What is Immersive Travel?

Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer: India

Bada Bagh, Jaisalmer: India is my soul culture

Immersive Travel column on Travel+Escape

Last month, I started writing a bi-monthly “column” for the new Travel+Escape website — which complements the new Canadian TV channel — about immersive travel. What is immersive travel? It’s travel that takes you deep into a culture and changes you. Immersive travel can be voluntourism, solo travel or long-term travel. It can be embarking on a spiritual path or a going to a health & wellness retreat. Or it can be simply an attitude. It’s about being open to a new culture, learning from it, and letting it change your ideas, beliefs and assumptions about life and the world. If you go on a trip, and see things differently when you get back home — then, you have probably experienced immersive travel. Here’s a synopsis of my first three columns.

Are you a tourist or a traveler?

If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them, I want men who will come if there is no road at all.” ~ David Livingstone

There’s a difference between a traveller and a tourist. Maybe I’m old-fashioned: I prefer reading to television; trains to jets; long sojourns to quick getaways. I love reading stories about travellers who went abroad for months, even years, and became completely transformed. Like Ibn Batutta. He left his homeland, Morocco, to make a hajj (pilgrimage) to Mecca in 1325AD that should have taken 16 months. He didn’t return home for 24 years.

In total, Ibn Battuta traveled for 30 years. He covered most of Africa, Europe, the Middle East, India and Southeast Asia, all the way to China, for a total of 75,000 miles (121,000 km) – a mileage record that held for more than 400 years. Batutta recorded his travels in a book called The Rihla (Journeys) of Ibn Battuta.

I think of the 19th century as the golden age of travel. People packed steamer trunks and ventured out into the world before there was any kind of tourism infrastructure. These people had adventures!

To read more, please visit Are you a tourist or a traveler? on the Travel+Escape website.

Three hotels that off the comfort of luxury with the joy of cultural immersion

When you think of immersive travel, you may think of living in a local’s house, eating home-cooked food and following the family’s daily rhythm. I do like staying in small guesthouses and homestays when I travel, but I also enjoy finding higher-end accommodation that tries to preserve the spirit of cultural authenticity.

The three hotels featured here ― the Bhakti Kutir in Goa, the Windamere Hotel in Darjeeling and the Uma Paro in Bhutan ― each combine the best of both worlds, the comfort of luxury with the joy of cultural immersion.

To read more, please visit Comfort and Joy on the Travel+Escape website.

Have you found your soul culture?

There are many ways to experience “immersive travel.” You can travel somewhere to live for a time, or volunteer. You can study the culture, learn the language or master the arts. But the type of immersive travel I am writing about today cannot be engineered. You cannot make it happen.

I call it finding your “soul culture” and it’s like falling in love. It just happens.

Sometimes, people discover a corner of the world where they feel most at home. It is often in a country and culture far away, and far different, from their own, and it doesn’t make a lot of rational sense.

People who found their soul culture always intrigued me. And, I admit, I was a bit jealous. Though I had traveled to many parts of the world, and lived in Tokyo, I had never felt that special affinity, and didn’t know if I ever would. Then, in late 2004, at about the same time the tsunami struck Southeast Asia, a personal tsunami of sorts hit me.

I was trying to recover from a series of devastating losses that had left me feeling flattened, and was enrolled in a yoga teacher training program. That’s when the idea of going to India for six months grabbed hold of me.

To read more please visit Have you found your soul culture? on the Travel+Escape website.

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7 Responses to What is Immersive Travel?

  1. Himachal Pradesh Tour February 16, 2012 at 1:27 am #

    This place is so beautiful. Information is also interesting.

  2. John February 28, 2012 at 5:19 pm #

    Mariellen, Your immersive travel concept is very appealing to me. I’m not sure I agree with some of your concepts like ditching the guide book. Most of the guide books I read are written by writers living in the subject country for some time. They are usually better than blog posts for understanding the culture of a destination. That said staying long term, learning the language, conversing, eating, staying and possibly praying with locals, builds a better understanding of the culture. One which a visitor cannot get on a short trip.
    I tend to find the word traveller is a term that many people who travel aspire to. It’s irrelevant. Be happy in your own travel experience. It is best not to worry about labels as they describe a stereotype that doesn’t exist.

  3. Mariellen February 28, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    Thanks for your comment John. Yes, you are right, best to live beyond labels.

    btw, I never said don’t use a guidebook; I have often depended on Lonely Planet India and lovingly refer to it as the bible. But, there comes a point when you may want to put it aside, and travel commando – style. I did it on my third trip. I left Delhi without LPI. I suffered acute withdrawal, but got over it, and then had an amazing trip through central India, using only my nose and the suggestions of locals and other travellers. Really eye-opening experience.

  4. John February 29, 2012 at 3:44 am #

    Mariellen, your guidebook reference is not from this post, but from the travel bloggers’ rag, which led me to your site. Guidebooks like Lonely Planet do tend to write about a country’s culture. The nomadic bloggers and writers don’t usually stay long enough to get beyond the 10% of culture that is readily visible. Often the don’t understand what they see. The quickest way to make some sense of culture is via a guidebook. The best way is your immersive travel concept. Sadly many writers just write their own views on what they experience in two weeks and don’t stay long enough to find out the truth.

  5. Mariellen February 29, 2012 at 11:02 am #

    Hi John, Yes, it’s true, a lot of people do that “if it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” type of travel. But that’s not my thing at all. I stayed six months in India the forst time I went! And really worked hard to get to know the culture.

  6. Tyler Muse October 31, 2013 at 7:04 pm #

    Love this term, “soul culture.” For those of us who have traveled and been lucky enough to find ours, the feeling is incredible and the connection is undeniable. I think this is what drives us to travel farther, discover more…you never know what you might find. I’m surprised you don’t speak much about language…to me this makes the most immense difference in feeling like you can connect and communicate with a place.


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