The road less travelled: tourism and the quest for authenticity

Our writer gives her take on travelling, authenticity and our obsession with travelling "the right way"

Jasmine Mallory-Shaw
26th October 2023
Image source: Pixabay
‘I’m going travelling’: the phrase brings to mind 8-bed hostel rooms in Eastern Europe, the mountainous terrain of Southeast Asia, driving a campervan along the California coast. Travelling is more than a holiday. It has become synonymous with the idea of self-discovery, overcoming challenges, and experiencing life ‘like a local’.

A quick Google search for travelling tips brings up hundreds of blogs aimed at ‘nomads’, with listicles about how to have the most authentic experience abroad. It seems we are all trying to escape our fellow tourists, to feel individual and different and special. And, for whatever reason, we are obsessed with struggling.

There is certainly something fun about revelling in the challenges of travelling. Taking an overnight coach, carrying a backpack instead of a suitcase even if you’re not crossing uneven terrain, showering in sandals in a hostel bathroom to avoid contracting athlete’s foot: these sacrifices feel like hacking the system when they save you money, but there is also a sense of superiority in opting for inconvenience.

The most high-profile example that comes to mind is that of van-lifers, who tend to spend thousands renovating a van with plumbing, a cosy living area and a bed, choosing to live in a cramped space and hop from place to place with the aim of disconnecting from society and exploring the world. Similarly, WWOOFing (working on a farm in exchange for room and board) seems to have made a comeback, with a boom in social media content about finding the right farm for you and romanticising the opportunity to connect with nature.

Our quest for authenticity is often innocent – Tiktoks promoting a little-known bakery or a beach frequented by locals – but perhaps we should interrogate where our sense of superiority around travel comes from. When we seek authenticity over all else, not only do we sacrifice the fun of travel, but we often end up trying on hardships that are some people’s reality.

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