Some people travel for the sights, others for the food or the beaches. Then, there are those who travel for the experience itself. This type of travel is not found in guidebooks. It is not found in detailed travel itineraries, nor the hundreds of online hotel reviews. It is found in the spontaneous last-minute flights, the locals’ recommendations, and the backpacks toted around airports and train stations.
In a time where TripAdvisor reviews and travel agents seem to be controlling our travel itineraries, I recently ditched the guidebooks and opted for the road less traveled — exploring new locations based on suggestions from locals and a desire to experience each country in my own way. The result: a more meaningful experience than any four-star hotel or prepared itinerary could have provided.
Here’s how exploring new destinations off-the-beaten path can leave you not only with memories and stories worth telling, but with a new outlook on life:
1. You’ll experience new cultures.
While you can learn a lot about a culture by visiting museums, eating at restaurants and viewing national monuments, immersing yourself within a culture can provide a much deeper experience. Rather than always staying at popular hotels or resorts, consider options in AirBnB apartments or homes. Don’t be so quick to sign up for the tour bus rides with other out-of-towners, consider traveling like a local on public transportation or better yet, rent a car or motorbike and drive it yourself – just be sure you grab a map first.
In many small towns and even tinier villages, the people will be some of the nicest you will meet, excited to practice their English and invite you in for lunch. Immersing yourself into a new culture is a humbling experience that allows you to see the country in the eyes of those you meet.
2. You’ll find hidden gems.
Traveling around remote countries isn’t as simple as hopping in an air-conditioned taxi for a 10-minute drive to your hotel. It can be a ride in a rickshaw tricycle along dirt roads, passing through villages and asking locals for directions. It can be a 10-hour flight, two-hour layover and five-hour boat ride. It’s this type of adventurous travel that leads to finding secluded waterfalls after winding your way through deserted trails in tropical forests.
While it may take longer than the guided tours, traveling off-the-beaten path to can allow you to witness the untouched beauty and hidden locales you hear so much about. In larger cities, these hidden gems can seem hard to find when all the guidebooks are leading tourists to the same popular attractions. While it can be nice to scroll through the hundreds of online reviews for the best restaurant in town, some of my most memorable meals were found by simply asking the manager in my hotel for their favorite place to dine. Often all it takes is asking locals and fellow travelers you meet along the way for a little guidance.
3. You’ll discover your true self.
Without a guidebook to follow, your daily activities when traveling off-the-beaten-path are entirely up to you. You are the guide for your trip. Asking locals where to go and what to see forces you to step outside of your comfort zone. You have to be social with those you meet and often this will not be in a language that you both speak.
Can you find a way to communicate? Can you work up the courage to ask others for directions? Learn the power of a smile. See where it takes you. Can you allow things to happen as they unfold? Can you get rid of the notion of a planned itinerary and just enjoy each moment? Learn more about yourself by how you adapt to these situations.
4. You’ll cultivate gratitude.
The basics of everyday life are so easy to overlook. You have a solid roof over your head. Your car starts when you get in it to go to work in the morning. You have a hot shower in the winter. You have enough food on the table. Traveling to third-world countries you quickly learn to appreciate certain things that perhaps families living in thatched homes would cherish.
Witnessing mothers wake up each morning to lay rice on burlap sacks in the sun to feed their family. Using bathrooms that consist of a ceramic bowl on the dirt ground and bucket of water for flushing. Seeing the joy of a smile on children’s faces when you join them for a game of soccer on the side of the road. Suddenly, waiting in a long line for coffee before work doesn’t seem to affect your mood as much as it might have previously. Life becomes a blessing.
– Be flexible. Travel plans can change quickly. You will have to change with them.
– Have zero expectations. It’s better to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.
– Pack light. Only bring what you can fit on your back. Keep it to a 35L pack.
– Wear a helmet. Literally. You will likely be riding a motorbike at some point.
– Have a strong stomach. The food can get weird.
– Always carry toilet paper. Always.