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Authenticity in Travel

It’s authenticity that we have always been in search of:  The search for ‘cool’, the declaration of ‘pretentiousness’ and the smirking at hipsters are all about our definition and acceptance of authenticity. 

In the fast moving pace of urban western society this is a subjective minefield and the very search for authenticity, by definition, becomes the very opposite.  But authenticity isn’t a modern trait and neither is it confined to the realms of western society.  When we travel, I have noticed, we are continually searching for the ‘real’ country, authenticity it seems, consumes us even abroad.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a real (authentic?) traveller.  Is it in search for people, societies or cultures that have yet to be assimilated into the fold of the mono-cultural, homogeneous society that we are converging into?  A lot of people I met would agree with this, they would argue that that is to experience the ‘real’ country; an ‘authentic experience’.  To be honest with myself, this was something that attracted me to travel too.  The farther away these societies are from our own, the greater these differences, means the greater our awe, the more we’re entertained and quite possibly, more we learn.  But is the search for this authentic?  I might’ve been in agreement with this question in the past, but now I would disagree.  To be a real traveller is to see what is there, without any preconceived notions or ideas of what to find.  As soon as we are in search for something we are no longer open to other experiences, to other ideas, we have already narrowed our mind and by that we are no longer seeing the ‘real’ country, blind to the reality that is before our eyes – whatever it may be.  That is how I define the difference between travelling and tourism, it’s a mindset, and is brilliantly phrased by G. K. Chesterton with his quote ‘The traveller sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.’

This is not to put down tourism or to revere travel.  Sometimes when on a trip I grow tired of ‘travelling’ and I become a tourist for a few days/weeks, deciding what I’m seeing beforehand.  In doing so I might learn more intellectually, satisfy a curiosity and quite frankly have a far more enjoyable time, but none of these lessons cuts as deep as that of an experiential learning that comes from experiencing the world from a traveller’s perspective.  During my trips I am both a traveller and a tourist, the former being the real work which is often tiring and the latter being, in a way, a type of rest and relaxation.

Authenticity in travel is not thus defining oneself as a traveller as opposed to a tourist, but is, in fact, just the same as authenticity in every aspect of life – It is to be true to oneself.


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