None of us likes being caught up in a trap. Most of us probably sympathized with Bugs Bunny versus Elmer Fudd. We didn’t really want him to trap that wacky wabbit. We also don’t like being duped. We don’t want to spend our hard-earned money on crap or crappy experiences. To use the technical jargon. Thus, when we travel we want good, money-worthy experiences. Many of us may even say we want authentic expetiences. To which I ask, what even is authentic anymore? Does authenticity even matter?
We have fake pearls, fake Gucci bags, and fake smiles. They are everywhere and anywhere. I would have to argue that authentic experiences come from how you felt in the situation and interaction. If someone makes you feel really good about yourself, does it matter that they are a snake-charmer?
I grew up quite poor and thus didn’t really get to travel until I was out of my teenage years. For many, even that is early in life. I get it. Although I was born poor, I was blessed with great mentors that helped me achieve many steps towards leaving poverty behind. Number one person, of course, was my mom. But back to my story.
Because I grew up poor, once I started traveling, I wanted authentic experiences. I wanted my money’s worth. I wanted it all. I can’t say that I have changed from that perspective, but I have come to appreciate the less authentic aspects of travel.
One of my first trips that I did with the girls many years ago was to go to New Orleans. I have since tried to visit that awesome city every year. I can unequivocally state that I love New Orleans for all that it is and for all that it was and may be. When I first went, I had to have a po-boy, I had to have gumbo, and I had to visit a cemetery. And, I did it all and then some. But then I wondered if I have had a truly authentic po-boy. Of course I had to go to the place to eat a po-boy which was Mother’s. I went to the Gumbo Shop. I took a tour of the swamp. I did all those because those were all must-dos. All of us get those lists from TripAdvisor, Expedia and are friends as to what one must do on a particular trip. We also get those lists of what not to do. But when I have come to learn is you must do what feels right to you. That is an authentic experience.
The first time I went to Hawaii, over 17 years ago, I went to a Don Ho concert to hear him Sing Tiny Bubbles. I had never really heard of Don Ho, to tell you the truth. But all the websites said to go experience the legendary singer. I also went to a luau as that is what Hawaii is all about. Well. As per television shows. I did them both and laughed sheepishly. At times, I even felt annoyance while there. I kept thinking of how fake it all seemed. If you read travel sites and guide books they may even say the same thing.
But here is the deal. Why not have fun at those events? Why cheat yourself from enjoying them? And even if you don’t end up enjoying them you get to say you tried it. I’ve been trying to encourage my son to try things. As a matter of fact I tell him to try things at least twice. A first-time experience can always go awry and not be what it typically is. When I go to these types of events now, I look around. I try to see what others are experiencing and I try to look past the mask and see through the facade or performance.
I read an article recently that warned California tourists to avoid the Tar Pits (which truly is the pits but why not pass by it) and the Hollywood sign. Sure they are both gimmicky, but why deny yourself that experience right off the bat. If you are traveling with a kid that Hollywood sign will mean a lot at some point as they can tell people they’ve been there. Sure, Venice Beach isn’t what it used to be. But people still go there for a reason. It may no longer be about being part of a counterculture but it does still have meaning. It’s a new version of itself. That by itself provides tons of armchair anthropologist hours.
I keep thinking of that silly Facts of Life theme song where:
“You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”