“Authentic travel,” is the latest buzzword in the travel industry to entice travelers looking for off-the-beaten path adventure. But what exactly does it entail?
At its core, authentic travel ventures beyond the ordinary and expected hot spots to destinations less explored by tourists. It is meaningful, educational, entertaining and hands on, opening a traveler’s mind and heart to new experiences, local cultures and cuisine.
Marco Ruiz, certified travel counselor, at AAA Travel Monterey, described authentic travel as “when a traveler stops being just a tourist and is willing to get off-the-beaten path and immerse themselves in the local culture, food, and ways to do things.” He added: “I just think that the world will be better off if we take the opportunity to really get to know a new destination through its people and customs, rather than just taking a selfie with their main attraction in view.”
In fact, travelers of all ages are demanding experiences that teach and enrich their lives. From Millennials to retirees, and multigenerational families such as grandparents taking their grandkids on exhilarating excursions, the search for knowledge has become an important part of the travel experience.
One of the biggest drivers behind the authentic travel trend is overtourism. “As traveling becomes more affordable, the tourist sites are super crowded,” said Ruiz. “In Europe, there are too many people at the churches and castles. On a tropical vacation, a beach is a beach is a beach. So that leaves people looking for more in-depth experiences, and less crowded places. They are even willing to pay more to be in a small group, rather than a big, more affordable one.”
Cody Morris, of Topsail Travel, described another reason why authentic travel is particularly appealing these days: “There is so much stimulation in the world now! Whether it’s heated political debates on the evening news, or a stressful day at work, there is an overall need, I believe, to get out of that world and see something uplifting and fun and completely transportive. Stepping away from the ‘real world’ and getting lost in a reef in Mexico or exploring thousand-year-old ruins is like watching a movie or reading a book, except you’re the protagonist and the adventure is yours, and you get to control the journey. People need a respite from the world, it seems now more than in recent years.”
How can you tell if travel recommendations that you, as a trusted travel advisor, are about to make fit the bill? Consider if they match up with any or all of these traits of authentic travel.
1. Local history and lure
Of course, travelers will visit iconic places at their chosen destinations … hopefully with an informed, local guide who speaks the language. But will they also tell interesting stories about local history and customs? On one cruise ship excursion in St. Maarten, travelers learn to make Johnny Cakes, as they hear stories about how this simple dish was a staple in harder, less plentiful economic times; how locals would take the “journey cakes” with them wherever they went so they always had some food to eat; how the special cakes were ingrained in their culture and still accompany many meals today.
2. Local food
Tours increasingly focus on what the locals eat, rather than on what travelers may be accustomed to eating at home. Embodying the farm-to-table concept, excursions take travelers to see how food is grown in the field, to the farmer’s market and to places where the locals shop. They may also do tastings at the market or local restaurant, and take a cooking class.
One excursion in Cozumel has travelers making margaritas, using the tequila that Mexicans are proud to drink at home, which is distinctly different from what is typically served to tourists. In St. John, travelers may learn that every family traditionally has a coal pot made of clay or iron; in go the ingredients for, say goat curry stew, which simmers over the coals, resulting in rich, hearty local flavors. In Paris, travelers can learn to make baguettes, rather than just buying them from the bakery.
Describing her culinary-themed walking tour of San Juan, cruise guest Adrianne Raia said: “In our 4-hour tour, we sampled food and drinks from around the city (including learning how to make our own Passion Fruit Cosmo), while our lovely tour guide shared tales of the rich and diverse history from this beautiful city. At the end, both my appetite and thirst for knowledge had been satisfied, yet left me wanting more of Puerto Rico. I can’t wait to go back.”
3. Meeting local people
Interaction with locals is at the top of the list for so many travelers today. Rather than being hurriedly whisked from site to site as part of a large group on a bus, they are looking to make real connections. Personal experiences such as these are the new luxury in travel.
In recounting an excursion to Roatán, where they explored Roatán’s fishing villages on a day trip from their cruise ship, one traveler said, “My favorite part was the contact with the locals.” Another traveler said: “I loved the local fisherman and dancing. And my favorite part was the Hole in the Wall restaurant.”
4. Edu-culture and hands-on experiences
The new standard of meaningful travel experiences helps travelers appreciate and be open-minded to other cultures. Many savvy travelers prefer to explore the traditions and cuisine of a specific country, region or village. They would rather go to the market and have tastings, for example, than sit on a beach for a week.
In the Bahamas, for instance, visitors can learn about medicinal plants, including bush teas like hibiscus, from the island, and the varietals readily available to locals in their backyard; enjoy an afternoon tea at the historic Graycliff Hotel; and visit a local family tea shop where travelers hear a lively presentation on local teas — and their curative benefits — and have the opportunity to buy tea to take home.
“It is becoming more and more popular to travel with a purpose, like learning a language, volunteering, and cooking classes, to name a few,” Ruiz said.
While not for everyone, “voluntourism” (or volunteer tourism) has taken off as a travel trend in recent years. It involves “doing good” or giving back in a way that benefits the local community a traveler is visiting. Activities often focus on supporting nature, wildlife, the local people, and/or local economies. Digging in and getting one’s hands dirty, as they say, surely makes a genuine connection with the local people, and creates a profoundly personal and memorable link to that particular region of the world.
Some parting advice from Morris: “When you travel, get off the ship/plane, get out of the car, and explore! The world is a fascinating place and there is such a rich diversity to it, that there is always something new to see, to do, or be a part of. Authentic travel is simply letting go of the same story you write every day, and blasting off the page, out of the box, and genuinely experiencing each moment.”
FROM THE SPONSOR: Each Caribbean island has a unique story to tell and the best way to tell it is through the eyes of a local. MSC Cruises, the fastest-growing cruise line in the world, is partnering with internationally acclaimed home and lifestyle expert Martha Stewart to bring specially curated shore excursions in the Caribbean on four ships: MSC Meraviglia, MSC Seaside, MSC Divina and MSC Armonia. These excursions go a step above the ordinary, taking cruise guests on journeys to discover the hidden gems and authentic flavors of the islands. Adventurous explorers will learn from experts how each island’s rich local history, geography and traditions inspire their cuisine, art and landmarks. Whether participating in a hands-on cooking class, tasting authentic dishes in a local restaurant, discovering waterfalls and secluded coves, or exploring botanic gardens and organic farms, travelers won’t want to miss these true-to-life specialty excursions that reveal, in Martha Stewart fashion, the real culture and food traditions of the islands. Themed “Celebrate, Discover, Experience,” these specially curated shore excursions by Martha Stewart for MSC Cruises promise to indulge and satisfy travelers’ curiosity, by teaching them something they never knew.
“The excursions showcase some of my favorite activities and help MSC Cruises’ guests discover some of the authentic and hidden treasures of destinations throughout the Caribbean,” Martha Stewart says.
For more information, call 844-499-7776 or visit https://www.msccruisesusa.com/en-us/martha-stewart.aspx.