Traveling off the beaten path adds an additional layer of excitement to a trip. Mixing with the local culture as opposed to just looking up at marvellous structures and architecture, delivers unique travel experiences.
You know what you're going to get when you visit the Eiffel Tower. You never know what great surprises await when you go beyond the “top ten best things to do in _____” list.
Other benefits of traveling off the beaten path include:
- A slower pace. Whether it's because you're staying longer in one place or because your destination is a small town infrequently visited, your pace as a traveler will slow down. You'll return home more relaxed than if you had traveled as a typical tourist.
- Friendlier people. When you're in a busy, touristed area, the locals can be a little exhausted by tourists and sometimes not particularly hospitable. Beyond those areas, locals have more time for tourists. They are more friendly. Chat and learn the local history and find out what homegrown entertainment is happening while you're there.
- Quirkier events. Lobster suppers, pancake breakfasts, grape harvests, and more: big cities and small towns both have their festivals and events. The difference is that when you're in a major city, you're likely one in a hundred thousand and the event is slick. When you're at a local event in a less common destination you may be one in a thousand and you can feel the love that the volunteers have put into it, making the most with limited resources. It's a great experience.
- Less expensive options. Whether it's the cost of a meal or a room, it's less expensive to travel where there are fewer tourists.
How to Choose an Interesting but Less Touristy Destination
Here are tips to help you find unusual and extraordinary destinations that are not on everyone's bucket list.
- Read this post: How and Where to Travel to Avoid the Crowds for suggestions on destinations that are not overrun by tourists.
- Google “Alternatives to _______”. If you're looking for alternatives to incredibly touristy destinations such as Paris, Thailand, Banff, etc., google them! The first page will give you lots of options for travel off the beaten path.
- Travel by theme. Whether you want to learn something (I've been choosing travel destinations to practice speaking French) or participate in something (my husband, Simon, travels for poetry festivals) your interests can easily introduce you to new and lesser-known places.
Enjoy Unique Travel Experiences Off the Beaten Path
- Talk to locals. Locals do not go where all the tourists go yet they are often overlooked as a fabulous source of unusual travel information. Is it because they are not always easy to engage? When you're traveling solo, this is not necessarily a challenge. I'd say that at least 50% of the time that I'm in a coffee shop alone, I start talking with a local and they are happy to share their knowledge. But you don't have to be outgoing for this to happen. Ask the service person in a shop, a barista or bartender, or your B&B host what they do for entertainment or on the weekend and you'll get some unexpected suggestions.
- Walk and get lost. Walking and getting lost is so underrated. Of course you have to be careful and stay safe. You need to have some sense of where you're going. Study a map for a bit and then put it away. Wander off the high streets and down the side streets to see smaller cafes, community gardens, and other places where people gather.
- Tap into the Greeter network. The International Greeter Association is one of my favorite resources for travel. Look for your destination and see if they have a local greeter service. Most cities do. Then sign up, declare your interest, and let a local show you around. When asked for my interests, I say that I want to see the Greeter's neighborhood. I end up out of the tourist areas and often enjoy quite unique travel experiences.
- Use Meetup.com. This can be a direct line to meeting locals when you travel off the beaten path. Before going to a destination, I often check to see which are the most popular Meetup groups in the city. In Hong Kong I discovered that it was a hiking group. So I signed up and joined them for a half-day hike that I loved but was incredibly challenging. Read Meetup.com Got Me Hiking in Hong Kong: And It Was #$@&%*! Hard!
- Use public transportation. When I was in Dubrovnik I was first stunned and enamoured by the walled city and then overwhelmed by the tourists. Argh! So I hopped on a local bus, the one with the most meandering route I could find according to the map. It took me through neighborhoods where I could see how people lived and it ended up at a major park where I sat and observed two family picnics, one being a birthday celebration.
- Travel slow. It can take a while to get beyond the major attractions of a destination. To get under the skin of a place, try to spend at least a week. You need a different rhythm to your travels when you travel slow. From my three-day minimum per destination for touring travel I have to jump to at least a week for slow travel.
- Try a homestay. Stay with a local family and you'll almost always be off the beaten path. You'll get to see how the family lives, how they organize their lives, eat their meals, and shop–a real window into life at your destination.