I find that one of my biggest priorities while traveling is finding the authentic experience. How do you know if you’re getting the true thing, or the thing designed to rope in tourists?
If I’m being honest with myself, my interests like somewhere in the middle. I like my host country to put on a bit of a show for me, but not the 99-cent souvenir version. Give me a wool tartan scarf, but not a kilted man beachtowel. Give me a day tour of castles and a well-informed guide–you can keep Madame Tussaud’s.
Art offers one of the most direct paths to authenticity while traveling. See a play. Visit an art museum. Catch a musical performance. Art is an experience unto itself, and if you’ve enjoyed it, you’ve succeeded.
History is also a safe bet. You learn something, and connect with our past as humans and earthlings. It may help bring some perspective in these trying times. Some people like churches. Some like castles. Forts, ruins, museums–so many options to see how the other 99 percent lived. And by “other 99 percent,” I mean the whole of history before you arrived on the planet.
Food is a must. Try the local dishes. Ask around. Locals generally like to share their favorite spots, and if you don’t love it, don’t worry–there’s always another meal.
Just remember, don’t get too stressed by the search for authenticity. A few 99-cent souvenirs never hurt anybody.