By Patrick Riley

This past year I became obsessed with #vanlife. I spent hours watching YouTube videos of people driving around the country, living in their van and experiencing the freedom that didn’t seem accessible to me here in my bubble. I’m excited to say that two weeks from now, I’m renting a converted sprinter van, loading up the dog, getting in the van with my husband, and heading out on the open road for an adventure. As I’ve been planning our trip, I’ve noticed a lot of the questions I’ve been asking about how we plan our trip are like the questions we ask around the experience for an event. What is the value exchange for travel and/or an event? And what’s your travel/event style? What do I want from the experience?

Following are three ideas on how travel can inform how we plan for an event experience:

I want the trip to be smooth.
This is probably the number one concern we have about travel. How painful are the logistics and administration? I don’t want to wait an hour to pick up my van. When I show up at the campsite, I want there to be a space for me like my reservation promised. I don’t want an itinerary that’s overly structured, but I want enough to be planned that I’m not just winging it. Event participants have these same concerns about parking, the right size t-shirt, how they are listening to a stage program vs. doing the activity. This part of the trip/event should be invisible but get it wrong and people will remember the eight hours they were stuck at DFW instead of eating a great meal in their favorite city.

I want to meet and interact with people.
The best trips are when you make unexpected friends with the couple eating an ice cream next to you in the small-town square. Or the grey-haired lady with a twinkle in her eye at the gas station that told you about the secret fishing hole. Create opportunities for your participants to meet each other and to meet with you so you can deepen your relationships. Many of us will be hitting the road and coming to events this summer/fall seeking out that human connection. Plan for it.

I want to be exposed to new sites, smells, sounds, tastes, and feelings in a way that opens my mind and changes me to be made better by having the experience. It’s about transformation.
This is the hardest experience to create for yourself or someone else because it’s so organic and subjective. But often people are touched by having an experience where they feel a part of something bigger than themselves. In travel a view of Big Sur can make you feel a part of the big natural world. For events that benefit a non-profit with a mission, a story about the impact of participation can help in this regard. As we plan our travel and events, we need to think about all of the immersive elements to help elicit our five senses.

After a year without travel and events, we’re all craving the freedom and connection that comes with new experiences. I predict a boom in both over the next few years as we’ll no longer be taking them for granted. As you prepare for your events this summer and fall, think about how travel can help inform you about the experiences your participants have been longing to experience this past year. I’ll certainly be able to tell you three weeks from now if living in a van for a week will change the way I plan events in the future.

Patrick Riley, Vice President, Account Director at Event 360, has more than 18 years of event experience, with a focus on developing great client relationships. He is practiced in all aspects of event operations – from marketing and advertising to planning and event execution. Patrick uses project management best practices to create amazing event experiences for participants, volunteers and our client partners.

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