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Beyond five star travel

Tenele Conway

Travel has a new catch phrase: “Experiential”.

Terrible, isn’t it? It’s hard to say and pretty much meaningless without a dictionary explanation. On a scale of phrases I have hated in 2017, it is close behind “fake news” in terms of making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.

Yet despite hating the word I am in love with the concept and always have been. It has been my mantra for the fifteen years I have been a travel consultant and I have made it my life’s mission to get people to think outside of the box and become an “experiential traveller”.

So what exactly is “experiential travel”? It’s simple really. It is all about seeking experiences beyond the confines commercial tourism often imparts on travel. It’s cultural immersion of the highest order. It’s about undertaking the extraordinary, breaking away from tourist traps and placing yourself outside of your comfort zone to really get to know a place and it’s people.

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the attitude

Experiential travel can be found anywhere even mundane or overly touristed destinations, you just need to go out and find it. Take Bali for example. Sure you could grab a bean bag and while away the day with cocktails on the beach with three thousand other Aussies or you could hook up on a locally run tour that will have you riding a bike down the side of volcanic mountains, through small villages, alongside rice paddies and interacting with locals in their own environment. I am a big believer that a destination is what you make of it and the out of the ordinary experiences can be found anywhere, you just have to go looking.

Seek and ye shall find

Whilst I am promoting adventure, I understand we live in the modern world. You aren’t going to be competing with Marco Polo for exploration of uncharted territories. Let’s be honest, there is barely a corner on this planet that hasn’t been documented by a millennial on Instagram a million times over. But you can use the modern world to your advantage here and there is so much at your disposal. Blogs like Young Adventuress or Nomadic Matt hold a wealth of inspiration to get you seeking out fulfilling and unique travel experiences. Websites like Trover are a gateway to new and wonderful places. Trip Advisor is a must to make sure you aren’t falling into a tourist trap and Trippy can connect you with other travellers so you can tap into their knowledge.

Forget the star rating

Real travel, real experiences, can’t be shoehorned into a star rating. From my experience, the only product that fits well into the star rating system is chain hotels. It is designed to tell you how generic something is. Is that what you want? Generic? Adventure is like colouring outside of the lines. It’s for non-conformists. When I travel I seek out the places that can’t be defined by star ratings. Think a local yurt in Mongolia, a thatched roof beach shack in Vanuatu, a night under the stars above the arctic circle in Alaska. You get the idea.

Experiential travel on a platter

Now that you have trawled the internet, seen more pictures of skinny women gazing wistfully into the distance than you can handle it’s time to get in touch with the companies who can bring these experiences to life. A good travel agent will be able to hook you up with the best grassroots adventures out there or if you want to get started right now, take a look at the G Adventures Local Living program. They won’t just have you holidaying, they will have you living with a local family, cooking local food, shopping at the markets and becoming one with the culture. I am a huge fan of Intrepid Travel, they will have you adventure sailing on the 25-cabin ship Galileo or cycling the backroads of Vietnam, Tanzania or Morocco.

Or, if you’re like me and your forte is more the eating department than the cycling department, embark on a food adventure where they’ll have you eating your way through hoppers and curry in Sri Lanka or dining on tahchin in Iran.

It’s not all about the small group tour either. If you’re heading off on your own, consider your mode of transport. Skip the point to point flights and see the country from a train window. Try out Amtrak in America, Eurail in Europe or the Shinkansen in Japan with a Japan rail pass.

Consider overland trucks in Africa for a way to get yourself off the beaten track, take a trek in Europe with Headwater or go island hopping to remote islands in Fiji where the bungalow accommodation is all run by the local population. The options are plentiful now you just have to say no to the lure of the big resorts and try something new.

Put on your big girl pants

Forget the comforts of home, forget the star rating, pop on your Bridget Jones style big girl knickers and get out there, it’s time to get messy, stretch your comfort zone or check it at the door completely and become an “experiential traveller”.

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Tenele Conway

Tenele Conway is a veteran of the Canberra Travel industry having worked in retail travel stores around the city for well over decade. Taking full advantage of the perks of the job she has travelled the world primarily at the expense of others and when she isn’t zip lining in Guatemala or cruising the Nile she is bringing together her two passions of world cuisines and travel on her blog www.hungryplanetblog.com. With a cookbook collection worthy of an episode of ‘Hoarders’ she sees a future as a travelling cookbook author, look out Rick Stein.

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