“Every experience, good or bad, is a priceless collector’s item.” – Isaac Marion
As human beings, experiences are the most invaluable things we can have. Unlike material things, experiences cannot be broken, they cannot be stolen, thrown away, nor will they wear out with time. They stick with us for as long as our memory serves.
It is our human nature, and has been since the dawn of time, for us to constantly seek new adventures, explore new places, and learn new things. It enriches our core humanity to explore and to learn every day. This is why we travel and meet new people.
We travel for so many reasons: to see new landscapes, learn about different cultures, eat delicious food, and be taken out of our comfort zone.
Experiences in travel always vary in quality for each person, and in this day and age, you have the choice of quality. When traveling, you can choose from two types of experiences: the touristy experience, and the authentic experience. Although while both can cost the same, or one may cost more than the other, and they may even take place in the same area, they are both very different experiences. from one another. So what is the difference?
The Touristy Experience
Anyone visiting a foreign place for pleasure is a tourist, plain and simple. You can be a tourist in your own country or a tourist the country furthest away from home. Regardless, there are almost always the touristy experiences available.
A touristy experience may sound a little something like this:
You have to book your tour weeks in advance through the hotel where you are staying. You wake up early in the morning and meet up with your guide in the hotel lobby. You show up and the guide is waiting, along with 20-30 other people, all there for the same tour as you. The guide introduces his or herself and explains the agenda for the day: what you are going to see, where you are going to go, and what time lunch break is.
As you journey around with the guide and the other groups, you can’t help but constantly feel out of place. You now feel like a tourist, which suddenly isn’t that comfortable. As you and thirty strangers wander around in a group through an unknown land. Although you feel safe, you can’t help but feel distant from what you are seeing. You feel like just a number — a paycheck for the tour guide, who likely does this five or more times a week. It is doubtful that he or she even remembers your name. The group stops for lunch at a “local spot” where you don’t see any locals eating there.
However, not all is bad. You do get many of the photos you wanted. You got to see the some of the best sights the tour guide had to offer. Although they don’t know you by name, the guide is well-informed on every spot you visit. They even took you by a nice souvenir shop to get a shirt withThe Bahamas written across the chest. At the end of the day, it was a good time, but there was room for more. There is always room for more.
The Authentic Experience
One thing that should be understood is that a tourist can have an authentic experience, and he or she is not bound to having a touristy one. An authentic experience is more than just the cute Instagram photo taken of you with a rum cocktail in front of a Bahamian sunset, nor is it the $35 T-Shirt you bought at the hotel gift shop. An authentic experience is a story — more importantly, it is your story. It is comprised of the memories of things you did, the people you met, and ways you felt along your journey. Photos and souvenirs do not do these aspects any justice.
The best ways to travel through anywhere is as a local. No travel book nor internet research will ever replace any local knowledge. And yes, you can’t be a local everywhere, but there are countless people who are dying to show you their home country and why they love it so much. For example, a local nature guide is someone driven by their passion for nature and their desire to show their beloved home country to visitors.
But wait, wasn’t the tour guide a local?
Yes, they almost always are, but the real question is, did they treat you as a local?
A local nature guide will show you more than just the beautiful sights, delicious food, or the best snorkeling spots; they will show you their culture in a way you would have never seen it otherwise.
An authentic experience may sound a little something like this:
You meet up with your guide at a time that works for all of you. There isn’t necessarily a set agenda, nor a set time for lunch. Your nature guide tells you that you are going to explore on your terms, and they will be there for you every step of the way. As you journey from spot to spot, your nature guide spends the time to get to know you and you get to know them as well.
Your nature guide enchants you with their stories. The beaches you pass aren’t just any beaches, they are where your guide first learnt to swim. The local shop selling conch fritters isn’t any old shop, it’s their best friend’s business that’s been there for years. You’re no longer a tourist in a foreign country, you’re a guest in someone’s homeland. It no longer feels like you have a guide, but rather a good friend — who happens to be a local. They take you to their favorite spot to eat, introduce you to their friends, which quickly become your friends, and help you meet more locals than you ever would have with a group of thirty other tourists.
When you say goodbye to your nature guide and your new friends, it feels like saying goodbye to old friends. You’ll go back home and feel like you briefly lived as a local, and you won’t say that you just went to the Bahamas, but rather you’ll say that you now know the Bahamas.
The money you spend on a touristy experience will always make you wonder if you got a good deal, but the money spent on having an authentic experience won’t even be questioned, because what you got was undoubtedly priceless.
The choice is yours: take any experience available, or live a little and take the authentic one.