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Arkhangel

'Authenticity' in travel

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The word 'authentic' is one that gets thrown around a lot in relation to travel, but I often wonder what people actually mean by that. Is it about trying to live for a few days the way the locals do, or at least as close an approximation as possible?



What does that mean in the context of most developing countries, where the majority of the population may live in extreme urban poverty and disadvantage - can tourists still go out to the countryside to see the few villagers who are able to live in a traditional way (a lifestyle often largely sustained and therefore influenced by the tourist industry) and call that 'authentic'?



When a tourist declares one experience 'authentic' and the other not, are they really saying that one experience lived up to their preconceived ideas about what that country or culture should be and the other didn't?


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It's a mistake to look at this as a binary situation of authentic/not-authentic; obviously there are going to be degrees. Going everywhere in a tour bus and being shielded from any kind of interaction with the locals is far different from spending 6 months digging irrigation ditches in a remote village, but even the latter is never going to be 100% "authentic", because you are still basically a visitor who knows they are going home eventually. And even the tour bus option is not as clear-cut "inauthentic" as you might imagine; once in China I accidentally took one of those heavily-curated bus tours intended for domestic tourists, it was horrific and felt really artificial, but... this is what the locals did when visiting this particular site, so surely the option of making my own way there privately and wandering around alone would have been a bigger indication of tourist privilege?



It's hard not to sneer at (say) British tourists who go abroad and then insist on only eating English food. But then you have the case of my friend visiting Beijing, who asked a local friend to take him to a special restaurant as a treat, and ending up at MacDonalds, because that is what is considered a "treat". :dunno: Fetishizing the exotic furriners and their quaint customs is a pitfall to watch out for, for sure, cos it's no longer 1843 and you're not an intrepid Victorian adventurer.



In short (too late!), I have no idea. Everyone will have a different idea of how much "authenticity" they want (or are able to handle), and as long as you're respectful towards the country you're visiting, I'm not sure that it matters.


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I don't know. I'd argue that what's authentic is wandering around the area trying to soak in as much culture as possible. It may seem touristy, but why would you go on holiday trying to live the life that a stereotypical local would live? No, you go to see what the combination of millions of locals have contributed.



Not that it hurts to step off the beaten track, and I'd say that the best experiences are definitely a way off it.



The least authentic holidays are the ones spent on beaches. Beaches are good, yes, but if you want to spend all your days doing nothing but lie about then the chances are you can find somewhere cheaper for the same experience.


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I think "authentic" is better understood by what it is not than by what it is. So, most people would agree that being shepherded around in a tour bus between 5-star hotels in developing countries is probably "inauthentic". Beyond that, it depends.



It might be better to simply frame the dialogue as "touristy" or not. I think that when you say something is "touristy", you have a better idea whether it's something only locals do or whether its strictly a thing that tourists do. Even then, it's not necessarily a measure of how good it is. For example, the famous Seattle Underground tour is pretty touristy, but it's a great experience nonetheless. You get to see a side of the city that even walking around the streets "authentically" isn't going to give you. On the other hand, when I was there, I was specifically told to avoid the Space Needle (which I was going to avoid anyway) and to go instead to the water tower in Volunteer Park to get a good view of the city skyline. This was great advice. Were there tourists at the water tower? Sure, a couple... but it was nothing like I imagined the Space Needle to be. No one was trying to sell me anything and the bonus was that I got to wander around a nice park and residential neighborhood as well.


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It's mostly what people tell themselves it is, as far as I can tell. (I did my undergrad seminar on authenticity and othering in tourism.) The desire for 'authenticity' in the first place is kind of a constructed thing. Why do you want an authentic experience, whatever that means to you? What's wrong with a comfortable tour bus that takes you between good meals at nice hotels and shows you the most extraordinary and interesting sights of a place? Why do you place more value on seeing the by-definition uninteresting run-down village or the run-down slum (or, if we're being really authentic, the really-not-that-bad lower-middle-class suburb?)



I'm not being rhetorical - why? Whatever the answer, it still comes back to you and the ideas of what a travel experience should be and what it should be for you. And that's ok, and it's also totally intrinsic to touristic travel. So, you know, stop worrying about it.


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I agree with datepalm, with the added caveat that for me it is important to avoid polluting or supporting businesses that are harmful (an arbitrary definition if there ever was one, I admit), which personally means not flying any more for travels and not spending my money (or lack thereof) in a way that isn't exactly helping out locally. I don't know exactly how this fits in the authentic/inauthentic dichotomy, but I know I didn't practice the abovementioned when I first hit the road and since making a more concious effort to do so, it does feel less intrusive.



