Immersive Travel, 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.
What do you eat for breakfast on a normal day?
How do you travel to work during a normal week?
What kind of music do you listen to on a normal evening?
What kind of experiences do you have over a normal weekend?
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'. Go see Mousetrap at the theatre, pop into the Kings Arms for a pint or take a (Lambeth) walk along the Thames in the rain.
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 snails or frogs legs in garlic while sipping red wine diluted with water. Locate some incredibly chic evening wear and head for the Moulin rouge or Folies Bergere. Get romantic floating down the Seine on a Bateaux Mouche and kiss everyone you meet (on both cheeks). 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. Hit Times Square, check out Radio City, run/jog/walk round Central Park in a dayglow two-piece proclaiming I (heart) New York.
SO THATS 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. Week in week out 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 and not having to do the dishes? But you can eat in restaurants anywhere right?
Nobody wants to breeze through a foreign land without being touched by it. Ideally you want the kind of experience that will really refresh the way you look at things in the future. It's not meant to be one weekend of hiding from your life it's supposed to be an experience that changes your life. We go to these 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're an expert you filter out your daily life and file it under 'existence'. Beginners see everything. When you touch down in a foreign land and step off that plane you become your five year old self again. 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.
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.
We thought about this a lot while developing our SoundGuides 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 or couldn'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
That's why we've included 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 include a 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 photos. Fellow travellers 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 you start the day the continental way. If you're in Germany you 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 Pompidou centre etc. Tick, tick, tick. We came we saw we took a photo. You'd be much happier if you could say we had a race to the top of the Eiffel tower and collapsed in fits of exhausted laughter at the top. Why? Because it's you doing something rather than you looking at what others have done. It's participant vs spectator. Oh, and it's more memorable.
(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!
Remember, you're a stranger in a strange land. It's your chance to live differently. You've only got one life - but there's a whole world of possibilities.
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