There are some people who would have you believe that to be a “real” traveler, you have to avoid anything that a typical tourist might do. Travel blogs are quick to advise that you skip the Statue of Liberty in New York City or Big Ben in London for something with a little less exposure. Sometimes I feel like my desire to drink a Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s in New Orleans or explore Machu Picchu in Peru somehow is frowned upon as people try harder and harder to “get off the beaten path.”
Well, I may not be a fanny pack toting American wandering around the world, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to visit Yosemite Valley when I should be in Tuolumne Meadows or checking out Mt. Rushmore when people tell me I should skip it for Crazy Horse.
And while I’m all for slowing down and letting time and twisting roads take me wherever they desire, it’s not a crime to stand in line to check out the Louvre. With that in mind, I’ve compiled the following nine reasons why I think it’s okay to stay on the beaten path:
1. It’s the beaten path for a reason.
If there wasn’t something worth seeing, people wouldn’t flock to it by the thousands. Granted, some tourist sites are tacky (think Wall Drug) and, unfortunately, the overabundance of visitors means that some are deteriorating, but usually there’s something worth checking out, even if you do have to fight traffic and crowds to see it.
2. To say you’ve been there, done that.
Will I ever return to Yosemite Valley? Probably not. Not unless I have to pass through on my way to another part of Yosemite National Park, but I’m glad I spent a few days in the Valley anyway. Now I have a context for Half Dome and El Cap, and I can make my own decisions about whether or not I liked it or it was worth my time.
3. You may never return to the destination.
I know you can’t do and see everything when you visit a certain place, but I often like to check out the biggies the first time I visit, just in case I don’t return (even if I say I will). When I visit a second time, I already know what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I want to do now that I know those things.
4. You can do both.
There’s no reason why you can’t spend a couple days checking out the sites and then make time to do something beyond your guidebook. Once you’ve visited the must-see ruins or museums, arrange to volunteer for a few days or walk the streets just so you can get lost.
5. It’s where the people are.
If you are traveling solo or are in a part of the world where you feel nervous about being out of touch with others, you’re sure to be surrounded by others in the tourist hot spots. That’s not to say big crowds are safe, and, in fact, you should always exercise caution when in a large crowd, but there’s minimal chance that you’ll be stuck on the roadside by yourself if you stick to the beaten path.
6. It’s interesting.
The tourist track might be where you’ll find the overpriced souvenirs and ridiculous wax museums, but there’s usually something to learn from walking in the footsteps of others. Resources have been invested in keeping up visitors’ centers and museums placards so that you know what you’re looking at. And even if the site itself is not worth visiting again, you’ll probably learn something interesting about it anyway.
7. There are time restrictions.
If you only get two weeks of vacation a year, and you want to make the most of it on vacation, there’s no reason you can’t pack your days with zip lining tours, wine tasting and museum visitations. If you have more time to leisurely pass your days on the road, more power to you, but for most people, those two weeks of vacation are packed with precious time, so you might as well make sure you do it all when you can.
Traveling the beaten path can be a fun family legacy. One thing I enjoyed as a kid was traveling to the places my dad did when he was younger. He’d tell us about taking road trips with his parents and what happened when they’d camped in the same places we camped (luckily we were never visited by bears). My mom spent her summers on the Jersey shore and visiting the battlegrounds on the East Coast. When we visited the same places, she told us about how it was different from (and the same as) when she was a kid.
9. It doesn’t make you any less of a traveler.
The wonderful thing about traveling is that anyone can do it. We all have a different bucket list. We want to experience different things in different ways. For some of us, spending four weeks at a language school is the ideal travel experience while others are cool with sticking to the travel guide’s top recommendations. Neither of these travel styles is better or more right than the other. If you make an effort to leave the place you’d normally call home, regardless of how you do it, you are still a traveler.