Travel with a difference

Gain new friends and new skills with one of these alternative holiday experiences

When Airbnb first launched in 2008 the idea of sleeping in a stranger’s home while on vacation sounded a bit crazy to many, except perhaps the younger millennials. Yet not even ten years later and the whole idea of where and how to spend the night when travelling has completely shifted.

Now that concept is taking root in the very way people travel and what tourism actually entails, with more people looking to experience something special when travelling. These days, taking a selfie in front of the Louvre or the Taj Mahal and bringing back a local souvenir doesn’t seem to be enough. Yes, you were there, but were you really there? It’s less about just seeing the sights and more about engaging with the locals and trying something different.

Not surprisingly, Airbnb was among the first to sense this shifting interest and in 2014 they quietly launched their “Experiences,” in which locals with certain talents, interests or a sense of entrepreneurship, offer unique opportunities for tourists to experience a different side of their city or country for a small fee. “Experiences” have since grown exponentially across the tourism industry.

In a recent search with Airbnb you could create music from the city sounds of Tokyo with one young Japanese guide or surf Bondi’s famous waves and then eat and drink like a local Aussie. Other companies gear towards niche markets like Home Food which offers the chance to dine in the homes of real Italian ‘nonnas’ (grandmothers), and Nightlife Friend which pairs you up with like-minded clubbing friends to experience the best clubs with a local.

If you want luxury as part of the experience, companies like Pure Entertainment offer bespoke services that will match up your interests for a customized and very high-end experience.

In Mallorca, this new way of travel has already started to take root. You can still have your day at the beach and glass of cava at sunset, but you can also learn about textile dyeing and try your luck at ceramics, or engage with local farmers and pivck your own vegetables for dinner, or even visit remote archeological sites with a qualified historian from the island. A new website, (vacation with an artist), offers two creative experiences on the island.

Anastasia, a ceramic artist originally from Russia, has been in Mallorca since 2004. She offers studio sessions for up to a week in which you can get to know different types of clay, learn about hand building and throwing on a wheel, glazing and firing techniques, decoration and more. All materials are included in the fee.

Melissa Rosenbauer and Thomas Bossert are the creative team behind the beautiful hand-painted textile company called Espanyolet, named after their neighbourhood in Palma. Some of their offerings include learning about different vintage textiles, dye mixing, fabric preparing, painting, and visits to local sites that inspire their collection and color palette.

Combine creativity with personal empowerment with Swiss born stone sculptor and life coach, Silvia Felix. She offers Poetic Sculpture workshops and retreats on the island that include morning yoga sessions, soap stone sculpting, vegetarian lunches, poetry writing, coaching sessions, and of course pure relaxation.

For those travellers looking to get their hands in the dirt and learn about farming techniques on the island, Pedruxella Gran, a vast and beautiful working estate above the March Valley in the Tramuntana mountains lets you be a “voluntourist” during the off-peak season. Visitors can come and work on the farm for 3 hours a day for 5 days and then take the rest of the day off to enjoy the property and surrounding areas. And on Vayable you can connect with Albert, a local historian and tour guide who offers unique visits to remote archeological sites, transport included.

It’s travel 2.0 for the 21st century. Not only have you been in a new place, but you have made new friends and perhaps learned a new skill. These are the lasting experiences and encounters that you will remember.