experiential travelIt’s easy to say that you want to experience more from your travel, but not always easy to put that into practice. We tend to fall into the trap of thinking that simply going on an amazing trip translates to experiences that we will cherish. That isn’t necessarily the case. Here’s how to ensure that you get the most out of your experiential travel.

Plan to do, not see.

As you plan a trip, stop to think about what you want to experience at the destination, not just the sights you want to see. For example, it’s hard to miss seeing the Acropolis when you visit Athens. You can choose to hike up the hill for a closer look, and that is certainly an experience worth considering. But experiential travel goes beyond the obvious.

Stop for a minute and imagine one small moment of your time in Athens. What would make that moment perfect? Would it be dining at a street café within sight of the Acropolis? How about tasting ouzo at a local taverna? Or shopping for leather sandals at the same store where Jackie Onasis shopped for hers? Those are the experiences you will remember and cherish, so plan to make them happen, even if it means skipping the sightseeing tour.

Learn to enjoy the mundane

I realize that this sounds like the total opposite of experiential travel, but the reality is that when you learn to enjoy the mundane parts of a trip, amazing things come into focus. Take scuba diving for example. Seasoned scuba divers know that they won’t see giant manta rays or whale sharks on every dive. They may in fact, see them only once in their lifetimes. Acknowledging that fact is crucial in learning to see the smaller wonders of the ocean. You can spend hours looking for seahorses, but it is only when you learn to enjoy looking at boring coral, that seahorses magically appear– because it’s where they live.

Embrace the unexpected

As much as you plan, there will always be detours, schedule changes, and side streets that catch your attention. Those detours are part of the travel experience. Jump in wholeheartedly and enjoy them. So what if you are stuck in traffic in Rome? It’s Rome! Doesn’t it beat a day at the office?

Gary and I recently shared a dinner table on a cruise ship with a couple that was having an almost catastrophic trip. Their travel agent had mixed up their reservation and told them they were on a round-trip cruise from their home port, when in fact they were on a one-way cruise, ending in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They did not know they needed return flights until they were about to board the ship.

They laughed at dinner every night anyway. Half way through the cruise their stateroom was flooded by a water leak above them. Clothes were soaked, electronic devices ruined, but still they remained calm. The cruise line upgraded them to a balcony cabin and they continued to enjoy the trip– now with not one, but two tales to tell and two memories that they shared.

Share your experiences

That brings us to another way to get more out of your trip. Simply sharing the trip with someone else enhances your own enjoyment. There’s a lot to be said about solo travel, and that is an experience of its own, but experiences only come to life fully when we share them. At that same dinner table on our cruise, there was a gentleman traveling alone. His wife simply did not care to cruise, but by dining and enjoying activities with others that he met onboard, he enhanced his experience– and ours.

Capture the memories, selectively

One of the joys of experiential travel is reliving the moment. The problem comes when we spend the entire trip with our face behind a phone or camera. You can’t fully experience something that way. My suggestion is to take the best camera equipment you can afford, so that the memories will be captured well, but not to feel like you have to record every single second. Put down the camera and fully experience the moment.

Slow down

The last bit of advice that I have is to slow down. This is especially true when it comes to traveling with children. You really don’t have to see all of the zoo. Or the theme park. Or the museum. Or all of the wineries in a region. Move at a pace that allows you to let the destination wash over you and reveal itself to you bit by bit. Experiential travel is not a race; it’s an experience meant to be savored.

Happy travels!