Tips for Traveling Off the Beaten Path

Palm Tree Cook Islands South PacificI’m all for hitting up the sites on the beaten path, but occasionally our travels take us to places that few people go. On my recent trip to the Cook Islands, which is accessible but not particularly well known, I discovered that there are some marked differences in traveling where few people actually go. Some of these things are great benefits for those hoping to escape the crowds, and others are just a fair warning should you decide to go where few people have gone before.

You will be welcomed and appreciated to the point where you’re practically a novelty.

When you travel to a destination that doesn’t receive many visitors, the welcome you receive will be genuine. You won’t be hustled by taxi drivers who spend their lives driving foreigners around or noted simply as a name / passport number. People will ask you about yourself and your plans in their city / region / state / country, and then they’ll happily provide suggestions on other people to meet and things you should do during your visit.

Everyone will know that you’re visiting.

Don’t do anything too embarrassing or noteworthy. Everyone will know that you’re in the area, and you’ll have no anonymity while you’re there. As you make your way through your travels, people will know that you’re coming, and they, too, will be ready to welcome you and provide their own advice on what to do and who to see.

Technology may be a bit sketchy.

Sometimes it’s best just to unplug when you’re far away from anywhere, mainly because it can be frustrating to try to connect! Bandwidth is not easy (or cheap) to come by when you’re far from anywhere, so don’t count on being able to get online. Also, before you leave home, make sure you have all the cords, batteries, chargers and other gadgets you need to get by because it might be difficult and expensive to find replacements.

You can trade in tours for actual experiences.

I’m a fan of tours and organized activities under the right circumstances, but in under-traveled destinations, you have more of an opportunity to take part in genuine, on-the-ground experiences. If you prefer to take an organized tour, ask around to see if there is one that caters to your desires, but don’t be surprised if such a thing doesn’t exist. Even if it doesn’t though, don’t be shy about asking a local if they might be willing to show you around or help you experience something in particular. Chances are that these people would be more than thrilled to share the things that make their home special. One note of caution, however: Some things are personal and not meant to be experienced by outsiders, so gauge the intimacy of the experience and body language when asking to partake in a local experience without a tour guide.

Alley in Seoul South KoreaTourist infrastructure may be limited.

Along the same lines as what is noted above, don’t expect your destination to cater to traveler’s needs. This may mean that there aren’t a lot of choices for accommodations and stores are closed on the weekends. Your destination is not about you; it’s built for the people who live there. Go in knowing that your choices might be limited, but keep in mind that this feature is also one worth savoring because it’s becoming more difficult to find.

You won’t find a lot of information for planning.

Chances are there aren’t heaps of travel guides written about your destination so you won’t have a whole lot of information to sort through before you leave. If you can’t find much background, check to see if there is a tourism board that covers the area, and then spend some time searching for personal accounts online. The biggest lesson here, though, is that you just might not know exactly what to expect when you arrive, and that’s okay. Keep your schedule open and flexible, and you should be fine.

Expect a larger language barrier.

Though you may struggle with a language barrier when you travel, that problem is much more magnified when you travel to remote areas. In most parts around the world, you can usually find someone who speaks at least a small smattering of English, but when you’re truly off the beaten path, you may find that communication is significantly more difficult.

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8 Responses to “Tips for Traveling Off the Beaten Path”

  1. Scott - Quirky Travel Guy

    Communication is my biggest concern in these situations… but I guess you just have to be brave and go for it anyway.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      Fair enough. But if you can get over the lack of communication, I’ve found that truly unplugging and being in the place can be really rewarding.

      Reply
  2. Mike & Luci

    Great post. I think that preparation is probably the key to finding the best off the path gems.

    Reply
    • JoAnna

      I agree. A little research goes a long way when it comes to getting off the beaten path.

      Reply
    • Abi

      Oh, I was about to say just the opposite! With no preparation, you always get lost and you always end up finding something off the beaten path!

      Reply
  3. Darrin

    “Your destination is not about you; it’s built for the people who live there.” Well said. Such a place usually requires luck and patience, but the rewards are much higher in terms of cultural connections.

    Reply
  4. Abby

    The language barrier is actually why I LIKE getting off the beaten path. I actually relax when I know I have to use charades, and everyone is trying their hardest, or my Spanish is appreciated… rather than the stress of if I mess up one word, I get answered in English, even if their English isn’t as advanced as my Spanish — because they knew most tourists expect that.

    Reply

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