9 Reasons Why It’s Okay To Stay On The Beaten Path

JoAnna

JoAnna is a globe-trotting, idea-inventing, culture-collecting creativity connoisseur with big dreams and a desire to touch all seven continents. You can also find JoAnna at joannahaugen.com and at The 52 Letters Project.

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67 Responses

  1. Julie says:

    Points taken, but seriously, skip the Statue of Liberty. It takes up a whole day and the views of it are way better from the ferry!

    • JoAnna says:

      Okay … so maybe I won’t actually go to the Statue of Liberty, but I definitely want to at least it. I like the idea of checking it out from a ferry.

    • Candice says:

      I think that’s my plan too, JoAnna…check it out from the ferry! Let’s make a date out of it.

      And I LOVE this post. So true. With a few exceptions, I’ve always enjoyed the really touristy parts of my travel.

    • Alouise says:

      Gotta agree with Julie, the view of the statue of Liberty from the ferry is great. And plus it’s free, that always boggles my mind a bit.

    • JoAnna says:

      @Candice ~ You’ve got a deal. You. Me. NYC ferry. Consider it done.

    • Brian Maguire says:

      Besides, Ellis Island is much more interesting, and less crowded, since everyone gets off the ferry at the Statue of Liberty. Just be prepared for airport-style security…

    • Akila says:

      Actually, I love the Statue of Liberty. There is something about the place that fills me with awe because so many immigrants saw it first when they landed in America. Maybe it means more to me because my parents were immigrants but I find it an inspiring place.

      I am also all for visiting touristy places and then heading to the untouristy places afterwards. I think the Taj Mahal is one of the most amazing places I have ever seen but I also recommend visiting the less touristed Fatehpur Sikri.

      • JoAnna says:

        Thanks for your insight, Akila. It makes sense to me that you would have a personal connection to the Statue of Liberty. I think that brings up another good point, though, about visiting “tourist” destinations. They really do mean different things to different people. Every person should have the right to decide what that meaning is on their own.

  2. Stephanie says:

    I like this post– I hate being made to feel guilty just because I want to see famous landmarks around the world. While getting off the track can be an important respite (and lead to interesting discoveries) I see nothing wrong with wanting to see popular sites. They are usually popular for a reason after all!

    • JoAnna says:

      I think there are probably a lot more travelers out there who would like or do visit touristy sites but they keep it on the down low because it’s just not cool. I think there are good arguments for visiting the classics as well as seeking out your own travel path; I just don’t think one is “better” than the other.

  3. Gray says:

    Sing it, sister. I hate when people start getting on a traveler’s case for wanting to see the big touristy attractions. Whatever happened to live and let live? Maybe I will discover that the Eiffel Tower “isn’t all that”, but at least let me make that discovery myself. Nobody likes to be told how to live their lives, and I don’t like to be told how to travel. I know people are (usually) well-meaning in the advice they give, but it’s also often unsolicited advice. If I want someone else’s opinion about what to see and do in a city, I’ll ask for it.

    • JoAnna says:

      I think everyone who travels is wise enough to make their own decisions, and while I don’t mind getting advice from other travelers, I don’t need to be told I shouldn’t do something just because it’s popular.

  4. Keith says:

    Good points. It’s important to remember this. Perhaps some of the backlash to the beaten path derives from the long-term travelers who see that path so often. If you don’t have the opportunity to travel as frequently, the beaten path might just be perfect.

    • JoAnna says:

      When I was in Peru last year, I only had a week, so it made sense to go to Cusco and Machu Picchu. If I had a month, two months or six months, I’m sure I would have still done those things, but with limited time — and I know I’m not the only one — I had to make the most of it.

      I can understand why people who spend a lot of time in places that have both the beaten path and the path less traveled would find the less crowded one to be more appealing, but it’s just not feasible for a lot of people to do both.

