Decision time: one week at an all-inclusive resort in Barbados vs. one week in the unforgiving mountains of Bolivia. You laugh, but the answer may not be as clear cut as you think.
As it turns out, choosing to embark on that 7-day hike through the Andes doesn't just afford you the promise of built quads, a cleansed soul, and entry into the 5,000 meter club - it also positions you squarely within a growing subset of experientially-minded globetrotters known as Geotravelers. Internet savvy, educated, and prone to taking risks, this group is finding itself ever more sought after in the leisure travel market - and for good reason.
Think back to Skift's eye-opening report in January, detailing the dismal number of Americans who took, or rather didn't take, a single vacation day in 2014 (in case you don't feel like clicking the link, it's 42%). This is an alarming statistic indeed, yet when you compare it to Montana-based Mercury CSC's research on the habits of adventure travelers, the landscape becomes much more clearly defined. Geotravelers, unlike their vacation-deprived counterparts, not only take full advantage of their time away from the workplace, but they use it to purposefully explore and immerse themselves in the destinations they visit. What's more, the trend is transitioning from maverick to mainstream, as we'll see in a minute.
So why join in on the action? Well, from a personal perspective I can tell you that the amount of knowledge gained from seeking out cultures and activities beyond one's comfort zone is immeasurable. Compare the experience of taking a locally-guided sunset safari into Egypt's White Desert to that of reading The Arabian Nights in the uninspiring fluorescent light of a high school classroom and you'll quickly see what I mean.
Sentimentalism aside, there is also an increasingly robust catalog of information detailing the benefits received by those who opt to travel in an experience-centric way: from higher incomes and college graduation rates to acquiring new skills while breaking old stereotypes.
In true Occamian fashion, however, the most convincing reason to count yourself among the Geotraveling ranks may very well be the simplest: sheer accessibility.
It's likely no coincidence that the precipitous rise of immersive travel corresponds almost directly with the rapid growth of the Sharing Economy. Once considered "fringe," brands like Airbnb and Uber are almost as common to the travel and transportation industries these days as Hilton and Yellow Cab, offering travelers a more locally-immersive alternative to high-rise hotels and underpaid taxi drivers. And as many a travelling millennial will tell you, they're just the tip of the P2P iceberg.
In case you've been out of the P2P loop for the past 16 months, you'll likely be amazed by the veritable cornucopia of startups focused on bringing your next travel experience down to the most fundamentally local level. Want to spend a night in a treehouse in Peten, Guatemala for less than $15 USD? You can do that on hovelstay.com. Feel like booking a personal day of guided rock climbing with a former Team Canada professional during your next visit to Vancouver? Embark.org's got you covered. Heck, nowadays you can even arrange for a local Athenian to come pick you up from the airport upon your arrival in Greece. Never in history has so much local knowledge been available to so many travelers so efficiently, and both the foreseeable supply and demand show no signs of slowing down.
So let's pose that question again - the one asking you to decide between one week in Barbados vs. one week in Bolivia. If your sole interest in travel revolves around augmenting the contrast in skin tone between your groin and your chest region, the choice remains painfully simple. If, however, you've dreamed of finally turning the tables on those unused vacation days, putting them to work in a way that fundamentally alters your experience of and interaction with the world, consider getting on board with the Geotraveling movement. You might be a little late to the party, but rest assured there's a wealth of communities and travel markets just begging to show you what you've been missing.