How to Have a More Authentic Travel Experience


How to have a more authentic travel experience? My quest for authenticity in my travels came from two direct influences: Anthony Bourdain and growing up in Orlando, Florida. Fans of the former know how he always sought the most genuine experience of a place and was nearly revolted by anything with a whiff of tourism in it. The latter, basically my home town; a place famous for faux castles and plastic rocks. We always joked that even the local squirrels were mechanical. I often likened living in Orlando to living in Las Vegas. “Yes, we have real people living here. Like school children and old people” to those who were often mystified by the false notion that I didn’t spend my days at the “most magical place on Earth”. So it might be easy to see where my insatiable thirst for a bona fide experience came from. I wanted something real. Something, well…authentic.

What is authentic travel?

First things first, you don’t have to throw out the touristy things, I’m here for them too! I’m just saying there’s another way to do it. I definitely climbed the Eiffel Tower in Paris and went to top of the Empire State Building in New York but I also scoured the city for the perfect, local croissant or bagel in that same breath. We’re not talking about rebuilding the way you travel, we’re just retooling a few approaches so that you can get more out of your trip! My best advice here is to find a local who looks like you, meaning someone who’s around your age/vibe, and ask them for a recommendation. I’m not going to ask a twenty something or an old couple where to get the perfect cup of coffee or where the best dive bars are, they probably aren’t going to recommend something that I’m into. Trust me on this one. Your intuition won’t let you down. When all else fails, ask a few people for ideas. I love to ask shop and café owners because they are usually the most ‘in the know’ about local happenings and other small businesses in the area worth checking out.

Why should you do it?

Why not? What do you have to lose? They say that “Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.” Well here it is. Eat something new and strange. You might like it! You might hate it but now you have a cool story. Go try a new adventure recommended by that local! You might just get some amazing pictures! Or a cool souvenir to bring home. You literally have nothing to lose by trying something new. Actually, you have quite a lot to gain.

How to do it?

Beyond asking locals, I also do my research beforehand. I scour places like Pinterest, Reddit, and Google, then drop pins on a Google Map, making short notes of what to order or do in the locations I’ve marked. This also comes in handy if you’re in a new neighborhood and looking for a place to eat or something to do and want to see what’s in the area. I even do this to set locations where I want to shoot photos for my Instagram, which is also something you can look into ahead of time.

Google is also your best friend when it comes to going to popular tourist locations. Simply search the location on Google and look at the popular times feature. You will see which times are best to come when the crowds are the least. It’s usually best to show up right at opening or just before closing for the smallest crowds and best lighting for photos, however, always defer to Google for the most accurate information first.

When in doubt, get lost, on purpose!

There’s just something fun about getting dropped off in a new neighborhood and exploring for the day without an itinerary. You don’t have to have every moment of the trip planned out to the last detail. Ask a local for a good neighborhood to explore, grab a ride there and get to stepping. You’ll be amazed how far you can get in a day just asking for recommendations along the way and seeing what you stumble into. Make sure to bookmark your new favorite places on your Google Maps for return trips. Nothing like feeling like a local next time you visit when you have true local gems to return to time and time again that you found on your own.

There you have it! Traveling authentically, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to gain appreciation for the places you visit and get to it’s heart. Once I started traveling with more intention, I felt like I needed to go back and redo every trip I ever had (and for lots of them I HAVE!). Nothing makes people more envious and makes you sound more worldly than when you can spout off all the best local bars in city you’ve traveled to. Plus it gives you some street cred. I’ve taken the time to get to know a place. Intimately. And that’s something that locals near and far can appreciate.



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