Study after study has demonstrated that young adults (commonly classified as millennials) are willing to shell out extra money on a wholesome, authentic experience more so than items or investments. This drive for experiences that are “real” has been cited as the reason fast food establishments have been losing young adult customers to meal kits (which boast their sustainably-farmed produce and ethnic authenticity) and niche restaurants. In the same fashion, the gig economy has begun to accommodate young travellers’ penchant for a “real” trip. Young adults want to enjoy an “authentic” experience when they travel, and they’re willing to get creative to make that happen. Below are some ways to make sure you’re getting the most “real” experience possible on your trip.
Services like AirBNB allow tourists to stay in a home or apartment instead of a hotel in order to get a better sense of their destination. Living in a house among the regular inhabitants of a town or city, shopping and eating where the locals do, gives visitors a sense of the day-to-day culture of their vacation spot and allowing them to seamlessly join the flow. Often, hosts will take on the role of tour guide and long-lost cousin, inviting guests to local parties and giving them pointers on the social norms of the town.
Learning some local greetings and offering them liberally and confidently to those with whom you interact will also help you break the ice and integrate yourself into the local culture. Often, a strong linguistic barrier divides you as a visitor from the local inhabitants of an area, so offering a greeting will indicate to your interlocutor that you’re open to discourse, even if it takes some hand gestures and laughing to communicate.
Walking and taking the public transportation will also provide you with a new paradigm on the place you’re visiting. How individuals navigate the public transportation and interact with each other while en route to their jobs or errands will tell you a lot about the interpersonal dynamics of your destination. Some cultures don’t mind talking loudly and sitting close to others, while other cultures are more stoic and solitary. Walking will offer a similar insight with one important difference: speed. Walking or jogging in your destination provides you the opportunity to “stop and smell the roses,” as the old saying goes, at your own pace.
Attending a celebration or festival is perhaps the best way to learn the values and sources of merriment of a culture. Festivals are usually times when the culture goes all-out, from the food prepared to the music to the decorations to the clothing. There is little that can parallel the jubilee that erupts during independence day ceremonies, spring festivals, or religious holidays in certain cultures, and if you take part in the merriment, you’ll leave with a new appreciation of the people you’ve visited.
Put your phone down. You miss so much when you’re looking down, and it detracts from your trip to take in your surroundings from behind a screen. As much as you’re able, keep your phone in your pocket and limit your photos to one or two per event. No amount of photography will capture the memory, so take a few and savor the experience instead of scrambling to document it.
This list is by no means comprehensive, and every trip will provide its own pathway to local engagement and true authenticity, so be open and receptive to unexpected opportunities.