Experiential travel trend emerges from the pandemic

Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 8:19 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As the summer of 2021 starts slipping away and restrictions are easing -- Wisconsinites are once again catching the travel bug.

Relaxing beaches, fancy hotels, all-inclusive resorts. These are some of the typical vacation options. But when covid-19 disrupted normalcy, it also changed the way many people travel, with some choosing experiences over amenities.

“You can climb these big rocks and you hike to the end and there’s a nice waterfall, and then you walk back and then you still have time to go see Devil’s Lake,” Travel Writer Brittany Varano said.

From hiking Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin to climbing the great smoky mountains in Tennessee, Madison native Brittney Varano’s love for travel started at a young age.

“We would take frequent road trips, that sort of sparked my love for travel,” Varano said.

She loves exploring new places so much; she has made a career out of it for the last 7 years. Varano is a freelance travel writer and runs the blog “Life of Brit.”

The pandemic shut down international travel in 2020, forcing this professional traveler to explore her home state with fresh worldly eyes and new knowledge of the growing trend of experiential travel.

The goal of experiential travel is to fully immerse yourself in a location. Eating where the locals eat, staying at an Airbnb or in a tent in the woods instead of a hotel. It’s about doing, rather than relaxing.

“When you get to know a place deeper you know through the culinary aspect through the nature through actually kind of roughing it and to me that’s sort of been a little bit more fun than maybe just laying on a beach,” Varano said.

The Acting Secretary for the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Anne Sayers said the state saw a 20 percent drop in visitors in 2020 compared to 2019. Sayers said she saw a renewed interest in road trips with people taking advantage of the opportunities to experience the state from the comfort of their own cars.

“It’s as much about the drive as it is the things, you’ll do along the way you’re going to want to stop and stretch your legs. Take a hike and stop for some of our awesome craft food and drink take in some cultural arts and historical experiences so really a lot to offer for travelers looking to arrive by a car,” Sayers said.

Giving travelers more options on places to spend the night besides a hotel.

“It’s going to be a long road for hotels to be where they were pre pandemic,” Destination Madison Director of PR and Communications Rob Gard said.

To bring in more travelers looking to immerse themselves into the culture of the city, Destination Marketing Organization, Destination Madison has switched up their marketing strategy from events to experiences.

“You can visit a family run dairy farm and learn about how that operates, and then at the end, sample the ice cream, much different than just sampling the ice cream you pick up in a store,” Gard said.

Not only is the pandemic pushing people to try new things, seeing the experiences on social media is just as powerful. That’s where Brittney Varano thrives.

“As it just becomes more and more part of our daily lives and the way that we connect I think it’s definitely inspiring and connecting people. It’s also highlighting maybe more lesser-known places that maybe you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It’s just making everything more accessible,” Varano said.

Now that international travel has opened back up, Varano is back to traveling overseas but she says she cherished the time spent immersing herself in her home state of Wisconsin and hopes others hop on the experiential travel trend as well.

“Wisconsin has such great nature that you don’t always realize it there or maybe if you live nearby, you think oh, I’ll get there one day but it’s great to just make the time and do it now,” Varano said.

Here is a list of experiential travel options from the Department of Tourism:

For *the* Summer Wine-And-Cheese Experience, Head to Green County

Wisconsin’s Pizza Farms: Not Your Typical Take-Out

From Gangsters to Goats: 5 Themed Wisconsin Restaurants

3 Wisconsin Road Trip Routes That are National Treasures

5 Top Spots for Wisconsin Waterfalls

Photo Ops and Quirky Stops: 13 Must-See Wisconsin Roadside Attractions

Wisconsin’s Instagram-Worthy Murals

Vacation to 1,000 Lakes: Paddle, Swim and Fish in Washburn County

5 Ocean-Like Beaches on Wisconsin’s Great Lakes

Farm Fresh: Experience Agritourism in Wisconsin

The list continues with options from Destination Madison:

Betty Lou Cruise: https://www.visitmadison.com/listings/a-betty-lou-view-of-madison/183513/

Vom Fass Dinner: https://www.visitmadison.com/listings/a-delectable-dinner/185005/

Fromagination Adventures in Artisanal Cheese: https://www.visitmadison.com/listings/adventures-in-artisanal-cheese/184702/

J. Henry & Sons: https://www.visitmadison.com/listings/j-henry-%26-sons-bourbon-farm-tour/183544/

Sassy Cow: https://www.visitmadison.com/listings/meet-the-sassy-cows/183382/

Madison Boats: https://www.visitmadison.com/listings/paddle-on-lake-monona/183530/

Wisconsin Union Paddle: https://www.visitmadison.com/listings/paddle-to-the-point/183514/

Garver Feed Mill: https://garverfeedmill.com/experience/

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