In a state of wanderlust: Experiential travel

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Travel comes in all shapes and sizes: high-end versus budget friendly, long trips versus short, tourism versus experiential travel versus volunteerism, adventure versus non-adventure and so on.

Danielle Campbell

Danielle Campbell

It’s difficult to decide what type of travel is right for you until you’ve experienced any type of travel in general. Once you start to travel, you will begin to learn the type that you enjoy most. This article isn’t going to be a code to decipher which is the best fit for you, but rather a way to understand the difference between seeing and experiencing the places you visit.

With the abundance of social media platforms and Internet options we have in this day and age, it’s easy enough to see a picture of a pretty place, and with the right means, go there. Yet, is that really what it’s all about?

There’s only so much time you can spend looking at a magnificent castle, swimming in the crystal-clear ocean or stepping foot in an ancient European church. Our time is precious and travel is about so much more than simply seeing these places to check off of your bucket list. Instead, how about going more in-depth — exploring inside the castle and the surrounding areas?

You never know, I’ve found some pretty cool caves and labyrinths around a famous castle I wouldn’t have known about if I simply took a few pictures and hit the road. Take a surfing or scuba diving lesson with a local instead of simply swimming — which is something you can do wherever there’s water. Take a cooking class and learn to cook a signature dish, both allowing you to talk with a local while doing so — becoming a little more immersed in the culture.

Pay the $3 to buy an audio tour around a church to learn the history behind what you’re staring at. It means so much more once you understand what you’re looking at. It’s easy to become more immersed in the culture by putting yourself out there just a tad more.

One of my favorite ways to travel is planning to participate in activities with locals, traveling off the beaten path and immersing myself. Although I would love sitting on a beach chair in Hawaii, a part of me would feel as if I were missing out on bigger and better things.

I went to Costa Rica a few years ago through a program called Rustic Pathways. The program allowed me to do as the locals do. My group and I had the opportunity to teach local youth English, partake in a soccer match with the kids, build a turtle hatchery on a beach and clean up a local playground.

Not only was I participating in activities many people wouldn’t if they visited Costa Rica, I was also communicating with locals and practicing my Spanish with hopes of one day obtaining my goal of becoming fluent. On top of the volunteer work and activities with locals, I also had the opportunity to partake in a surfing lesson by a local Costa Rican guide, visit the immense jungle and stay in tents right next to the wandering jaguars and monkeys. To me, this was the best way I could have experienced Costa Rica. Instead of simply visiting monuments, churches and other tourist attractions, I had the chance to do so in a less touristy way.

Another place I went last summer where I had a similar experiential travel experience was Peru. I was able to walk part of the Inca Trail, wander through the Machu Picchu ruins and climb Machu Picchu Mountain, feed local children and bike through the countryside.

Although on this trip we did hit many of the highlights — churches, towns and obviously Machu Picchu — along with the experiential travel, it wasn’t as simple as seeing these places. The Inca Trail walk to the Gate of the Sun was extraordinary, along with climbing the mountain to reach the summit. Experiencing the children’s reactions to being handed bananas and bread gave me perspective, as something so trivial to us made their entire day. Saying “hi” to locals as we passed them herding sheep and cows in the countryside was unlike any experience I’ve had before. I had the opportunity to see their way of life in Peru.

What I’m saying is not to skip the highlights of trips, but to immerse yourself in the culture, the back roads and the locals’ way of life. Everyone falls in love with a different type of travel, so my favorite may not be the favorite of others. All that matters is that you’re traveling. When your eyes are opened to these new cultures, it may change your life.

Danielle Campbell, ’18, is an assistant visuals editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]

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