In our reader survey, you told us that getting off the beaten path is a priority for you as you travel solo.
You don't like the crowds. Whether you're traveling to London or La Paz, you want unique experiences.
I consider this to be traveling low to the ground, meaning that I'm mixing with the local culture as opposed to looking up at marvellous, manmade structures.
But this can be a challenge.
So as a follow-up to our post, How and Where to Travel to Avoid the Crowds, here we're going to dig into how to experience unique and unusual travel no matter where you go.
Top Tips for Getting off the Beaten Path
How to find unusual and extraordinary destinations that are not on everyone's bucket list.
- Use our destinations section. See what other solo travelers recommend. Go to destinations then choose a continent. From there you'll see the list of countries. Choose ones you haven't been to before, that are more exotic in your mind or that you don't hear people talking about very much.
- Study a map. Let's use Italy as an example. You want to go but you've done the big three, Rome, Florence and Venice. Or you really just don't want to go to the major cities where you know it will be easier to find tourism sights rather than local flavor. Look at a map. Find a smaller city, perhaps a regional or provincial capital. Such cities work perfectly as a hub for your travels. Stay, sink into the local experience and travel out to explore the region. This is called hub and spoke travel. It is how I experienced the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. By staying in Bologna and traveling out to small towns like Parma, Modena and Ravenna as well as taking day trips to Florence and Venice, I got the best of both worlds. It was perfect!
- Google “Alternatives to _______” If you're looking for alternatives to incredibly touristy destinations such as Paris, Thailand, Banff… google them! The first page will give you lots of options.
- Travel by theme. Whether you want to learn something (I've been choosing travel destinations to practice French) or participate in something (my husband, Simon, travels for poetry festivals) your interests can easily introduce you to new and lesser-known places.
How to get off the tourist trail when you're at your destination.
- 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 local knowledge. But you don't have to be outgoing for this to happen. Ask the service person in a shop, a barista, or bartender, 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 Global Greeter Network is one of my favorite resources for travel. Look for your destination and see if they have a local greeter service. Most large 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 into communities where people actually live.
- Use Meetup.com. 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 almost killed me. 🙂 Read Meetup.com Got me Hiking in Hong Kong: And it was #$@&%*! hard!
- Use public transportation. When I was in Dubrovnik in June 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 most meandering one I could find according to the map. It took me through neighborhoods where I could see how people live and it ended up at a major park where I sat and observed two family picnics – one was a birthday celebration.
- Travel slow. It can take a while to get beyond the major attractions of a destination so, 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, shop…
Why Traveling Off the Beaten Path is Great
- The pace is slower. 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.
- The people are friendlier. When you're in a busy, touristed area, the locals can be a little exhausted by tourists and sometimes not particularly hospitable. Beyond them, 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.
- Events can be quirkier. Lobster suppers, pancake breakfasts, grape harvests… 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.
- It's less expensive. Whether it's the cost of a meal or a room, it's less expensive to travel in than on it.