Experiential travel is about making connections with the local culture. Spending a day on a local farm, visiting an elephant preserve, taking a cooking class, these are all examples of experiential travel. People seek these authentic experiences to feel more human. They’re like existential currency.
“The more I connect with the world around me, the more interesting I find my life to be.”Experiential travel suggests it can make you a more interesting person. It’s an alluring opportunity, but Experiential Travel can be a deceitful archetype.
The Beginning Of My JourneyI went on my own experiential journey in Asia. I bought a one way ticket to Bangkok and planned to “experience” South East Asia. I intended to roam around and accumulate local experiences until I “conquered” the region. In simpler words I planned to “DO” South East Asia. Before traveling to this region I did not realized how big these countries were. I had only seen short YouTube clips of people’s trips there and as I found out, those clips often did not accurately portray the scale and diversity of the region. South East Asia is so vast and diverse it would take a lifetime to experience enough to consider it accomplished. The concept of accomplished was another issue. It was a vague goal. How many experiences would it take to accomplish South East Asia? What were the specific experiences I needed to have? With in the first month I realized how futile my intentions were. I solo journeyed into the most remote areas of the region. I drank with local townies, dined with rural families, partied with entire villages, and all the while felt more and more like a tourist. The more I experienced the further away I saw my goal.
“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” ― Albert EinsteinWhile in Laos, I began to wonder if travel was for me. I felt more lost than ever. I was considering going home early. Well over a month in to my trip, I found myself sitting at bar in the middle of the Laotian jungle. I started a chat with a Aussie Expat bartender who split his time between this bar and another local business. He made his way to this small village in the jungle years ago and decided to never leave. If you’ve never met one of these old Aussie expat guys while traveling, it’s important to know they tend to speak in a farcical dogmatic way, and with the help of alcohol their conversations tend to lead to an existential downward spiral. After several shots of Lao Lao, the local jungle whisky, I began explaining to this guy my dilemma. I felt like a failure and I didn’t even like traveling anymore. This was arguably the lowest point in my trip. I built up this monumental idea of what travel was supposed to be and how it was supposed to serve me. I had a couple good experiences at this point, but in the grand scheme of things, I was viewing my excursion as a failure. The bartender admitted he often felt the same way. Here’s a guy who spent a large part of his life consumed with living in the area and he had gained little more ground than I. If I didn’t feel defeated before, I was ready to throw in the towel then.