  5. Steve says:

    Here is another good thing about the beaten path. It is similar to your point about your parents/grandparents having done it. When I run into someone who has traveled through the same country as me, it is really fun to compare travel experiences. It works a lot better when you’ve both been to the same places in that country. When I meet someone who has been to Thailand, it is easy to compare experiences if we both went to Koh Samui rather than to two different islands.

    • JoAnna says:

      @Steve ~ I agree. It is fun to share stories with other people who have been to the same place you have. It’s also a lot harder to do if you only stick to off-the-map destinations.

  6. Abbie says:

    I love this article, and I totally agree. I personally try to balance both — see some of the usual touristy stuff but also check out some stuff that most people might not see :)

  7. Rudi says:

    The way some travellers think their style of travelling is in someway superior to others is just snobbery. And besides, as you say in No.4, you can do both. I love to get off the beaten path. But I also check out the main sites, especially on my first visit to a destination. In Egypt, I visited the Pyramids of Giza on my first day. A few weeks later I was hitchhiking in the less-visted western part of the country.It doesn’t have to be one or the other. And even if the main attraction is not all it’s cracked up to be, you can spend your time people-watching all the tourists from around the world that are also there.

    • JoAnna says:

      @Abbie and @Rudi ~ I think it’s definitely possible to do both, even with limited time. Spend some time checking out the well-known sites, then pitch the guidebook and see where your wandering takes you. And, @Rudi, you’re absolutely right. If the touristy site sucks, so be it. At least now you know for yourself and you make the most of your time wherever you are.

  8. Hi JoAnna, as someone who ‘travels’ during limited-duration work holiday times, I agree wholeheartedly that people shouldn’t feel they’re less of a ‘traveller’ simply because we want to make sure we see the key sites.

    As Abbie says above though, I think it’s possible to balance both; when you have limited time dedicate some of it to seeing the touristy stuff, but some to just wandering and seeing where it takes you too. Be that a morning/afternoon or day-on-day-off type split.

    Plus the way you holiday and where you stay can also play a part — even if you have limited time and want to make sure you get in the main sites, renting somewhere can provide a much more authentic experience than staying in a hotel.

    Disclosure here: I work for a rentals site but I now often stay in rentals myself and a good example is a recent holiday to New York — we literally had a weekend so we did a lot of touristy stuff, obviously, but we were staying in a studio on a street of brownstones, which made it feel much less ‘touristy’ as we were in a real neighbourhood, and enjoying jumping on and off the subway, having bagels on broadway and slowly walking our way in one day through Central Park (we were staying on 123rd in ‘SoHa’).

    For more inspiration on how renting can facilitate a less touristy kind of trip, even a short one — then take a look at the GrantourismoTravels blog linked above. It’s the chronicles of two travel writers on a round-the-world trip in holiday homes this year.

    Sarah

    • JoAnna says:

      Thank you so much for your comment Sarah. I’m really glad that you’ve pointed out that *where* and *how* you stay in a place can make a big difference. Big, corporate hotels often isolate people from the surrounding area, but living in and with people through home trades or rentals, and even couch surfing, are great ways to see a more authentic side of a place, even if you do visit places on the beaten path.

  9. Kerry Dexter says:

    trips are about the discoveries you make yourself — where ever you make them, well touristed spot or no. thanks for writing about this.

  10. Christine says:

    Great points – I try to get a balance of the touristy stuff with something a bit more homegrown. I like trying to find the restaurants that don’t offer an English translation, even if I’m coming straight from the tourist attraction in town!
    However, I continue to tell people NOT to pay to go up the Eiffel Tower – the skyline of Paris just looks weird without the Eiffel Tower in it. Picnic underneath the tower with cheese and a bottle of wine, and head up the Arc du Triomphe for a better view!

    • JoAnna says:

      @Christine ~ Funny … I’ve never thought about what the Paris skyline would actually look like without the Eiffel Tower. You bring up a good point. But thanks for the suggestion of checking out the city from the Arc du Triomphe.