I am partially thinking about industries and structures in places like western sahara or tibet where unsuspecting tourists can help enforce and ground businesses by others than locals which I'm ambivalent about.


I'm also really keen on travel as a means of exchange and shedding of barriers so I'm more positive than not of any kind of travel in the end.

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I routinely describe myself as hating touristy stuff when I travel, but basically I mean that as shorthand. The biggest example for me is Times Square. Why would you ever want to visit Times Square? There is nothing at all interesting about it. If you "go to Times Square," you go to a crowded, loud place that has nothing to offer, and then you say, "Welp, seen that" and leave, possibly eating some bad, overpriced food before you go.



I was just in San Francisco; I had a very nice time. I enjoyed visiting a redwood forest, because I think nature is pretty and I like hiking, even a short, controlled one like this. I enjoyed Golden Gate Park and the California Academy of Sciences; again, I like going for a walk outside, and I like museums because they have interesting things in them. In contrast, going to the Golden Gate bridge -- not my idea -- felt pretty pointless. You go, you see a bridge, you leave. Woo.


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My take on 'authenticity' in travels is based on how much of the experience you could have replicated in your home country/region. It's very possible to travel across the world and basically do whatever you would have done in your own town, eat at the same franchises (i.e American ones), only against a backdrop that has people speaking in a foreign language and the weather being different.



That to me seems like a waste of money, so when I travel I'd rather see things that are unique to that location, eat at local restaurants, and so on. Sometimes seeing things that are unique to a location means doing touristy things, I guess, but I feel like as long as the experience somehow gives you something it's still OK. One of the times I was in New York I went to Times Square for example, just to see what it was like in person. It somehow represents the essence of western commercialism in the space of one block, and nowhere else I've been has been like that. It's not a place I'd go back to, but it was really interesting to see it.


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Times Square hasn't been authentic since they closed down the peep shows and cracked down on the prostitutes working the streets. Once it became family friendly whatever authenticity it had became dust in the wind.

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Literally nobody in this thread has claimed Times Square was authentic...


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Literally nobody in this thread has claimed Times Square was authentic...

I didn't say anybody did. I was agreeing with those who said it is too commercial and fake. It's full of chain restaurants and mega stores.

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There were 52 million tourist visits to New York City in 2012. The touristic landscape is, authentically, part of that city. :thumbsup: There is no winning at this.


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But if I don't win then that means they're right!


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I enjoy tourist stuff sometimes.

In Toronto we went to gretzky's restaurant and saw the cn tower along with millions of other people.

Walked through times square.

Done the museum and monuments in dc.

Wandered old Montreal. Ate smoked meat at Swartz's.

I have been to Disneyland and magic mountain.

Pikes market in Seattle.

You get the picture. But I have fun wherever I go. I make my own fun. Sometimes you just have to see these things and places.

I do also enjoy lesser known destinations. For me traveling is about just being out of my usual environment. I work a lot. I don't see my wife a lot. So just being out of the kitchen wandering around with her is the missing element of my enjoyment of travel.

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Why do people care how others spend their time travelling, whether it be sitting on a beach or eating at McDonalds in Paris? Seriously, why do you care if someone got an 'authentic' experience? How much escargot or foie gras do I need to eat before you deem my trip worth it?

I am ripping this idea a bit from SJohn in another thread, but I agree completely. There are stages that most travellers go through. First few times people travel abroad it is all about quantity. Hop on that tour bus and see 15 sites each day. At some point, you crave a more 'authentic' experience. So what do you do? You find the most hole in the wall bars, restaurants, and sites that only locals know about. Except every other smug, self-righteous traveller that wants to get away from the crowds also knows about that dive bar. Real authentic.

I get it on some level. It can be annoying travelling abroad aand seeing American culture everywhere. I remember travelling a ton in 2003-04 during which time I pretty much followed the release of The Killer's Mr. Brightside around the world. Do you have idea how much I hate that song after hearing it for 18 months straight? That's frustrating. I get that. However, is an 'authentic' experience better than an 'unauthentic' experience? I was fortunate to travel to China in the 80s when Western tourists needed a "State-approved" tour guide to leave the hotel. When I visited the Great Wall, it was literally empty except for a few locals, but there sure weren't any stinking foreigners to ruin the experience. Now, the Great Wall is a zoo and a complete tourist trap (unless you pay for extra for the authentic experience!). Is my experience more authentic or better than someone who visits the Great Wall now that it is covered in tourists? No, it sure isn't.

