Some destinations get a poor reputation because they are referred to as “tourist traps.” It may be because the destinations are over-crowded or over-priced, or it could be a sand and sea vacation within the boundaries of an all-inclusive.
Most travelers want to enjoy authentic experiences while traveling but it can be a challenge to do it safely, affordable and within the timeframe, you’re visiting the destination.
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We’ve asked travel pros for their tips on how to capture an authentic experience packed with culture, learning or adventure.
Do your research
Before your trip, take some time to do research to make sure you build a strong understanding of what makes that place so special. Use online resources to delve into your interests.
“Look at things that reflect your interests and values, then do research for similar activities,” says Greg Bresnitz, Global VP Concept and Programming, Selina, a hospitality brand with locations throughout Latin America and Europe. Once you know what’s there, you can plan accordingly to get some genuine glimpses of life where you’re visiting.
“If there’s a band you like that played at a specific venue or a museum that has one of your favorite artists, be sure to make a stop there,” Bresnitz says.
Understand that your research and planning is just a starting point. City-dwelling is amazing, but do more if you want.
“If there is something that speaks to you, follow it,” Bresnitz says. “All the milestones that people have on their bucket lists started as a few people discovering it first. Think about the intangible dreams you have about your trip and see how you can fulfill them in tangible ways at your destination.”
As you learn about your destination, keep an open mind, find what speaks to you and go with it; you never know what you’ll discover.
Talk with locals about local life
Since they live there, they will know hidden gems that guidebooks or travel sites may not.
“I always recommend for travelers discovering a destination to ask true locals about the city’s main economic driver,” says Joy Michelle Boyd, General Manager at Baker’s Cay Resort Key Largo, Curio Collection by Hilton.
In Key Largo, for example, Boyd shares most locals spend their lives on the water whether as fishermen, scientific researchers or for leisure.
“Enjoying their amphibious backyard, protecting the environment and preserving the beauty of the Keys is such a way of life here that we wanted to give guests a peek at this lifestyle by partnering with a number of local businesses and organizations, like Dolphin Plus Marine Mammal Responder and our local fishing charters offered onsite,” she continues. “This gives travelers a better understanding of what’s really important and thus a distinct connection to the culture and tone of the area.”
Use a tour company that specializes in unique experiences
One way to help tackle this obstacle is to use a tourism company that works with local guides and local vendors.
“This can offer an off-the-beaten-path authentic experience,” says Chris Baker, CEO and founder of OneSeed Expeditions. “This challenge of providing an authentic experience in touristy places is part of what OneSeed Expeditions addresses in all of its itineraries, and with all of its partners across eight different countries.”
Baker says his tour company takes popular locations and works with local guides to find the road less traveled, or the secret local spots which could be anything from a viewpoint off an unknown trail to a local watering hole in the city. Also, traveling with a guide can help navigate these experiences and ensure you’re learning things like the history, culture, and food of the beautiful locations you’re traveling.
“This is information you can’t get from your guide book,” Baker adds.
Read about local happenings while there
Ayasha Teague, owner of Blueprint Travel, an agency that curates personalized travel experiences, says a tip for travelers to create authentic experiences in a touristy area is to read local newspapers or magazines online using translation to learn the inside scoop.
“They usually provide a calendar of local events as well as classes, special shops, and things to do geared towards residents,” Teague says.
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