Do you know that you aren’t a real traveler unless you have traveled off the beaten path?
This is the Holy Grail of travel. Everyone is searching for the experience that is equivalent to Adam and Eve’s time in the Garden of sin.
A place so uniquely untouched and beautiful that only they have the pleasure of being gifted of being a part of, or that they have been brave enough to travel to.
And of course, when the special travelers return home they get to beat out their chest and brag about just how cool they are. They went off the beaten path, no one comes close to earn the badge of a traveller than they.
And you, with your Lonely Planet guide searching for the best guesthouse on Koa Sahn Rd. Shame on you. You call yourself a traveler? What would you know about exploration and authentic travel?
Authentic travel is the most flung about and grossly misunderstood term.
People try to define it as being an experience so few have that is just as life would have been in exotic lands during the cave men days, before machinery and women’s rights came along.
You want to know what authentic is?
Authentic is the moment you are experiencing right now.
So if you are sitting in a McDonalds in Hanoi chowing down on a burger while downloading the latest blockbuster movie on their free wireless – then it is authentic.
Yes it is.
It is you doing whatever it is you are doing at the present moment. There is no other way of authenticity. You are not a cardboard cutout.
Maybe this is not the best way to experience the Vietnamese world outside you, but you get my point.
In whatever way, shape or form your are experencing travel, if you are present in the moment then it is authentic.
But is it cool?
Cool, let’s take a second to look at the definition of what cool is as defined by me, because no other dictionary could accurately define it except to say fashionable, hip, self-control.
Being cool is an attitude. It’s a quiet confidence and assurance in yourself; it is basically, dancing to the beat of your own drum. Doing what you want to do, when you want to do, and not caring what others are doing or making choices in life just to make you look better than others. Cool can’t be sought and achieved by exterior circumstances, it’s just a way of being.
There is always so much talk in the travel community of finding that off the beaten path adventure.
Forget about Vang Vieng tubing, catching the sunrise over Mt Bromo, or visiting famous sites like the Eiffel tower they’ve all been ruined and are no longer authentic or worthy of a real traveller.
While there is nothing wrong with travelling to experience off the beaten path adventures, there is also nothing wrong with visiting popular and notable sites. I mean they are notable for a reason.
Who cares if there are hordes of people taking photographs at the same time as you? Get up a little earlier to beat the rush.
This doesn’t mean that if you travel around with your Lonely Planet guide you are an uncool adventurer.
I love Lonely Planet.
I’ll never forget planning for my first trip abroad to Indonesia. The cover and pages of the book were worn 6 months before I departed as I absorbed every sentence of the adventure I was about to have.
Without Lonely Planet’s help, I may not have done all I did do. Sure, I didn’t just rely on Lonely Planet, I had friends and locals advice plenty of times along the way.
This quest to be cool is something I see constantly with our youth in schools. They constantly act up to try to get a laugh from their friends and be the “cool guy.” My response is always,
“You know trying to impress others is not what being cool is. Being cool comes from doing what you believe is right and being true to yourself. This is when you will begin to naturally ooze coolness and people will gain more respect for you as a result.”
A recent conversation I had baffled me. In Australia, it is the law to wear bike helmets and heavy fines exist if you don’t wear them. I know of people who won’t ride their bikes at all now, because they think wearing a helmet is uncool.
How sad is this?
The joy of riding a bike and exploring the environment around you is lost just because of the worry as to what people may think. I was a teenager when that law came out; there was no way I was going to let others define my existence. My bike was the liberating vehicle that enabled me to explore.
If you want to visit the Grand Canyon for sunrise then do it. If you want to spend 3 days exploring Disneyland with 15% of the world’s population then do it.
It’s your adventure.
You’ll be really uncool if you don’t because you want to look cool by walking the path that others haven’t. By all means, go off the beaten path if this is what you want to do for you. You’ll find that you don’t need bragging rights then after you have done it.
Do what you want to do. That is cool.
And what will make you ultra cool, is if you leave others alone to live their life they way they choose.
Stop judging, stop criticizing in an effort to make yourself seem cooler than them.