Vacations that let you dive into your destination on a deeper level are exhilarating, rejuvenating, and even life-changing. Make your next trip transformative.

By Mirel Ketchiff
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Photo: Tamara Malesevic/EyeEm/Getty Images

The best vacations are about more than just visiting a place. They let you become absorbed in the destination's culture, people, and history. Think of it as the difference between peering through the window of a Jeep on safari and actually setting up camp in the bush with a naturalist.

Called experiential travel, it is "the number-one trend in vacations," says Daniel Levine, a travel trends expert and the founder of the Avant-Guide Institute. "People have done the sightseeing tours, and now they're looking to take things to a more intimate level." Experiential trips are also fueled by our growing desire for authenticity. One study found that 74 percent of people would rather spend money on experiences than things-a mindset that spills over into our travel, encouraging us to find ways to interact with locals and their way of life. (Check out these wellness retreats for the culturally adventurous traveler.)

"We all want to come home with a sense of transformation after a getaway," says Judith Fein, the author of Life Is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel. "We want to feel different in a meaningful way." The benefits can be substantial. Studies have linked travel that introduces us to a variety of cultures to an increase in creativity. Immersion is the key: Engaging with the environment improves your cognitive exibility-a prime component of creativity-and contact with people from diverse backgrounds can strengthen your self-esteem. "Spending time with those who are different from you makes you question your own beliefs and ways of doing things. As a result, you become more self-aware, and you feel more confident," says Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor at the Brain & Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. (Here's how to plan your own outdoor adventure road trip.)

Ready for an experiential trip of your own? Booking one has never been easier. Hotels, outfitters, and travel companies offer packages that submerge you into exciting destinations worldwide. These five amazing trips are a great place to start.

Tourissimo: Bike and Eat Through Italy

This company offers signature and bespoke bike and hike tours throughout Italy. On Tourissimo's seven-day Chef Bike Tour in Piedmont this October, for instance, you'll get tips from chefs on wine pairings, go truffle hunting, and attend a lecture at Slow Food's University of Gastronomic Sciences (where the Slow Food movement was born)-between bike rides through rolling hills, medieval villages, and breathtaking vineyards. (From $5,995 per person; tourissimo.travel)

Urban Adventures: Get In with a Local

This tour company hooks you up with a local guide to take you to off-the-beaten-path places. For a really outstanding eating experience, look up its Home Cooked tours (offered worldwide), which welcome you into the home of a local family. In St. Petersburg, for instance, you'll start the tour at a food market to pick up some of the city's specialties, then visit a resident's home to enjoy an authentic meal, drink Russian vodka, and learn about native traditions. (From $40 per person for 21⁄2- to 5-hour tours; urbanadventures.com)

Fluenz: Learn the Language

With this intensive immersion program, set in a stunning mansion in Mexico City, you'll learn to speak Spanish in six days. During the day, you'll work with Fluenz's elite coaches (with breaks to sample incredible food and do restorative yoga). By night, you'll test your skills in the city's best restaurants and on exclusive art tours. (From $5,220 per person; fluenz.com)

Enlighten Photography Excursions: Get Amazing Instas

Experience new places through the camera lens. On the half-day photography tour of Zion National Park, your guide will take you to prime spots to capture sunrise or sunset and give you techniques for taking pro photos. (Related: Stunning Pictures of the Most Instagram-Worthy Places On Earth) Night, slot canyon, and aerial tours are also available. (From $219; zion-photography.com)

ROW Sea Kayak Adventures: Paddle from Place to Place

On the six-day Blackfish Waters Orca Kayak Tour in British Columbia, you'll be eye level with passing orcas and other wildlife, including seals and bald eagles. The experienced guides will also teach you about the area. (From $1,545 per person; seakayakadventures.com)

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