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Authentic – ‘made or done in the traditional or original way’.
Authenticity is one of the most widely discussed topics in travel. What is authentic travel? Who chooses what is authentic in each place? Does authenticity change as a society changes? This is a topic which could easily fill an entire thesis so I won’t get into it now. Instead, I will discuss what makes travel feel authentic to me.
Authentic travel to me is the idea of experiencing what the locals experience. What it really feels like to live somewhere else. As well as the better-known areas and landmarks (of course I’m going to visit these too!) I always like discover something or somewhere less known – and less crowded with large tour groups.
So here are 5 tips on how to have an authentic travel experience (in my opinion)…
1. Reach out to People Before you go
Maybe you have a friend of a friend of a friend who’s from the country you’re planning on visiting. Reach out to them ahead of time and see what they’d recommend doing or seeing. This means you’ll be able to start planning with a local’s perspective in mind.
I reached out to an old university friend before visiting Copenhagen last year and that’s how I found out about the student club KB3. This turned out to be one of the best nights of the trip and we got to meet plenty of locals our age.
2. Check out Local Bloggers
A little bit of self-advertising for the blogging community here, but this one is useful I swear! If you veer away from the larger review sites, which are quite often just full of moaning tourists anyway, and head to the sites of local bloggers instead you’ll get a far more in-depth view of a country or city. Bloggers can give you advice on amazing, and quite often hidden, places that might not be rated no.1 on TripAdvisor.
London Tip: Check out one of my favourite London blogs Living London to discover some of the city’s true hidden gems. Saira, the face behind Living London, also offers ‘Wanderings’ – the opportunity for locals and tourists alike to explore parts of London that remain relatively unknown and under-explored.
3. Talk to the Locals Straight Away
As soon as you arrive, find someone local and pick their brains. This could be the taxi driver who picks you up at the airport, the staff at the car hire desk or the receptionist in your hotel (this one is probably better with small hotels/hostels/Airbnbs rather than the big chain hotels). Ask them what they like to do or where they like to go.
Without a doubt, every recent trip I’ve been on, my favourite restaurant/food has been a recommendation by a local. Folkklub ALA in Riga Latvia is a perfect example of this (see my original post here).
4. Go with the Smaller Tour Company
If you’re going to go on a tour make sure it’s with a local company. The big chain tour companies may have flashy adverts and an established brand name and therefore be more prominent straight away, however, if you search around a bit you’re likely to find something far better. Going with smaller companies, or even individual guides will often give you a much more personal and authentic experience.
Also, try an ‘alternative’ tour – most places will have one if you search. You can always do the big sights and attractions alone, but an ‘alternative’ tour is likely to show you parts of a city that isn’t rammed with hundreds of other tour groups.
5. Just Wander
They don’t call it ‘Wanderlust’ for nothing. Walking around a city or town without a plan, and without following a map, will let you see parts of it you wouldn’t have expected to see. Stumbling across a cute little cafe, a bar full of locals or a beautiful empty church is far more satisfying than walking halfway across a city just to find an overrated tourist trap.