What are you on about?
"The art of creatively immersing ones self in another culture in order to have an experience that will at best teach you something new about life, and at worst be bloody good fun."
Look at it this way.
How do you eat breakfast on a normal day?
How do you get around in a normal week?
What kind of music do you listen to on a normal evening?
What kind of experiences do you have in a normal month?
And what is travel not?
IT IS NOT NORMAL! It is not a normal time.
It is a time for you to NOT DO WHAT YOU NORMALLY DO!
So if you're visiting London why not:
Have fried bacon, fried pork sausages, fried eggs, fried tomatoes, fried bread and baked beans in tomato sauce washed down with three cups of milky sugary tea for breakfast. Ride around on the top of big red double decker buses. Call everyone you meet sweetheart and use the phrase 'Cor blimey'. Gel your hair up into a Mohawk and get down Camden town for some scary live punk bands.
Or perhaps a trip to Paris.
Start the day with a bowl of Hot Chocolate and dip cakes in it. Hire bicycles and ride around whistling. Eat chicken stuffed with garlic and roast in garlic with a garlic sauce. Drink red wine diluted with water. Locate some incredibly chic evening wear and attend an evening of sexy French house music set in some exclusive little bar. Practice subtle facial expressions that convey everything from absolute contempt to the despair of unrequited love.
How about immersive New York?
Eat breakfast in a little café and order pancakes, ham, eggs, cream and maple syrup washed down with three cups of smooth, sugary black coffee. Get around by hailing down big yellow taxis, shouting and waving in a big city impatient kind of way. Seek out some live Hip-Hop event on the night. Be really loud and brash.
SO THAT'S THE BIG IDEA HUH?
Absolutely. The best experience you can have when you're travelling is one that takes you into another state of mind. Every week your head is juggling all these obligations, worries and responsibilities and suddenly you realise you've got that long weekend in Rome booked. The danger is that you'll just bustle through the weekend with your work head on ticking off the tourist attractions as if they were tasks in a working day. Blink and you could miss it. Will you come back talking about the splendour of Imperial Rome while secretly thinking that the highlight was eating in a restaurant both nights? But you can eat in restaurants anywhere right?
Nobody wants to breeze through the experience without being touched by it. Ideally you want the kind of experience that will really refresh the way you see. Because it's not meant to be one weekend of hiding from your life it's supposed to be an experience that enhances your life. We go to extraordinary places to remind ourselves to see the extraordinary in our everyday lives.
Some people find it easier than others to make that mental shift between expert and beginner. In your own life you are an expert and because you are an expert you don't see anything. Beginners see everything. When you touch down in a foreign land and step off that plane you become the five year old. Your mind opens up, your eyes widen, you look around you constantly like a child does. See if you can notice this behaviour in the people you travel with!
In short, you're not the expert anymore and you're going to have figure everything out from scratch. That's what opens your mind up and allows you to have new relationships with life. It allows you to engage with things that you normally would have ignored as possibilities because your self-image limits you. Your expertise in one corner of life narrows your focus.
Now this kind of idea of travelling to broaden horizons is normally associated with gap year students and spending months in Thailand but it needn't be.
Have you ever had the experience of being on a short break in a nondescript place but still feeling that mind shift that took you into a place of real otherness?
A barging weekend in the back end of nowhere can sometimes affect us more deeply than a walk round the great pyramids. It's all about how you the individual can find that mind shift. You maybe can't take a year off work but you can remind yourself that you live in a beautiful world. We can prepare ourselves to meet travel experiences in new ways.
We thought about this a lot while developing our sound guides and we came up with the name Immersive Travel. OK we didn't come up with the idea of travelling to enrich your life but we have come up with some strategies for making that all important head change. And these strategies roughly break down as follows.
- Do things you wouldn't ordinarily do.
- Do things that you can only do in the place that you're in.
- Do not be a passive audience. Get involved.
- Stay Playful
We decided to come up with an Immersive Travel challenge for all our City Guides based on this approach. From the most basic and peaceful interventions to the most intense moments of Gonzo travel. We do a track for each guide that suggests a list of Immersive Travel activities that you could use to get the game started and then of course once you've got into the swing of it you can play whichever way the game takes you. This way you'll make the weekend your story and a story worth telling. And you can plaster it all over our website with your forum posts and uploaded shots. Our members will then be able to elect the new heroes of Immersive Travel to our hall of fame.
At root all we are suggesting is simple. If you're in France put tea on your cornflakes. If you're in Germany eat a variety of meats for breakfast. If you're in America put maple syrup on your bacon. As you find yourself feeling a little liberated by this playing at being from somewhere else game you might go a little further. For example, in Paris you might take a café table on the left bank, don a beret and discuss existentialism at the top of your voice in a philosophical rage.
However brave you feel you can decide how to participate in the new place around you with whatever actions feel appropriate. It's better than tick list travel. That is to say, yes we saw the Eiffel Tower yes we saw The Arc de Triomphe, Yes we saw the Pomidou centre etc. Tick, tick, tick. You would be much happier if you could say we had a race to the top of the Eiffel tower and collapsed in fits of exhaugsted laughter at the top. Why? Because it's you doing something rather than you looking at what others have done.
And in any case if you want to be a passive audience member you could probably get a better tour of the Eiffel tower using a combination of Google Earth and Wikipedia.
So get in there my Pioneers of Immersive Travel.
And don't forget to send us a postcard!