  11. Dina says:

    Well said! While there are many cheesy tourist traps like haunted houses that I’m not interested to go, I agree that there are so many beaten path that are beaten for a reason. Ancient historical places, art masterpieces, the beauty of nature, interaction with rare/unique animals, great theme/amusement parks, and so on. I think we should not limit what we do in while we are exploring based on the label whether it’s on or off the beaten path. I think we should do what is fun for us, and open to new things.

    • JoAnna says:

      I sort of think there’s a difference between cheesy and in existence just to make a buck (like haunted houses and wax museums), and then there are sites that are iconic and popular for other significant reasons, like Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty or the Sydney Opera House. I would skip the cheesy ones any day, but I wouldn’t hesitate to check out anything that is popular for a good reason.

  12. Ahi says:

    So true. Just got back from Angkor Wat, and I didn’t feel guilty for an instant. If you haven’t been there, it’s irrelevant how beaten the path is from those who came before you

  13. Alouise says:

    Most of my travels have been filled with staying on the beaten path, since I’m limited to shorter vacations. But I’ve always enjoyed every path I’ve taken, beaten or not.

    • JoAnna says:

      I think the fact that I had limited vacation time when I was working in Corporate America was one of the first things that really brought this to light for me. How could I poke through tiny rural towns down the dusty roads when I barely had time to get to and from the place I was going?

  14. Cory says:

    I would add that we tend to take the beaten path at times of the day when it being a little less beaten. You can take the popular route during an unpopular time and enjoy it in a more personal way (say Vegas in the off season, for example).

    • JoAnna says:

      I definitely agree. There’s hanging on the beaten path in the heat of the day when everyone in the world wants in, and then there’s doing research and hitting the popular sites before and after the crowd.

  15. maryanne says:

    I’ve never understood the traveler-tourist dichotomy. When I travel, I go to places that interest me. And you know what interests me? Interesting places! I’ve been to the Great Wall of China and it was swarming with tourists– including me. I’ve been to Jogjakarta and it was swarming with tourists as well. But you know what? They were awesome places! I’ve traveled from Mexico City to San Jose, Costa Rica by chicken bus on almost no money and saw maybe a half dozen other foreigners between El Salvador and Nicaragua. That was awesome as well, but not because it was off the beaten track. I do get frustrated by the annoying crowds and the hustlers and the cheesy infrastructure that builds up around major tourist destinations but avoiding these places doesn’t make me a better person. They just make me a person who didn’t see Angkor Wat or Giza (I liked the pyramids!).

    • JoAnna says:

      When I travel, I go to places that interest me. And you know what interests me? Interesting places!”

      Well said. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

  16. Sabina says:

    These are excellent points, JoAnna. I think travelers should venture off the beaten path, but only after they’ve seen the well-known spots or have been sure to leave enough time to do so. After all, how could anyone be so near Angkor Wat and skip it? Conversely, though, I say do skip the Statute of Liberty. It is a totally boring time waster to travel there, you can see it quite well at a distance, and there are hundreds of other on the beaten paths places in NYC.

    • JoAnna says:

      I’m hearing a lot about skipping the Statue of Liberty. I’m glad to know there’s a good alternate to visiting the site.

  17. Travelogged says:

    Great post — I’m a big believer in #1. The most popular places tend to be the most popular places for a reason. Of course, that doesn’t mean that less popular places can’t be just as good better. But the “staples” like London, Paris, etc. really don’t disappoint.

  18. It’s always important to do what makes you happy. You’re not traveling for other people, so why worry about what they think? :)

    • JoAnna says:

      Wise words coming from someone who has forged her own path. I think it’s safe to say you know exactly what you’re talking about, @Brooke.

  19. Definitely agreed — people get hung up about these tourist classics, but come on: are you really going to deny someone the pleasure of taking a photograph and seeing in real life some (lame or otherwise) attraction that they’ve seen movies and films their whole life?

    I think not. Travel is the experience you make — so make your own path, regardless of what the guidebook says.

  20. I love this post! I agree that people get waaay too hung up on touristy vs non-touristy. Some people only get one chance to visit a place — and I wouldn’t want to not see something popular just b/c of some tourist stigma attached. You would regret it for the rest of your life!

