Note: This post contains affiliate links*.

Lately, the word “authentic” as it applies to a travel experience has been tossed around like a backyard game of catch. It is used so casually and ubiquitously its definition is muddled.

Without context, the word takes on different meanings. An authentic experience could mean one that is traditional and as close as possible to the way people of a particular destination do (and have done) things.

It seems that the word also tends to be associated with the words “unique,” “different,” and “exclusive.”

On a similar note, there is also the argument that authenticity is shaped by individual experience and expectations, like this piece illustrates on CNN Travel.

In this post, I explore the concept of authenticity in travel with I Like Local founder Sanne Meijboom. I Like Local* is an online platform that pairs travelers with local experiences and opportunities for cultural exchange in destinations throughout Asia and Africa. The difference between I Like Local and other travel companies: Local guides receive 100% of the fees they ask for to provide the experience. I Like Local doesn’t charge local guides to participate on the platform.

More on that below, as well as Sanne’s thoughts on authenticity:

What does the word “authenticity” mean to you as it relates to travel?

For me authenticity means ‘true’, ‘pure’, ‘as it really is’. In the context of travel, authenticity is not always picture perfect: it comes with some level of going beyond your comfort zone. Yet it has so much capacity to transform people and make travel truly memorable and meaningful that leaving one’s comfort zone is totally worth it.

For me, one of those experiences was walking through Kibera, Africa’s largest slum located in Nairobi, Kenya. I took this walk with a local guide Diddy who grew up there. Our walk and Diddy’s story had a strong impact on me and gave me insight into a life I didn’t know: a world difficult to grasp when you grow up in a place with no shortage of anything.

In your experience, how has the word “authenticity” evolved over the years? Does it mean the same thing today as it did in the past?

Authenticity has become more important among travelers over the years. As more and more people had the opportunity to travel during the last 40 years, the tourism industry got very commercialized, and as a result authentic experiences became rare.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of tourist offering consists of standardized tours and cultural performances that are created specifically for tourists without any true interaction with the community. Hence it’s more common for travelers to come back after a trip realizing that they haven’t really seen the destination and feel tricked. A growing number of travelers started to feel this way, including myself.

Do you think there are misconceptions around authenticity, and if so what are they?

Not so much a misconception, but rather a concern is that while the push for authenticity is great, the word itself is becoming overused for marketing purposes and losing its true meaning (similar to “greenwashing” that became so widespread). Therefore, I think, as a traveler, it is important to be critical and dig a bit deeper to see what an experience really is about. If the description of an experience is too vague, ask the provider some extra questions to make sure what you think you are getting and what you are really getting are the same things.

What role does I Like Local play in authentic travel?

When I noticed a lack of authentic experiences during my own travels and realized that locals were getting the short end of the stick (seeing little benefit from the tourism dollars that primarily remain with larger international tourism entities, and instead seeing their environment negatively affected and prices going up), I wanted to create a brand that would stand for authentic experiences for travelers and a fair wage for local people. That’s how the idea for I Like Local was born, and that’s why our local hosts receive 100% of the money they ask for their experiences.

The important elements of creating authentic travel experiences are the personal touch and interaction with the locals and their community. That’s why we only select experiences that have a maximum of 6 people in a group. It’s also a requirement for us that travelers will be able to immerse into local life.

Now travelers can stay on an organic farm in Nepal, fish with a local fisherman in Sri Lanka or have a home dinner in Indonesia via our platform. They will immerse into a local culture while helping our local hosts in Asia and Africa generate income for their families.


*This post includes affiliate links for I Like Local. This means that if you book an experience from a link on this page, I Like Local gives me a small commission.