For a long time, travel was a popular pastime for those who wanted to see the different, the unusual or the exotic; today, for more and more travellers, it's more about experiencing than just seeing. Many of us now want to engage all five senses; we don't want the same food, climate or activities we'd find at home, we want something new and different and whenever possible, unique to the place we're visiting. We also like the idea that our travels are benefiting local people in their communities, and that we're meeting and interacting with local residents beyond the rudimentary exchanges found in restaurant or hotel service.
We're the experiential travellers, and we're the face of travel in the future. Gone are the "Grand Tour" days when tourists sat removed from their surroundings and simply observed. Today's travellers roll up their sleeves and get involved, both physically and intellectually, with what's around them. It's a new and truly engaged way to travel, and it's had a huge and positive impact on people in the areas we travel to. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this shift is that it's making the whole process more interesting -- and memorable -- for the people in those destination areas, too.
Local experts are now engaging with travellers in a way they weren't able to before: there's more time to get to know visitors, and shared experiences can form the basis of genuine interest and friendship. I'm not talking about visitors and local operators singing an endless chorus of "Kumbaya", but there's far more opportunity for them to interact in such a way that encourages long-term contact if it's what both parties want, especially with the ease of communication through email, social networking and Skype.
Travellers today experience the wonders of their destination: the smell of sun-drenched fir trees along a woodland trail; the crisp, cool touch of the breeze blowing past an iceberg; the taste of fresh bread straight from a brick oven, the sound of a foghorn across the water, or the electrifying experience of looking a humpback whale in the eye.