If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home. ~Marcel Proust
People often write to us asking for our tips on creating an authentic experience for an upcoming trip they are planning. Over the course of these conversations, some myths have arisen repeatedly.
Myth #1 – Authentic travel packages will make the most of my time
We meet many Americans traveling through Europe that are on various “authentic culinary, art, or language tours.” They disembark the tour bus with 50 other Americans to enter a monastery for a bread baking lesson. As they weave through the parking lot of tour busses, the authenticity seems to fade.
The best language lessons are often accomplished by renting an apartment and shopping in local markets versus staying in a hotel. When we want a resort experience, instead of sorting for English comments first on Trip Advisor, we sort by the native language of the country we are visiting.
We spent a week at an incredible resort recently called Loano Village on the Italian Riviera. One thing we have learned living in Italy is that the Italian people won’t spend money on bad food, wine, or coffee and they have high standards for weekends away. When we researched this hotel, we looked at the Italian reviews which were really good. Many of the English speaking reviews said things such as: “The entertainment was all in Italian so my kids couldn’t follow along. The food was mostly Italian, not a lot of variety.” PERFECT! We have found our place. The food is authentic Ligurian cuisine and they are catering to Italians on holiday.
We have learned that although many people try, you can’t package authenticity but it is more accessible and easier to achieve than it appears during trip planning.
Myth #2 – You have to get off the beaten path to have an authentic travel experience
In the past 18 months, we have lived on and off the beaten path and everywhere in between. We talk to many people who feel very strongly about getting out of the more popular tourist areas in order to really connect with culture. That has not been necessary for our experience.
The beauty of desiring an authentic experience is that you can engage and disengage whenever you wish. When you get too far off the beaten path it can be isolating at times and a bit harder to connect with the culture in meaningful ways. When we have lived in really rural areas, it sometimes takes months to break through the skepticism and questions people have for why we are there. Remote interactions can be life-changing and rewarding but many people don’t have that kind of vacation time.
Conversely, when we stayed in an apartment in Barcelona and shopped at the local market, we understood the rhythm of the city and the structure of the workday. Our kids were casually invited into local children’s games in the park and we would begin to attempt to communicate with the parents in Spanish.
When the “authentic” interaction was tiring, we could tune out and sit together. At times it is nice to not understand the conversations buzzing around us, the celebrations, or the complaints. It is much easier to just BE together.
Sometimes getting too far off the beaten path limits opportunities to engage.
Myth #3 – Authentic travel is what everyone wants
We caution that although many speak of wanting “authentic” travel experiences, it is important to know if it is truly what you choose for your vacation. We have been traveling for almost two years continuously and there are times when we have dreams of a Starbuck’s around the next corner or a milkshake with a gourmet burger and fries!
There are days when we are tired of thinking about military time, currency conversions, metric system conversions, and everything in between. When we travel to places that locals visit in their own country for holidays, there are many surprises that we would not have been ready for two years ago. For example:
- Often the songs blaring in English have swear words that go far beyond what we want for our six-year-old to hear.
- The entertainment has been consistently full of jokes and innuendoes that we would never have exposed our children too in the USA.
- The dining schedule is set for the local culture not for Americans visiting. Dinner was not possible before 7:30 at Loano Village which forced us into afternoon siestas and aperitifs that would have been so foreign to us in the USA.
- We get many things wrong when we dive into these experiences. For example, in many French swimming pools, speedos and swim caps are required, and swim trunks are against the rules (although nudity is totally acceptable).
Authentic travel is not for everyone all the time and it is nice to balance what your needs are for your trip before you craft your itinerary.
We have found the key to authentic travel is to show up as who we truly are wherever we land. Travel is actually a great time to experiment with being all of who you really are without any of the fears, constraints, or responsibilities you may feel at home. If you step fully into yourself and what brings you joy, you won’t have to work at creating authentic interactions because they will flood your experience with ease. Perhaps this is the way to show up every day, and not just on vacation. Authentic travel, like everything else, is a journey that starts from within.