There is nothing like the feeling of escaping the maddening tourist crowds or finding that hidden gem when traveling. Discovering off the beaten track places to see and things to do can enhance your travel experience and create memories that will last a lifetime. Sometimes you come across off the beaten track places just from stepping back from the crowd or are mixed with the excitement and sometimes anxiety of being lost in a foreign place. The feeling of viewing and experiencing something that others don’t ‘see’ or that the locals take for granted is one of the best feelings you can have. To shop where the local people shop, to sit in a park and watch the comings and goings of people, to have alone time with a Rubens or to discover an ancient place that is ignored by tourists is the greatest feeling one can have. For me, this is the only way to travel.
We live in a very connected world today. The rise of the internet means that we have access to so much information about the world. The frustrating part of this is that yes we can find information about our destination, but millions of others are viewing the same information. There is a plethora of information out there about the typical things to do in a place. The way the internet works is that our searches often come up with the same things to do all the time (the more views a website gets the higher it ranks in Google so its often good to skip the first few pages of your web search). Even the information about off the beaten path is viewed by millions of people, often making these places no longer little treasures. So how do we start to plan for our journey, when we want that something different? Here are a few things that I do:
I start with the usual internet searches on a destination and scrolling through the pages until I find the less popular sites. Doing this gives me an idea of the typical things I would like to do. Then I search for “off the beaten track” places to see and do, knowing full well that I am in the company of many others. These searches often result in finding web pages that want to sell you on a tour and that’s okay, everyone has to make a living somehow. I then take a look at review sites, blogs and forums to get some ideas, and these can be great sources of information, particularly around safety. I now have a little list of possibles that acts as a starting point.
The next step is to go to Wikipedia or tourist information sites. I use these to find out about the history, culture and events, that might be happening at my destination. Learning about the history and culture you will more often than not also find places to go that aren’t on the typical tourist sites.
Start with a travel theme
Starting with a theme is a wonderful way to find the off the beaten path things to do. Your theme might be food or jazz, or architecture or art, whatever your heart desires. By doing this your research will lead you to many different places. You might search for “Michelin Star” restaurants, or jazz clubs or wine tasting. You will end up with a wider variety of places to go and things to do this way. You will also find what the locals like to do by starting with a travel theme.
Ask a local
What can I say? The locals are in the know. They can tell you about local events, places to shop, things to see that aren’t on the tourist map and people love to tell you about where they live. If you are a bit shy to ask, the people at the front desk of your hotel (particularly boutique hotels) will be happy to tell you about the local area. This is how I found out about a lovely little restaurant in Paris where all the cities chefs go to eat after their shifts. It’s also why it’s wise to learn a little of the language before you go.
Take public transport
Using public transport is a great way to find off the beaten track places. Buses, in particular will take you on journeys through different parts of a city. At first, this can be a little daunting, but soon you will find that people all over the world are just getting on with their day on a bus or a train and it’s really not that scary in most places. Today we can use technology to find out about local public transport options. Tip: don’t forget where you got off the bus.
For me, this is the only way to travel. By getting lost, I have not only found out so much about myself, I have also been able to really ‘see’ the places I’ve been.
If you are not used to getting lost or it makes you a little bit anxious, start by making a tourist site your starting point. Take the time to explore the surrounding streets and laneways. Expand out a few blocks and very soon you will find places where there are no other tourists around, the locals are going about their daily routines and the places to eat where the food is less expensive. (I’m not sure why people just go to see an attraction, take a selfie and then leave).
When you are really brave, get up in the morning, just head out the door and keep going. Walk down those little alleyways, (being mindful of your surroundings for your safety) have a coffee with the locals and be ‘present’ in the environment you are in. My favorite time to start my adventures is early in the morning. This is the time when you see a place come to life, where people are starting their day and there are few tourists awake. This is also the time to wander around the typical tourist sites without hoards of people and you can get to spend alone time with amazing things.
Remember to have a map in your bag, just in case. So that I don’t stand out, I use maps on my phone only if I need to but many places you visit don’t have good internet access. Just make sure if you need to use your map you do so discreetly.
If you’d like some further inspiration on where to travel check out the guides on Travel and Destinations.
Oh and of course don’t forget to look up!