Set Sail on 5 Deep Travel Experiences Around the World

For many travel enthusiasts, it’s possible to trace the awakening of their passion back to a precise moment in time—to an interaction, a unique insight, a way of feeling. For example, my passion for deep travel and immersive, authentic travel experiences was stirred by a culinary encounter while on my initial solo trip to Spain. As I dug into my first potato and egg tortilla that some new friends had cooked over the campfire in the Andalusian countryside, shaded by olive trees and practicing my nascent Spanish, I thought: “This is why I’m here.”

Some journeys make you feel like you’re a million miles from home, but traveling to the ends of the earth is worth it. These rare, intimate moments take you beyond the superficial and immerse you fully into a culture or a place. While tasting the local cuisine is always high on a traveler’s list of priorities on any trip, there are plenty of other ways to feel in tune with a destination. Here are five unique travel experiences that will enable you to travel deeper into the authentic beauty of the world.

1. Dine After Dark in Venice

Venice seems improbable. Built across 118 islands, the historic “floating” city sits on a lagoon off Italy’s northern coast, with an elaborate system of canals and more than 400 bridges. When dusk descends on the city, the watercolor sky shimmers on the liquid surface as the vessels’ wakes leave crisscross patterns.

At the entrance to the Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace rise majestically from the banks. It’s quieter in the narrower alleys between houses (only navigable by smaller craft). You can almost reach out and touch the walls on either side. As the sky darkens, the canals are lit up, and the handsome marble and limestone building façades reflect off the water. Gliding through the black silk of the canals, music floats out through open windows, and a hum of convivial chatter comes from outdoor diners, voices carrying over the water.

To enjoy authentic local experiences in this world-famous city, leave the touristic area and explore with no set destination in mind. Then, head to the gilt-walled CaffeFlorian, open until midnight, and try the speciality cicchetti (small plates of appetizers which vary from bar to bar, but might include tiny sandwiches, handmade meatballs, or baked shrimp) in a friendly canalside bàcari, like Al Bottegon—an eatery that’s as traditional as they come.

Explore immersive travel experiences in Venice.
Venice by night/Lucia Griggi

2. Take a Tuk-Tuk Ride in Colombo

In Sri Lanka’s capital city of Colombo, tuk-tuks—three-wheeled scooter taxis—provide an exhilarating way to beat gridlocked traffic. If you want to experience how to travel like a local here, there’s no better way than weaving, dodging and zipping through beautiful palm tree-lined streets. The tuk-tuks, which are invariably painted in bright primary colors, emit a toy-like “beep-beep” sound and ensure you enjoy one of the more entertaining modes of transportation in the bustling capital.

If you follow the recommendations of your driver, you’ll check out Colombo’s top sights and the city’s lesser-known gems. Galle Face Green, the expansive urban park facing the Indian Ocean, is lined with coconut palms and shiny new skyscrapers, which stand in contrast to the city’s colonial architecture, like the National Museum of Colombo, built in 1877.

Colombo’s history as a busy trading port means that many people and religions coexist, represented by places of worship like the Buddhist Gangaramaya Temple, the Jami Ul-Alfar Mosque, and the Hindu Shri Ponnambalawaneswaram Kovil temple. And Pettah Market features a riot of color and sound, selling everything from textiles to electronics to gold jewelry. Though it’s definitely necessary to agree on a price beforehand, tuk-tuks offer an immersive way to explore this frenetic city.

A tuk-tuk ride is one of Colombo's truly authentic travel experiences.
The view from a tuk-tuk in Colombo, Sri Lanka/Lucia Griggi

3. Ride Camels through the Sahara

Beyond the haze and maze of Morocco’s coastal cities, the Atlas Mountains run the length of the country, and then the Sahara Desert stretches east and south for 3.5 million square miles.

The Sahara and most of northwestern Africa has long been populated by the Berber people, or Amazigh, sometimes translated as “the free people.” One way to get a taste of Berber culture is to take a camel ride. Traders and nomads have traditionally used camels because of their ability to work even in extreme temperatures and arid conditions. Their handlers are swathed from head to foot in draped fabric to shield themselves from the beating sun. On a foray to the desert, you can experience what it’s like to join a caravan laden with goods to trade, and see the gradations of color in a spectacular sunset on the horizon, as the landscape changes from beige to orange to indigo. The tranquil, ever-present Sahara is one of the best slow travel destinations on Earth.  

Fortify yourself for the journey with Morocco’s caffeinated beverage of choice: vast quantities of sweet, strong mint tea, accompanied by fekkas: cookies flavored with sesame, anise, and almonds.

The Sahara is one of the world's best places for slow travel.
Taghazout, Agadir, Morocco/Lucia Griggi

4. Visit the Church of St. Andrew on the Solovetsky Archipelago

In far northwestern Russia, a lonely group of windswept islands called the Solovetsky Archipelago stands alone in the White Sea. Home to only 861 souls, the islands are wild and rugged, just 165 miles from the Arctic Circle.

Despite their remoteness and their inhospitable climate, the islands have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for the dedicated monastic activity that has thrived there. The islands are home to a complex of churches and monuments of the Russian Orthodox Church, including the diminutive church of St. Andrew on the tiny island of Bolshoy Zayatsky.

To visit the little church on the windswept island, buffeted by frigid northern winds, is to marvel at the piety of the monks who built this place hundreds of years ago. But it’s also a place of great natural beauty and deep mystery. Beluga whales visit the archipelago in the summer, and the uninterrupted sea views give a sense of being on the frontier of the world. Bolshoy Zayatsky is also home to millennia-old stone labyrinths, their exact purpose unknown. It seems the monks had plenty to ponder.

The Russian Far East offers many unique travel experiences.
Zayatsky Island, Russian Far East/Denis Elterman

5. Watch a Fire Dance in Papua New Guinea

A roaring bonfire lights up the pitch black night, as a steady drumbeat accompanies the spirited chanting and singing coming from the shadowy figures circling the fire. A strange creature emerges, its body plumed and rustling, its face bone-white with staring eyes and a protruding beak. The costumed dancer hops and shakes to the beat, the patterns around his dinner plate-sized eyes sometimes visible in the orange glow.

The Baining people are indigenous to the Gazelle Peninsula on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea, where they live in the mountains. It’s one of the most unique travel destinations in the world, and certainly ranks high for off-the-beaten-path travel ideas. The fire dance is a sacred celebratory ritual that takes place for significant occasions, such as the harvest or a birth. Boys make the masks from bark cloth, the plumage is fashioned from leaves and flowers.

The dance is performed by the tribe’s men. They jump and skip through the fire, sparks spraying outward in a dazzling shower. The beat intensifies, and the dancers with their birdlike faces leap through the flames, illuminated and fluttering like phoenixes—a poignant metaphor for the depths you’ve traveled to savor this very moment.

Discover why Papua New Guinea is one of the world's most unique travel destinations.
Rabaul, Papua New Guinea/Denis Elterman

Traveling for cultural experience is a different way to explore the world. Whether through its cuisine, customs or traditions, there are myriad ways to enjoy each destination you visit.