    It’s your life and your vacation — you should be the one who decides what to see!

    • JoAnna says:

      @Andy and @Robin ~

      Travel is the experience you make – so make your own path.”

      It’s your life and your vacation – you should be the one who decides what to see!”

      Yes and yes. Why should anyone else define what we want to see and do?

  21. Anil says:

    I loved this post and #1 in particular. There’s a reasons most places become as popular as they do and besides, we all travel for ourselves to large extent. Who cares what you go and see, it’s your trip and life :) If you want to see something you by all means should.

    • JoAnna says:

      @Travelogged and @Anil ~ I think sometimes people forget that icons are icons for a reason. There’s no reason to shy away from fantastic sites just because other people also think they’re worth visiting. I can’t imagine what my first trip to London would have been like if I’d skipped Westminster and the crown jewels.

  22. Nick says:

    Not a lot to add, since I agree with all your points, JoAnna, and everything in the comments too! I’ll say one thing though. Nothing pisses me off more than meeting someone who comes to Cairo and through some misplaced sense of whatever doesn’t bother to visit the Pyramids. I don’t care whether you like old stones or not, it’s compulsory, and if I catch you I will drag you there, kicking and screaming if necessary!!!

    • JoAnna says:

      I promise that if I’m even in Cairo, Nick, I will absolutely, 100% visit the pyramids. I wouldn’t dream of missing them.

  23. Stephen says:

    You are less likely to get kidnapped and held for ransom if you stay on the beaten path.

  24. Trisha says:

    I love this post JoAnna! I’d like to add one more reason — and I hope it won’t be considered tacky to mention the context — but I think one should also see the “popular” sites because you never know what the future will bring.

    I won’t forget my first visit to the Word Trade Center, the week before 9/11. Although I’ve been to NYC many, many times before, I never got around to seeing the towers and just assumed they’d always be there if I ever wanted to go. But a scheduled lunch with friends at the restaurant at the top finally got me to go, and I’m really glad I did.

    In my lifetime much has changed — massive glaciers have melted, once-roaring rivers have dried up, mountains have been nearly obliterated, and several species of animals have become extinct. Nothing is forever, so I say see it while you can.

    • JoAnna says:

      Unfortunately, you bring up a good point Trisha.

      It makes me think of my trip to Glacier National Park only 10 years ago; I really do wonder what the park must look like now.

  25. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the “beaten path”. It’s that way for a reason. I don’t have to see something just because it’s been labeled a “must see”. If something doesn’t interest me, then I skip it. I’ve never skipped anything because too many people have gone there before me. Good post.

  26. A bonus to visiting the touristy places is the cheesy photos you get to take home with you. ;)

    It certainly doesn’t make you less of a traveler to go to the tourist hot spots, but I’m not a fan of spending an entire vacation in busy areas filled with other trigger happy travellers. A mix of the two is nice.

    • JoAnna says:

      Ahhh … the cheesy photos. We’ve definitely got a few of those (see example of my husband with his head in the troll cut-out).

  27. Mikeachim says:

    Well said. :)

    There’s also another good reason to venture to well-trodden parts of the world: to hone your powers of observation. When every pillar of the Parthenon has been lovingly, over-lyrically described by every travel book on Greece, it forces you to look for something different if you’re going to have anything interesting to say afterwards. What’s with the scaffolding round the Acropolis today? What’s this hole in the ground that everyone is stepping around on their way up to the Proplyaea? How is everyone around you reacting to their surroundings? What happens when the tourists aren’t here — and who can you ask about that?

    When all the usual perspectives have been taken, it forces you to get creative, to see with fresher eyes than normal. I rather like that feeling. :)

    • JoAnna says:

      Great point @Mikeachim! You’re right. When something is so overdone, it’s up to us to figure out how we define it for ourselves. We have to take the opportunity to find those things that make a tourist attraction special and meaningful to us.

