I often find myself torn between two approaches to travel. I like the finer things in life: 1st class cabins, high-end food and luxury hotels. I mean, who doesn’t like to be pampered from time to time? But I also want to get the most out of my travel and really get to see “real life” in whatever country I visit. Time and time again I read articles and blog posts that claim that high-end, luxury travel is the polar opposite of authentic travel. That unless you’ve stayed in a hostel, or better yet, on a dirt floor in a remote village hut, you have not truly embraced the place you are visiting. Can that be right? Do I have to give up luxury for authenticity?

I say “No”!  There has to be a balance. And as a friend once told me, “and” not “or”. There’s no reason that a traveler cannot be a true traveler AND also splurge a bit.

Sure, you can post up at an exclusive, all-inclusive resort in Cancun, never leave the poolside and never eat anything more daring that a cheese quesadilla. But honestly, Cancun is a tourist hub and likely most of the people that are staying in the budget hostels are also having the same, though less expensive, cheese quesadilla.

In a less touristy destination, staying either at a luxury hotel or a youth hostel, or eating in a Michelin starred restaurant or a cheap diner, it really boils down to the traveler. Are they the kind of person who will seek out locals to interact with, who will walk miles to out of the way food markets and dance halls and who will pass by marketed tourist offerings to experience true cultural events? Then that person will engage in authentic travel regardless of whether they end the day with a glass of champagne or a can of beer. I will admit that with a higher class of service, there are more options to just be pampered and avoid the honest joys and annoyances of daily life in a new destination, but if you are staying in a budget hotel or youth hostel, there is also the temptation to just interact with other travelers in your dorm room or on a discount package tour.

So if I can fly first class and stay at a nicer hotel, I will not turn down the opportunity. That’s just how I like to pamper myself if given the opportunity. But that does not mean that my experience is any less “authentic” than if I had stayed in a budget guest house.

What are your thoughts on authentic luxury travel vs. authentic budget travel?  Are both possible? How do you prefer to travel?


This story was curated by Nailah Hayward