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'Authentic' Travel Experiences Come From Connections, Not Cliches

Ed Ronco
The Tokyo Sky Tree looms in the distance from the grounds of the ancient Sens?-ji temple. KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley says "authentic" travel experiences come from embracing the old and the new -- and aren't narrowly defined by cultural cliches. "

Travel brochures and websites can often paint a picture of an “authentic” experience in a foreign country. But KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley says so often, what people consider an “authentic” is far from real.

Cultures are changing, especially in Europe. Travel advertisements often show you a romanticized version of what you’ll actually experience.

“They’re selling you the cliché of a country – the little boy walking down the street with a French baguette, and the two people playing bocce ball in Italy,” Brumley said. “It’s getting harder to find that.”

To be sure, some of the “clichés” are based in truth. Local traditions still exist, and are practiced, but Brumley said for the most part, you have to leave cities.

“The people in Paris are putting up with the same traffic,” he said. “When I step off a plane in Bangkok or Captetown or Florence, it’s the same music that taxi drivers are playing. And you go a little bit further and there’s a Starbucks down the street.”

There’s even been some efforts to preserve traditional foods, culture and languages.

“In Ireland there are language clubs, especially around Dingle and Killarney,” he said. “And in Italy, the slow food and slow city movement came out, and is pushing for the preservation of their culture, of their towns, … farming, recipes, old seeds, food.”

You might have a Romanian waiter in London, or a Russian front desk clerk in Barcelona. But here’s the other important point: That’s authentic Europe.

“Talk to the people around you,” Brumley said. “They always have great, interesting stories. Spend time, spend the energy, to get to know your fellow human beings.”


Going Places is KPLU's weekly segment exploring travel of all kinds -- from nearby escapes to far-flung destinations. Matthew Brumley is co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small-group travel to clients including KPLU. Leave your thoughts, or suggest future segment topics, in the comments below.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.