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With so much travel literature and documentaries invading our lives, how can we be sure what the real secret to great travel is? Is there even such a thing? Maybe it’s in this list of five secrets to authentic travel. Then again, maybe it’s not.

1. Don’t fall for the “secret” ruse

This is the meanest trick in travel journalism. At the stroke of a pen an untouched beach goes from “secret” to “tourist destination”. Find your own secret place and don’t tell anyone. This is far more rewarding and can be great fun. When a friend asks where you’ve been, just smile knowingly. Never tell them. Never show them pictures. The one thing people hate more than seeing someone else’s travel pictures is not seeing them. It means The Joneses have no benchmark for their next trip. They’ll inevitably splurge on an outlandish trip in a vain attempt to out-do you, then show you hoards of pics. Endure it graciously, then thank them with the same knowing smile. It’ll kill them.

2. If something is punted as “authentic” question its authenticity

A Maasai in a t-shirt is, and always will be, an authentic Maasai. But an “authentic Maasai Village” is really an authentic tourist attraction. Chat to the Maasai in the t-shirt. He will probably teach you more about his culture than anyone. He might even invite you to his village. But keep it secret.

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3. Travel to fewer places

“World travellers” know a little about a lot. You simply can’t see it all in one lifespan. Spend more time in fewer places and you’ll learn much more about the world. There’s a young chap, Lee Abbamonte, who claims to be the youngest American to travel to every country in the world. But he’s only scratched the surface. Check out his website.

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One of my personal travel heros is Stu Cooper. On his Going Homeless Project Stu is travelling solo around South Africa. He’s been on the road for a year and it doesn’t look like he’s quitting. He knows more about his own country than most: the intricacies of the landscapes; the pulse of the national parks and wild creatures; the taste of water from multitude mountain streams and the culture and sense of humour of so many South Africans. That’s incredibly valuable. Check out his website.

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4. Suffer a little

Rewarding travel isn’t easy, it’s fraught with frustration and uncertainty. But these are the journeys you’ll remember. Writer, Paul Theroux, is well-known for his travel books. He dives right into his destinations by taking public transport, not planning ahead and letting the situation dictate his course. If it’s all planned in advance; comfy and free of worries there wouldn’t be much of a story. “My happy holiday.” Who reads that besides your fifth grade teacher?

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5. Don’t pay attention to subjective lists like this

Ignore the Top 10s, How Tos, Where Tos and Secrets. Who’s journey is it anyway, yours or mine? Perhaps refer to lists as a guide for places and things to avoid. If you follow a list there’s a good chance you’ll be following the hoards. So, when others zig, zag. When “This Summer’s Best Destinations!” are announced, go in winter. Or aim to experience something remarkable of your own, like finding a place you didn’t know existed or a flavour you never imagined you would taste. It makes it all worthwhile – It makes it yours. That’s authenticity.

Do you have any of your own authentic travel secrets to share (or not share)? Leave them in the comment box below, or don’t.

10 Responses to “5 secrets to authentic travel”

  1. Nishi Jain

    What? No comments on this wise little piece! People did take your last advice too seriously. Yeah, I quite agree with the scratching a little concept. A Lee Abbamonte probably might enlist in the Guinness World Records bu he couldn’t write a “Great Railway Bazaar”, Theroux’ 1975 classic.
    I wouldn’t say this is good travel that is bad travel. It’s a choice between being a jack of all trades and master of none, and a master of one and jack of none.
    What’s the point of a ‘happy holiday’; in fact, the happier a holiday is the sadder it’s make you feel when you return! But if you have an experience on your travel, you’d return home a little wiser, only if it’s just a little.

    I really liked this post, Anton. Or just that ‘myth shattering’ seems more appealing and ‘authentic’ to the mind. Would love to read your blog, do provide a link. There’s a travel blog I contribute for; we are always looking for ‘authentic’ travel bloggers who can look beyond the thrill of travel. In case you wish to write for us, let me know.

    • Ant

      Thanks so much for your response, Nishi.

      You can read more of my travels here on Getaway under “most recent blogs” and very happy to share this link to my blog, Bright Continent:

      I’ll have a look at too.

      All the best,

  2. John Williams

    If we all spent less time reading and commenting about travel our minds would be blissfully clear of stereotypes and misconceptions.

    Travel writing doesn’t have to be in list form and labelled ‘Best’ to be ignored. My usual yardstick is anything that includes “the writer was hosted by” or similar phrases.

  3. Hilana Steyn

    Great suggestions from Anton. We all travel for different reasons, but if you are going to enjoy it to the maximum, respect the country and cultures. Take some trouble to say words in their language….however crooked it comes out. Try to do some good and not just take (I do cat and dog sterilisations in areas where there are no vets around for 500 km). Share your smile….it reaches across language and cultural barriers. Notice their hardships and challenges….and maybe you will feel less inclined to whinge and moan so easily at home. Make friends….fellow travellers and people living in the country that you visit enrich your friendship circle.

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