Which brings me to the next stage of travelling. At some point, most travellers learn that an 'authentic' experience is futile, a big PITA, and frankly just as unauthentic as riding around on a tour bus. So those people instead travel just to enjoy themselves, to make memories, and not worrying about whether another a foreign ass has ever sat in the same stool as you at the local pub. The quality of a trip doesn't depend on how many local dishes you eat or whether people at the bar are singing karaoke in Tagalog instead of English. Your trip isn't better because you got hook worm by eating the local produce in a 3rd world country. That just makes you a dumbass. When my wife and I were in Hawaii this year, we went to a luau, which is as unauthentic and touristy as it can get. The luau didn't even pretend to be authentic as the entertainment included songs and dances from all over Polynesia and Micronesia. We still had a blast and no fucks were given that we didnt pay 3x as much to eat wallpaper paste (poi) at some Hawaiian's house.

To sum up, quit pretending to be Anthony Bourdain.

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I do also enjoy lesser known destinations. For me traveling is about just being out of my usual environment. I work a lot. I don't see my wife a lot. So just being out of the kitchen wandering around with her is the missing element of my enjoyment of travel.

This is my take on it as well. I work a lot in a high-stress job so my entire goal while travelling is to relax and spend time with my SO and/or my kids having fun. I simply don't have the time or inclination to get all meta- about travelling.

If everyone had fun, saw the sights they wanted to see, did the things they wanted to do, and if I come back resembling someone vaguely human, then I consider it a success.

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It's mostly what people tell themselves it is, as far as I can tell. (I did my undergrad seminar on authenticity and othering in tourism.) The desire for 'authenticity' in the first place is kind of a constructed thing. Why do you want an authentic experience, whatever that means to you? What's wrong with a comfortable tour bus that takes you between good meals at nice hotels and shows you the most extraordinary and interesting sights of a place? Why do you place more value on seeing the by-definition uninteresting run-down village or the run-down slum (or, if we're being really authentic, the really-not-that-bad lower-middle-class suburb?)

I'm not being rhetorical - why? Whatever the answer, it still comes back to you and the ideas of what a travel experience should be and what it should be for you. And that's ok, and it's also totally intrinsic to touristic travel. So, you know, stop worrying about it.

I would say because the whole idea of authentic vs inauthentic in tourism and such is tied up in the idea that an inauthentic experience is one that doesn't give you any real sense of how the people there really live and thus leaves you going home with a colonialist "happy savages" outlook on the place in question. "Oh, they were so cute with their little necklace stands and their little hats!"

Which is, for many segments of the population, a thing to be avoided.

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Why do people care how others spend their time travelling, whether it be sitting on a beach or eating at McDonalds in Paris? Seriously, why do you care if someone got an 'authentic' experience? How much escargot or foie gras do I need to eat before you deem my trip worth it?

It's usually the tourist him/herself looking for the authentic experience, not someone else chiding them for not having one.

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My goal while traveling is usually to see some nice rocks. I have seen a lot of nice rocks while traveling before and this has included things the locals want to see, so I suppose it was mildly "authentic". I would say, though, that my tourism has generally been more about geology than culture-- when I went to Australia I only spent 1 night total in a town with more than 10,000 people, and was in Perth for 3 hours. The rest of the people I saw were in very small towns that had little more than a caravan park or gas station. But I did see a lot of rocks. I should probably be more multi-dimensional, really.



I do like doing touristy things in cities, though. My sister moved to New York two years ago and I've visited her there twice, both times getting one of those ridiculous tourist passes that lets you into pretty much everything, and subsequently going to as many places as possible during the day while she's at work, and then going out to places she likes at night. I still haven't seen the "everything" yet, so next time I go I'll probably do it again, and then the following time I'll just get a membership to the Natural History Museum and stay there the whole time looking at dinos and meteors. I did find myself looking at a geologic map of New York on my phone while in Central Park, though, so the trip wasn't a total waste. :P


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Depends on what you want I guess.

Say If you go to Washington DC, do you go see all the monuments? Lincoln Memorial and all that.

It's touristy as fuck but isn't that what it's about?

Would it be more authentic if you visit the ghettos behind the White House?

Or Las Vegas? Your not going to go to a casino, instead go out in the desert and see how the poor folk live?

Is one traveling to see attractions like the Great Wall of China, or do you go there to experience some Chinese culture?

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