Unless you travel with a native, there is no way you can travel like a native. No book or YouTube video will be a substitute for the confidence and knowledge of a real live local. And it has to be someone you know. A local guide is not the same, and certainly a prepackaged tour won’t do.
So here’s what I say: If you are traveling without the benefit of a local friend or relative, then you can just forget about the ‘authentic’ experience and go and have a good time on your vacation. If you want to sit on a resort in the Dominican Republic and not tour the local flavor, that is what you should do.
While it is nice (not to mention respectful) to know something about the history of your destination, it is not necessarily a requirement. At the same time, just a little, natural curiosity and advanced planning can make the trip more memorable.
Unfortunately, there are countless service professionals waiting to take your money in connection with providing an ‘authentic’ experience. By this they mean someone else’s idea of what’s important about this location. This is really just outsourcing the slightest bit of effort on the traveller’s part. We live in an age of rich information that is instantly available. The tools for a tourist to become an explorer are accessible to all. And constructing the journey yourself personalizes the experience.
So, if you see something totally tacky about a location, and Conde Nast doesn’t sign off, maybe you can check it out anyway.
Of course there will be overlap. It is not my purpose to say tastemakers bring nothing to the table. But it is all to be taken with the appropriate grain of salt. To go to New Orleans and not get Beignets is universally unacceptable. But every destination has so much to offer, so many layers and stories and landscapes, it’s a shame not to delve into those ingredients and pick what matters to you, instead of painting by numbers.
Now, if your in-laws have surprised you with a four day carribean cruise while they watch the kids, well, then I would think you can skip the research and just go on autopilot. But when you are in a place for the first time, there is always such tremendous opportunity for wonder and discovery.