There are a few terms and debates among frequent travelers that will usually make my eyes roll pretty quickly. One of them is the whole traveler vs. tourist debate, and another is stating whether or not someone has done “authentic travel.”
authentic (adj): of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine.
Usually when this is used it’s by someone who is complaining that a place is not “authentic.” For example, many experienced travelers don’t consider Cancun to be “authentic Mexico.” Are there areas of Cancun that resemble more of America than other areas of Mexico? Sure! Especially if go to la zona where all the fancy hotels and chain restaurants are located.
To me that area does not represent the typical Mexican culture, food, etc., but I wouldn’t call it inauthentic. Over touristy? Dios mio, yes!
I think people confuse inauthentic with touristy. They’re different things. I’ve read many times about how Prague is too touristy; however, those people stayed near the ground zero of tourist spots. That’s kind of like complaining that there are too many tourists in the airport.
Even in some of the most touristed areas, we’ve had no problem finding the more local areas. Sometimes you only have to walk as little as 5 minutes outside the tourist area to get more local.
I’m often surprised when people who chose to go to popular tourist areas (Paris, Bangkok, etc.) complain about how touristy an area is. Umm, why did you pick it as a place to visit? I mean there’s more to Thailand than Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai. Would you complain about how many children are at Disneyland? What did you expect?
Some other travelers have indicated that someone hasn’t traveled authentically if they went to a location on a cruise ship and never left the tourist zone (or just did the normal tourist trips on shore), or if they spent their whole time at the resort.
To me that’s more of a difference of saying you visited vs. experienced a place.
We spent 15 hours in Sri Lanka. We went into town, we ate local food, we did a lot of walking, and we interacted with people. But I wouldn’t say that I’ve really experienced Sri Lanka. That was a visit. Was it authentic? Well, since it wasn’t an amusement park pretending to be Sri Lanka, yeah I’m going to say it was. Does it make me an expert on the country? Um, no. I won’t even say I’m knowledgeable about it. I’ve had a taste and that’s about it.
The fact of the matter is everyone has a different travel style. Some are like us and spend weeks to months in an area while others travel as much as they can with their meager 2 weeks of paid vacation time a year. Some people go to exotic places and never leave the resort because they’re trying to recover from all the stress of their normal life. Or they just aren’t as adventurous when it comes to comfort level, sanitation, exploration, and/or trying new foods.
Personally, I’m just glad that they’re traveling and getting out of their comfort zone, even if it’s just a baby step. You don’t have to travel to places where it’s rare for a white person to ever be seen, where electricity is in existence only for an hour or 2 a day (if then), and dine on roasted tarantulas to be an authentic traveler.
Just, please, get out there and explore. Even if it’s an area of your home city you’ve never been. Try foods you haven’t had before (feel free to make that a bit tame still). Leave the tourist zone/resort and explore just a bit. Find a place that you haven’t read 1000 articles about and visit there.
There are all kinds of travel styles. Anyone who acts like one form is better than another is just a snob.
What term like authentic travel makes you want to slap someone?