5 unconventional travel experiences, from 1 unconventional traveller

This article was created for The Travel Project by Claire Woodward, an occupational therapist by day and keen adventure seeker by night/evenings/holidays.

Travel bucket lists - most of us have them. The desire to experience cultures, venture through magnificent sights and taste culinary delights around the world. Theses desires are ideas made up of a mish-mash of influences from our own personal goals, childhood dreams, education and ideas from friends and family. But largely our exposure through all forms of media thanks to our ever connected world - movies, television, documentaries, photography, music and social media.

You're scrolling through Instagram and before you know it you have 15 new destinations to visit and the list just keeps on going.

Travel has the ability to shape you, help you grow, write new stories, wander new paths and learn new lessons. We all have our own stories and tips about how and when to explore our world. But before you start ranking up the picture perfect destinations, here are a few less conventional travel ideas for you all to ponder over …

1. Live, don’t visit

It is easy enough to visit or pass through a city or town, catching glimpses of their most famous landmarks and visiting the usual tourist hot spots. It’s also easy to miss what is at the real core of a place. Spend a little longer in a location where you can wander off the beaten track and live how the locals do.

This adds just another amazing level of experience and allows for even more bucket list musts to be formed and crossed off. It might be that you choose to live the 9-5 in your new chosen city, experiencing the highs and lows of a brand new lifestyle. Or maybe you study abroad, or even just truly relax and unwind in a new location. But at the end of it you have had the opportunity to learn and know what it is like to truly live amongst a brand new culture.

2. Volunteer

Volunteering is an incredibly rewarding experience in many respects, but even more so within a foreign country. There are endless causes and schemes calling for those to lend assistance – whether working with people, animals or the environment. In 2011 I spent some time volunteering in Hue, Vietnam. I rode my bicycle to work every day via the local bakery and worked with a group of local health professionals passionate about the work they were doing, eager to share knowledge. I was exposed to all aspects of the Vietnamese way of life, including the challenges. No other way could I foresee being able to have the experience of travelling the back roads to the smallest villages, being welcomed into the homes of locals and sharing street-side meals with my Vietnamese co-workers – chicken feet and all.

Volunteering abroad taught me so many lessons: not taking the small things for granted, opening your eyes to a world much bigger than you ever realized, and helping you to become a more understanding, tolerant and responsible global citizen.

As with anything it comes with its challenges but they are far outweighed by these positives. The opportunity it provides to develop your own personal and professional skill is incomparable.

3. Take on a new challenge

This point can be looked at from many different perspectives. The idea of travel in itself might be a challenge – allowing yourself to let go, unwind and switch off. So too might be pushing your own personal boundaries and comfort zones. It could also mean a physical challenge such as a hike or learning to ski, or even an educational challenge, for example attending a language school. Not everyone who goes travelling wants to take on a challenge and learn something but quite honestly, when travelling this is one of the best opportunities. You have the time, the freedom and the accessibility to try something you have not done before and even better, you allow yourself to walk away with a significant sense of satisfaction knowing what you achieved.

In 2008 I went to the USA to work a ski season in Colorado. The only issue being, I had never skied before. I had barely even seen snow. But this was all part of the challenge.

How did it turn out? Like any challenge it was full of ups and downs but ultimately one of the best experiences of my life. I only ever look back with the fondest of memories. I ski when I can and have been able to travel to other places because of it, places that I never would have gone had i not spent the time in Colorado.

4. Spend time with the locals

Locals are your best travel guide. They are the ones with the best knowledge about where to stay, where to eat, where to party, the tips and tricks of getting around a city, secret locations and the best unknown adventures. They can add a totally new dimension to any trip, allowing you to explore more than ever anticipated – what the guidebooks didn’t tell you. Locals are the people who can give you a true cultural experience. It is not the easiest to just wander up to a local working in a store or a café and ask them where the best bars on a Wednesday night in the local area are, but who’s to say you can’t do this?

5. Travel solo

It’s a daunting prospect for many, but ultimately one of the most rewarding. The idea of travelling solo can mean so many different things to every person – whether catching a long-haul plane flight, spending a day or two alone in a foreign city, joining an organised tour without any of your friends, or travelling around the world by yourself.

From travelling a few of these ways myself, I am able to say that solo travel is the ultimate self-indulgence. Exploring in your own time, free to choose your own adventures and cross off your own bucket list items, pushing your own comfort zone boundaries.

Embarking on a solo travel journey does have some necessary and important considerations, particularly planning in regards to location and safety. But what is best is that you are totally self-reliant. Your mistakes and solutions are your own and there is nothing more satisfying that meeting a challenge in a foreign place or country head on, and coming out the other side with a total sense of achievement. The best part? The people you meet along the way – whether they become your companions for a meal, an adventure or a lifelong friend.

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