Travel is an experience that is paradoxically personal and constantly shared. From looking at so many different travel blogs and social media posts, as well as from talking with other travelers, I have noticed that many people have the idea that there is one “real” or “authentic” way to travel, and try to convince others of the same. A lot of people that I met seemed to labor under the idea that if you aren’t filling a certain set of criteria when you visit a country or city that you might as well have not been there at all. Yet almost all of these people have hilariously different ideas of how that particular way looks.
Here’s my take: a “real” or “best” way to travel does not exist in an objective sense; all everyone decides on their experiences and itineraries using different criteria. People travel for very different reasons, which is why trip itineraries look vastly different. Some people prefer backpacking or trekking far into the wilderness. Others travel as a way to splurge on luxury they don’t allow themselves at home. Some people plan their trips down to the minute three months ahead of time, and others have a one-way flight and a vague idea of what’s going on. There is no one ideal that everyone should be striving to.
I am not saying that you won’t see and experience different things if you pick one or the other, but my point is you should aim for what will make you happiest and create positive memories, but will also push you a little further out into the world than you have been before. Travel is the greatest tool to widen our understanding of places and people in our world that you would not normally meet, but that experience will not be effective if you don’t build a positive experience for yourself as a foundation. This is a tricky line to walk between pushing the boundaries of your personal comfort zone and making your travel experience enjoyable, and as such is left up to your judgment.
What shape your trip takes is entirely up to you. But please know while you are enjoying your own journey, someone else can be doing something completely different from you and their experience is just as “authentic” and enjoyable for him or her as your choice is for you. Don’t look down on people for “being a tourist” if that is what interests and inspires them. Don’t assume someone is trying to be impressive because they are getting excited talking about their experiences living on a shoestring. One type of journey is not inherently better or worse than the other. Look after your own preferences and goals, not someone else’s.
However, this does not excuse a traveler from disrespecting the countries, cultures, and communities that they choose to visit. Learn from the people you meet, instead of simply taking away an experience from a place and people without spending the time to understand and respect them. Every conversation, interaction, and foible is a chance to learn and grow. That’s the point of travel, for me at least, not gorgeous photos and fun stories but experiencing the new and sometimes terrifying in order to learn and grow.
In sum, don’t let others dictate what your own travel experience should look like. Push your boundaries, but do not be beholden to anyone else’s standards when planning a trip. Travel is a precious opportunity for your own enjoyment, enrichment, and education, so treat it with care.