What is Authentic Traveling? (3/3)

What is Authentic Traveling. It is important to see the extraordinary in the mundane.
It is important to see the extraordinary in the mundane.

In Part 1 and Part 2 of the series, we talked about why pursuing authenticity in traveling is such a perplexing task. To understand what authenticity is, we look at five ways travellers misunderstand the concept. So far, we have seen that authenticity does not come automatically from imitating the locals, doing exotic things, or pursuing a particular historic relic.

In this post, we will continue the list and start at myth #5 and look at how we can find authenticity in our journeys.


Myth #5: Equating Authenticity to Adventurism or Certain Personal Transformation

It is human nature to feel excitement from novelty and unpredictability. These two elements form the basis of adventures that we find so alluring and fascinating.

While what is culturally insightful is often novel and unpredictable, that does not imply the reverse will always be true. And so planning our travel activities on things that excites us may not necessarily always be consistent to our desire for insight.

Also, insights are not always novel and unpredictable. While learning about a foreign culture can be rewarding, it does not always present itself in an adventurous manner. It does not always overload our senses or give us a rush of excitement.

And so when our travel fails to deliver that dopamine hit we crave for, we need to be careful not to allow boredom to cloud our judgement. There are much to learn from the mundane.

Similarly, like excitement, personal transformation usually accompanies an insightful discovery.

An unanticipated encounter with a local ingredient in Yunnan forever changes the way food is perceived. A violent storm in Siem Reap bonds together travellers and locals under the emergency candle lights. Those are insights that enrich and transform our perspectives.

However, when a travel experience fails to transform, it does not mean it is not authentic. Perhaps it simply doesn’t resonate with our taste. Or perhaps it needs more time before transformation can have its effect on us.

Whatever the reason may be, to measure authenticity on how much it transforms us will cause needless disappointment. We may even forget to appreciate the things that we come across in our journeys because we focus too much on attaining that goal.


How to Experience Authenticity

As we can now see, chasing authenticity is a murky business. There are so many different elements at play, it constantly creates bias and clouds the value of our travel discoveries. In a way, the five myths listed above are really just about one single point: authenticity is in the eyes of the beholder and is dependent on one’s intent and perception.

To define authentic travel as traveling that stays true to one’s intent may seem to evade answering the question head-on. After all, it is obvious we all want to gain the most cultural insight. What people often do not realize is that this only one of the many travel possibilities and that this specific type of travel intent requires extensive commitment.

It requires a considerable period of research, building relationships, and immersing in a foreign environment. It simply can’t be purchased in a two-week vacation.

Rather than blindly follow a certain method or chasing after that all-encompassing “authentic travel”, the more important question to ask is: what do I really want? Do we want an exclusive shopping experience? Discover a place stuck in the eighteenth-century? Or simply a place we can lie down and relax? Figuring out what our hearts truly desire is the first step in knowing what to pursue.

Saying we want authenticity is not enough — anything can be authentic if what we come across is truthful to our intent. Ultimately, the quality of our intent, if it is qualifiable, depends on our ability to analyze, to think, to feel, and to see the extraordinary in the mundane.

We have to be responsible for defining our own authentic journey and not having it handed to us on a silver platter. What is authentic is only limited by our knowledge and imagination.

Back to Part 1 | Part 2

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