I have a bit of a bug bear when it comes to travel. I hate it when people proudly announce that they are going to see the ‘real’ Italy (or the ‘real’ portion of any country).
Please tell me this: Which parts, exactly, of Italy are real and which are not? I would love to know. Because I was under the impression that if it’s in Italy, then it’s a part of Italy, making it a real aspect of the country. Not a fake part. Because the opposite of real is fake.
I guess people might want to see a typically everyday scene in Italy, whatever that is… Because, you know, every country is extremely diverse. Which typical daily life is the real one? Are these not based partly on stereotypes?
Which activity is more real; eating at a tiny, local restaurant in a picturesque coastal village or taking your average tourist shot with the leaning tower of Pisa? Both are equally as valid in my opinion. Both are important aspects of Italy and evoke a strong sense of the country.
Maybe, for some, seeing the ‘real’ part of a country or place means experiencing something that is completely different from home. Because anything that is remotely similar to home is not authentic and far too touristic, of course.
Many travellers try and avoid tourist traps in order to find a snippet of authenticity, but these popular parts of a country or city are equally as important and real than ‘off-the-beaten-track’ places. God, I hate that phrase. The leaning tower of Pisa is a tourist attraction for a reason.
It seems to me that travellers these days are increasingly becoming scared of being referred to as tourists. So, instead they try to find the loneliest, tiniest, most far-flung back alley in the middle of nowhere and announce that they have found the real Italy lurking somewhere between the cobbled floor and trailing hibiscus as if this will excuse them from the tourist label. I hate to break it to you, though; if you’re in a foreign country, you are immediately a tourist; there are no two ways about it.
Another thing – getting under the skin of a place. I understand it’s important to absorb local culture and not just pretend you’re at home with the luxury of sunshine and better food, but countries tend to be proud of their tourist attractions and (regardless of how popular they are), they can give a great insight into a places’ history and traditions. Yes, it’s bloody superb to be invited to a local home for a traditional dinner but this doesn’t make you a better person than those who prefer to follow a guide around the colloseum.
There seems to be an element of judgement creeping into travel today like there is some kind of ‘right’ way to travel; like, if you haven’t been here you can hardly call yourself a traveller, or if you haven’t made friends with the locals and boarded their creaky yacht for a four month ‘castaway’ adventure then, forget it, you’re not even worth talking to.
As long as you’re making the most of your time in a place (and I don’t care how you do this) then, in my opinion, you are experiencing what is ‘real’ for you. Travel is such a personal thing that it seems silly trying to please other people.
If you want to pet local goats outside the village corner store, go ahead. Likewise, get stuck in if you want to take a series of photos of you holding up the leaning tower of Pisa. For the love of god, though, just don’t tell me you are going to see the ‘real’ Italy like you actually know where to find it.
I might just punch you.
About the author: Lizzie is a full time marketing assistant and part-time travel blogger promoting the ways to get the most out of grab-it-when-you-can travel. She spends her time creatively thinking of ways to plan trips around her job and advocating the idea that you don’t have to be ‘homeless’ to enjoy the perks of frequent travel. Aside from this, Lizzie likes questioning why people travel and the psychology behind it, watching crap American TV programmes, and drinking too much tea (cider). You can find out more about Lizzie here (go on – I know you want to see what’s behind the melon…)