Stripping down the travel experience: how to balance liberated adventure with cultural respect
We’ve all been there, or hope to be: you witness a once-in-a-decade event, a procession of killer whales breaching off a windswept peninsula in Canada, and it brings you to tears; you’re stood at the foot of a monolithic glacier in Patagonia and let out an involuntary shriek of euphoria. You’re standing at the peak of a Malaysian mountain, and take all your clothes off unwittingly, because, well… everyone else is doing it, the mood feels right, and you’re travelling – doesn’t that equate to total liberation? To out-of-body experiences and spontaneous adventure?
A few things to remember so you can enjoy your travels impulsively and organically, without winding up in trouble:
The difference between authenticity and ignorance
Exploring the world allows you to step out of your comfort zone, and it’s nice to let the mood carry you – especially when you’ve met a bunch of people from all over the planet, each of your backgrounds so different, but united by an experience of a lifetime. Do something you’ve never done before, challenge yourself, but don’t enter a backpacker bubble and forget where you are. You don’t have to have an unprecedented insight into South East Asian idiosyncrasies to remember cultural differences and ask the right questions to that other group of people you’re here to learn from – the locals.
Balance your time between indulging whims and gaining local insight
You’ve been backpacking for three months. Of course you’re going to crave the food your mum makes, get outrageous at a party or want to sit in a dark room, alone, watching re-runs of Breaking Bad at some point. You’re human, so look after your needs – you don’t have to loosen your anchor on who you are and where you’re from. Take a break, but remember you’re here to stretch yourself too: crossing awkward language barriers, being faced with realities you might find difficult to process, and learning about how other people live will remind you who you are, and add a whole new layer of tolerance and understanding to your character. Basically you’re evolving your own superpower.
Being an authentic traveller doesn’t mean conforming to hostelling stereotypes
Anyone who’s spent their fair share of time in hostel dormitories around the world will be familiar with the stereotype: they’re wearing baggy elephant-print trousers, they’re sitting on the bottom bunk, and they surmise their reaction to a world wonder or their astonishing good fortune with a shrug, and ‘it was pretty awesome’ in a monotone drawl. When every journey is a box-ticking exercise, tourism turns into narcissism (alright, we all love the odd selfie), and eventually boredom. Travel isn’t losing its capacity to make us wonder – we just need to find the perfect balance – which involves more challenge and less gratuitous #YOLOs.
What do you think makes an authentic travel experience? GO –