breathtaking vineyards. (

Fluenz: Spanish Immersion Getaway

With this intensive language program set in a stunning mansion in Mexico City, you’ll learn to speak Spanish in six days/seven nights. During the day, you’ll work with Fluenz’s elite coaches (with breaks to sample incredible food and do restorative yoga). By night, you’ll test your skills in Mexico City’s best restaurants and on exclusive art tours. (

Urban Adventures: Home Cooked Tours

This tour company connects you with a local guide to take you “off the beaten path.” For a really outstanding eating experience, look up its Home Cooked tours (offered worldwide), which welcome you into the home of a local family. In St. Petersburg, for instance, you’ll start the tour at a food market to pick up some of the local specialties, then visit a resident’s home to enjoy an authentic meal, drink vodka and learn about Russian traditions. (

Enlighten Photography Excursions: Zion National Park

Experience new places through your camera lenses. On the half-day photography tour of Zion National Park, your guide will take you to prime spots to capture sunrise or sunset and give you techniques for taking pro photos. Night, slot canyon and aerial tours are also available. (

ROW Sea Kayak Adventures: Orca Tour

On the six-day Blackfish Waters Orca Kayak Tour in British Columbia, you’ll be eye level with passing orcas and other wildlife, including seals and bald eagles. Experienced guides will teach you about the area, and you’ll enjoy gourmet meals, wine and daily hors d’oeuvres. (

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