We travel to discover new things — about ourselves and about the world around us. Immersive travel allows us to dive headfirst into the experiences that allow us to do just that, and so much more.
While some travel styles involve dipping a toe in the pool of a new culture, immersive travel means just what it sounds like — being completely surrounded with the newness of an unfamiliar place. The immersive traveler comes in contact with unfamiliar sights, sounds, sensations, flavors, and challenges that are unlike anything they’ve known before.
So let’s dive in to the benefits of immersive travel. The benefits to expanding our understanding of the world and experiencing new things are endless, but here are a few that stand out.
1. Learn a new language
You can study for years in a classroom, but there is nothing like an immersive travel experience for absorbing a new language.
When you travel deeper, you abandon the comforts of your own culture, for the exposure of another one. This type of experience forces you senses to heighten. You notice things you wouldn’t have seen at home. You smell foods you’ve never tasted. And of course, amidst all of the other sensory input, you hear words you don’t understand.
Through immersive travel, we want to understand! So we try a little harder to listen. We write down the words we hear, again and again. We carry a dictionary, and attempt to speak the language, even if our words come out wrong.
When we become the person speaking a foreign language, we must put extra effort into adapting, and this forces us to pay attention, listen, and learn.
Picking up on a new language can be as simple as attempting to order coffee for the first time. Translation apps on your phone can help you look up the words you need. And of course, there’s always the trusted translation dictionaries.
For a more intensive language experience, you can take a class, or volunteer at a school where the students will speak the local language. Teaching English is a great way to pick up on the language of the people you’re teaching. Even though you’ll be focused on a language you know, you’ll be surrounded by one that is unfamiliar.
Whether you want to hone the language skills you learned in school, or expose yourself to an entirely new one, immersive travel is an excellent way to do so.
2. Meet the local people
While it’s wonderful to meet fellow travelers on the road — sharing stories from our trips and comparing notes on where we’re heading next — we rob ourselves of a very special experience when we fail to interact with the local community.
Immersive travelers know better. When the immersive traveler enters a new place, they want to learn about all of it. The best resource for learning about the place is of course, the people who call that place home.
While so much of travel is dictated by large companies selling prepackaged experiences, immersive travel allows us to go to the source. We meet the local shop owners, the neighbors at the market, and people passing on the street. Of course, these experiences won’t just happen. We have to put ourselves out there.
Consider how much you enjoy sharing the place you call home with newcomers. If a friend comes to visit from out of town, it’s always exciting to show them the places you frequent and the hidden spots that visitors wouldn’t otherwise find.
People are proud of where they’re from, and they inherently want to share it with others. Immersive travel allows us to connect with those people and really experience a place, through the eyes of those who love it.
3. Have a truly unique experience
No two immersive travel experiences are alike. Every traveler is going to absorb and learn about a place differently. And when we aren’t afraid to immerse ourselves in a new place, we discover things that few other people will.
Immersive travel can be as simple as taking a walk in a new place. Rather than taking a tour, we can allow ourselves to get lost amidst the chatter we don’t understand and the street names that don’t sound familiar.
It’s important to put safety first and understand the risks of diving into an unfamiliar place, but if we’re careful, these types of immersive approaches to exploring a new place can provide us with truly unique experiences.
Perhaps you’ll find a cafe that wasn’t mentioned in the guidebook, and the owner will tell you about the best view of the ocean — where only the locals go. You never know what will happen when you allow yourself to be consumed by a new place, but you do know it will be memorable.
4. Learn more about yourself
Immersive travel is challenging. And when we challenge ourselves, we’re able to acknowledge our strengths and weaknesses, and grow as a result.
When you’re traveling in a foreign place, it’s natural to turn inward. When everything around you is new, it prompts you to become more in tune to how you’re experiencing these things.
Immersive travel means not always knowing which direction to go, how to order a meal, or how to hail a cab. We must look within ourselves to find the strength and the courage to face these unfamiliar challenges that would be so simple at home.
How do you face these challenges? Acknowledging the ways we excel and the ways we struggle can provide us with valuable lessons about ourselves that we can bring back home.
5. Leave your comfort zone
We feel safe when we’re surrounded by the familiar. We don’t have to think much about our day-to-day lives when they are routine.
When we abandon those familiar aspects of our daily lives, we quickly realize how much we take for granted. It’s not easy to order food when you don’t know what it’s called or how to say it. But the food will taste even better when we overcome that obstacle.
By leaving our comfort zone, we learn and we grow. We’re faced with challenges that we never would have come across at home. And when we’re surrounded by the beauty and thrill of exploring a foreign place, those challenges are clearly worth it.
Never heard of Bali’s traditional Legong dance? Leaving your comfort zone to learn might be a little scary, but we promise it will be fun!
6. Support the local community
Travel should be a mutually beneficial relationship between a place and its visitors. Unfortunately, some travel only takes from places. Travelers fill the streets and use up resources without giving back. Immersive travel is about absorbing the culture, but also supporting it.
When we immerse ourselves in travel, it’s important to give back to the local community. They give us so much when they share their food, their music, and their passion for their homes. We can give back by shopping local, supporting local organizations, and traveling with companies that support the local economy.
Discover Corps employs local guides who understand the culture and can help our travelers understand it better, too.
7. Help to preserve the local culture
When we capture that perfect picture to share on Facebook, what are we really accomplishing? Immersive travel is about looking for more. It’s about experiencing the culture, and learning as much about a place as we can. When we do so, we help to preserve much more than a pretty picture.
There are so many cultures and so many cultural nuances to consider around the world. These unique cultures are what make places so special to experience. We learn how different people live, how they dress, how they eat, and ultimately we learn that they’re not all that different than us.
When we learn about the details that make these cultures unique, we spread cultural understanding. Returning home to regale your friends with stories of a traditional dinner you helped prepare with a family in India will be so much more rewarding than that photo of a sunset.
Through our photos and our stories, we can inspire others to leave their comfort zones to experience these cultures for themselves.
BIO: Britany Robinson is a freelance travel and culture writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her works appears in BBC Travel, Mashable, The Daily Dot and more. Her blog, Travel Write Away, shares advice and musings on travel writing. When she’s not planning her next big trip, she’s scoping out Portland craft beers and local hikes. –Britany Robinson