  28. Anne says:

    Right on! From the comments, it looks like a lot of people in the travel community support the beaten path. I really agree with #7. One has the luxury of time to go off the beaten path on longer trips sometimes. But if I’m only in one place for a short time, I like to cram things in.
    btw, I really dig your blog!

  29. Ken says:

    I try to mix. If you’ve never been some place, see the main site(s), then go walkabout, exploring off in other directions — depending on time constraints (ahh, the days of open-ended travelling…). One truism I’ve discovered: No matter how far and wide you’ve travelled, you’ll run into someone who has gone further and wider. Luckily, it’s not a contest. Go where *you* want to go. And see what *you* want to see.

  30. lisa says:

    I was a little suprised to see such strong sentiments. There were only a few comments coming from a “live and live attitude”. Traveling is such a personal experience. I deliberately try to avoid those tourist areas because I found that it is harder to immerse myself in the culture because the locals are performing a service and have restrictions on time, levels of interactions with guests and are not in their true element. In Cuba doing a homestay allowed for political discourse that could have never happened in one of the government run tourist hotels. In Africa going to church and being the “lighter” face drew curious inquiry, chat and an invitation to a families home for dinner. There are kidnappings in every busy crowed city check out Mexico City-it doesn’t bring u safety, experience and awareness does. The best time of my life was getting stranded on the side of the road traveling through Turkey with a map, a headlamp standing next to a farting camel while some kind soul came out of his house to offer me tea at 3 am! Travel is different for everyone there are pros and cons to beaten path and road less traveled ruling out either one because of sterotypes or fear limits you.

    • JoAnna says:

      Thanks for your comment, Lisa. I definitely agree that travel is a very personal experience and that the “right” place for one person isn’t necessarily so for another. What a great story about being stranded in Turkey!

  31. Jeremy B says:

    Some of these I agree with and some I don’t. I definitely agree with seeing things for the sake of time. However, I LOVE getting away from the tourists and sites and seeing what the locals and the culture are like. I do some of both.

  32. Maren Hogan says:

    I love this post. I have been kicking around the concept of “travel vs tourism” and since I’m sort of new to this, I’ve definitely seen the “been there, done that” attitude. Only problem, I HAVEN’T “been there” or “done that” and half the fun (for me) on travel is the people I meet or observe. And as someone else pointed out here in the comments, the sharing of travel stories. If I don’t have that (again for ME) there is a little piece of it missing. Thanks Joanna, for making it cool to be a tourist. Or at least tourist-y

    • JoAnna says:

      Ahhh, yes, the travel vs tourism debate. I really think the most important thing is that people travel in some form or fashion, however that may be. No choice but to take a staycation? That’s cool. Want to hit up the touristy sites? That’s fine too. I really think people get so caught up in definitions that they forget that the most important part of travel is that it *actually happens.*

      So, yes, being a tourist can be cool. You’ll find me in the line at the Louvre and walking along the Great Wall of China. Why not? And quite frankly, who cares?

  33. Kyle says:

    This reminds me of people who make fun of you for liking a popular music artist JUST because they are popular. Well, they’re probably popular for a reason, a lot of people like them. Just like a lot of people like times square but will be made fun of for going there.

  34. You’re right about that the beaten track is the beaten track for a reason. That’s where all the good stuff is but I would also recommend to go OF the beaten track because that’s where the real traveling is.
    You’re not gonna experience the real culture if you’re around locals who see tourists (especially the fat wallet types) everyday. Sit on a chicken bus in a strange part of a country and get some real experiences to get the best feel for the country.

    • JoAnna says:

      I guess I’m not comfortable with defining with “real traveling” is because I think that’s different for each person. Yes, there are some experiences you aren’t likely to have walking the same footsteps that a million other people have walked, but I don’t think that diminishes the word “travel.” It’s different things to different people.

  1. April 14, 2011

    […] This post was inspired by JoAnna Haugen’s 9 Reasons Why It’s Okay to Stay On the Beaten Path. […]

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