When it comes to happiness, social scientists say it’s not glossy, tangible objects that give us lasting joy — it’s experiences, be it wine tasting in Tuscany or snowshoeing in Vermont. A new crop of travel websites is making it easier to book those kinds of experiences — and even give them to someone else. After all, nothing says “I love you” like a gift certificate to swim with sharks.
Want to attend a bread-making workshop in San Francisco? Or spend five days at the Napa Valley Wine Festival, interspersed with wine-tastings and tours? Whatever your pleasure, these slick sites allow you to create bespoke vacations by clicking on destination and activity boxes that call to mind the virtual storefronts of sites like Gilt and Rue La La.
Some experiences are the centerpiece of travel packages that include hotel rooms, meals and airport transfers (usually not flights). Other experiences are sold separately. Most activities have some sort of exclusive element or are limited to small groups.
The sites, while prettier than their predecessors, are still in their infancy so the inventory is not as vast as that of an established trip-planning site like Viator.com. And some experiences, like visiting the New England Aquarium, can be arranged on your own (although you might miss out on perks like skipping to the head of the line). That said, most of the trips on the sites appear to be priced fairly and are ideal for travelers who want to anchor their vacation with activities. Even if you don’t use the websites to book a trip, you can browse them like magazines to help you decide where to go and what to do when you’re there. Below is a guide to the newcomers.
Best for: Fans of luxury vacation packages. Sports buffs.
What you’ll find: Goviva.com bills itself as a “marketplace of once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” all of which are handpicked by its staff. Visitors to the site can browse a few dozen packages — many of which include accommodations and other perks like breakfast and a gift bag — in eight categories: sporting events, active lifestyle, arts and fashion, celebrity, entertainment, film, food and wine, and music. (Some trips appear in multiple categories; for instance, a trip to Arizona to work with the Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug appears in both the “active lifestyle” and “celebrity” headings.)
When users hover their mouse over a trip box, they see the starting price and some basic details. Clicking on the box brings up more information and prices, which are based on whether you buy a single (the most expensive rate per person), double, triple or quad room (the least expensive rate per person). The prices include taxes and gratuities.
On the home page I clicked on the “food and wine” tab and spotted “Cooking Up Trouble With ‘Top Chef’ Tre Wilcox.” The trip beginning May 17 includes a cooking demonstration by Wilcox (from Bravo’s Top Chef), two nights at the Magnolia Hotel Dallas, a four-course dinner in a private dining area at Village Marquee Grill, and airport and event transfers, starting at $775 a person (no longer available).
Under the “active lifestyle” tab, a trip to Oahu, Hawaii, included four days of surfing with Jamie Sterling, a professional surfer; four nights in Kuilima Estates West, adjacent to Turtle Bay Resort; a rental van; and a traditional Hawaiian dinner, starting at $2,305 a person.