Are you doing authentic travel?

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!

authentic travel

Do you think they care if this is authentic Mexico?


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.

authentic travel

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.

authentic travel

Fresh brains anyone?


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?

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  1. Well said, and funny too – in the right spots. I have travelled with my parents and sister and our families – and we all have completely different experiences. Not better or worse, just different and we all are happy in the end.

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  2. Well said! There are too many snobs out there who think only their way is the right way to travel. I absolutely agree with you that everyone has their own styles, and none is wrong as long as you’re not offending someone or breaking any rules. A few other terms that annoy me include ‘doing a place’ (c’mon – travel isn’t laundry, you don’t do it! Haha), ticking off the list (sounds a bit technical like that’s the only reason you’re traveling) and somehow the overused ‘off the beaten path’. 😀

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    • Yeah that “doing” comment is almost like nails on a chalkboard. That ticking off the list thing is part of why I don’t like bucket lists either. I’ve seen too many people breeze through a place just so they could mark it off their list. I’d rather have a lower count of places visited and spend more quality time in a place, personally.

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  3. The judgementalness of people seems to be worse lately when it comes to the old tourist vs traveller debate. Everyone is different and wants different things out of their travel. I just do what interests me whether that is to visit somewhere touristy or to go backcountry camping with no other people – both are fun

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    • Exactly! It’s such an individual thing. The only wrong way is if you’re doing someone else’s version instead of your own.

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  4. To me every one of my travels is authentic – to me! They are authentic in the way I visit/experience the places, and regardless if it is staying in a resort just de-compressing or sightseeing for 14 hours in a day, that’s what makes it authentic!

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  5. Amen, Talon! I occasionally kinda like touristy places, because they’re usually touristy for a good reason, but I absolutely wouldn’t plan my whole trip around visiting only places that are super famous, and I’m often turned off by “must-sees” (even though we spent 3 months in Peru, we didn’t visit Machu Picchu). Yes, I’m a walking contradiction.

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    • Yeah, they’re usually touristy for a reason, but definitely wouldn’t want to spend massive amounts of time in tourist central. Three months in Peru, and you didn’t visit MP?! Wow! Although, to be honest, you didn’t miss much. It’s cool, but it wasn’t a place I’d go out of my way visit really.

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  6. This post is so true. I read it last night and woke my husband up to read it to him. Loved the last line especially.

    We’re on a RTW trip with our 11 year old twins. We’re in the sixth month of nine months. I wish we could travel like this all the time but I know we can’t. In the past we have enjoyed a couple of great cruises and I know that we will go on cruises again. I’ve never been to a resort before but, who knows, never say never.

    As travellers, we need to build a more inclusive community, not an exclusive one.

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    • I absolutely agree, and it’s so wonderful to meet another traveling family! Maybe you’ll get to extend your time out. 😉

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  7. I just wrote a piece (on my yet to be released website) about how to find authentic Spain in Benidorm, and in fact my site has the word “authentic” in it…..I tossed and turned as to whether to use it, but I struggled to find an alternative to describe what I’m trying to promote. I’ve tried to convey the message that if it’s in that country it’s authentic, but it doesn’t mean it’s typical-so hard trying to get the right balance without sounding snobby. 🙂

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    • And “typical” doesn’t have quite the sound to it as “authentic.” Yeah, tough one. I’m glad you’ll be explaining that to people, though. Too many people don’t get that just because a place has adapted to tourism doesn’t necessarily mean it’s inauthentic.

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  8. I think the whole ‘debate’ is open to a certain snobbishness about travelling. As you correctly stated: everyone has different reasons for taking the type of holidays/travels that they do – it doesn’t make them right or wrong.

    Great article – thanks.

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  9. Well, I already traveled in many countries and I saw many nice places, but if I returned in the same place three times because I felt very well there it means that I’m not an authentic traveler?

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      • I always find it amusing when someone complains about a destination being too touristy. Guess what, I’m a tourist. But, I also have the ability to visit the tourist spot and then move on. We happen to be in Prague and are there “tourist” spots? Oh yeah. But just walk 10 minutes in any direction and you’re away from the crowds. And I’m pretty sure that’s the case in most major travel destinations. There is no one right way to travel, what works for me may not work for someone else. Who cares?! Just own it and enjoy it. I think that’s what you just said. 😉

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