I'm reading
How to travel with authenticity
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
How to travel with authenticity
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
How to travel with authenticity
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
19 May 2016

How to travel with authenticity

To travel meaningfully, we need to start a conversation with the land we are passing through, not only taking—but also giving—our time, our respect, our best selves.

Written by Amandine Thomas

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

Discussed in this Story

Image source: Jay Mantri/The Stocks

A few years ago, on a cold, white December evening, I found myself sitting in a small apartment, out in one of Tokyo’s hyper-modern suburbs, where the streets are quiet with the absence of the ever-moving crowd that seems to inhabit the heart of the city.

Seated on the wooden floor, one of those sharp Japanese knives in my hand, I was absorbed in the delicate task of slicing mushrooms. On the couch next to me, a young Japanese man was instructing three or four of us Westerners in the art of carving a perfect cross across each mushroom’s cap. The room was filled with laughter and indistinct chatter. In the kitchen, our host was preparing the tempura batter in which the mushrooms were to be tossed, while at the dining table, a massive bowl of sushi was being mixed expertly by another guest.

Over the years, I have accumulated dozens of such memories: in India I remember eating a home-cooked curry so hot I couldn’t breathe. In Iceland I tried out marinated shark in the labyrinthine Reykjavik market. In the Thar desert I had chai made with fresh cow milk, and in China I helped my host cook a traditional Cantonese meal in her tiny, cosy Guangzhou studio, the sound of the rain battering her window in the background.

Some of those memories might seem trivial in comparison to the wonder and excitement the world has to offer to a modern traveller. After all, there are golden temples to explore, mountains and glaciers to hike, camels to ride across sand dunes, and bright cities to conquer. To do so, aspiring adventurers might be tempted to stay on the beaten track—to travel through a country by hopping from TripAdvisor ‘Top 10s’ to Lonely Planet’s ‘Must Dos’—snapping a quick token photo before moving on to the next thing, making sure to crop out the German tourists taking selfies in the background.

Don’t get me wrong: I have, at times, enjoyed ticking items off my bucket list. There is nothing quite as satisfying as saying: “I’ve been there, I’ve done that.” But except for a series of generic photographs anyone could’ve taken, there isn’t a lot left to contemplate once the trip is over. Because ultimately, it is in the blanks between each “must see” attractions that the real journey happens: in the hours spent musing in the streets of an utterly foreign city, in the few words exchanged hesitantly at a street food stall, or in the evenings spent sharing a meal in a small, crowded living room.

I didn’t always see things that way. Any minute not spent at—or on the way to—one famous sight or the other used to be wasted time. I felt anxious at the idea of missing out on anything, until I realised that, by rushing through it all, I was actually bypassing the most meaningful part of traveling. By not letting myself be surprised, challenged or delighted by the unexpected, I merely followed thousands of other tourists on a trail so well-travelled it didn’t retain anything authentic or genuine.

Nowadays, I actively seek those moments of stasis—letting the world slowly catch up with me—and I learned to cherish the small delays, the hurdles, the formerly irritating detours that are intrinsically part of travelling. Yes, being stranded by the side of the road for a few hours is frankly uncomfortable. Yet it allows for a deeper understanding of the land we travel—of its people, its environment, its inner rhythm. In contrast, when watching the landscape roll by through the windows of a tour bus, we are still well within the range of our comfort zone, observing, as an outsider, but not really partaking in the scenery. To me, it embodies the vast difference between being in the arena or sitting in the audience. The scene stays the same, but the experience varies dramatically.

To travel meaningfully, I believe that we need to start a conversation with the land we are passing through. Not only taking—a picture, a piece of rock—but also giving—our time, our respect, our best selves. I believe that only then, when we allow for those channels of communication (and communion) between us and a new culture to stay open, can we fully experience another culture, slowing ourselves down until we quite naturally fall into pace with the local rhythm.

Amandine Thomas

Amandine is a French illustrator and graphic designer, and the former art director of Dumbo Feather. Her latest children’s book, in French, is Océans.

Feature image by Jay Mantri

I want more things that inspire me to...

Dumbo Feather Newsletter

Let’s be friends. We'll tell you all the good stuff.