Does “Off the Beaten Path” Even Exist?

While touring the Freedom Trail, the mister and I had a thought. We’re doing exactly what every tourist would do in Boston: walking the red painted line that demarcates the freedom of America’s forefathers. There is no way this trail can be considered “off the beaten path.” In fact, it’s probably one of the most beaten paths in the States, just shy of Robert Frost’s famous “diverged fork in the road” path.

Our goal for two days in Boston was to explore every cultural aspect of the city. Had we not planned to tour the Freedom Trail, we both feel we would have done a disservice to the cultural and historical integrity that make up Boston. Visiting a country and learning about its history is one of the best ways to show appreciation for that country.

It is was then that we realized there is no such thing as “off the beaten path.” Trying to find a place that can’t be considered touristy and labeling it as “off the beaten path” is pointless. We are all visitors/tourists/travelers in a local’s eyes, no matter what superior labeling we give ourselves. We’ll always be a gringo, a farang, or a 老外 (literal translation: Old Outsider). So, why try to purposely avoid specifics to make yourself admirable. Consider these:

Tourist Spots are Tourist Spots for a Reason
Tourist spots are labeled as such because of their history. They are what make the country as we know it today. Unfortunately, for those who strive to travel “off the beaten path,” they may just miss out on the history of a particular place. Paris wouldn’t have been Paris if we didn’t visit the Eiffel Tower, or the Louvre. Thailand wouldn’t have been Thailand if we didn’t pay homage to the various temples. The list could go on, but the fact is, we wouldn’t have been good travelers if we didn’t respect the institutions that make a country what it is. Furthermore, who are we to decide that those tourist spots are on or off the beaten path.

The Douche-y Attitude of Off The Beaten Path
On occasion, the mister likes to help people plan their own travels on various travel forums. One particular question stood out to him: a lady was asking other users how to get to Stonehenge from London with only four days in the city.

Instead of helping the woman, other users berated her traveling abilities by saying that they would not waste their time at Stonehenge and therefore the lady shouldn’t either. The problem is that all these “helpers” had visited Stonehenge and had concluded that such a historical place has become too inundated by tourists; essentially, by people like them.

Instead of joining the “off the beaten path” gang, the mister suggested a few routes for the lady to take so that she could come up with her own conclusion to Stonehenge. It’s this “holier-than-thou” attitude by “off the beaten pathers” that can wreak havoc on people who are just trying to transcend their travels (even if it means visiting a bunch of touristy rocks).

You’re Not Carpe Diem-ing your Travels
Then there is the incessant need for off the beaten path travelers to get away from the so-called typical tourist areas. Sitting in a bar, eating at an unknown restaurant, or traveling some supposedly unknown path seem to be the modus operandi for these travelers.

As if no one has ever done those things before…

The truth is everyone has done those things before. A lot of people have discovered the really good beer at the super cool bar. Lots of people have eaten at the unknown restaurant or that place would have gone out of business. Tons of people have traveled that unknown path or you wouldn’t have found it. The whole world is a tourist spot.  There is not one “path” on this green earth that hasn’t been beaten-down by a person, whether that person is local or otherwise. It just hasn’t been beaten-down by you yet.

Take, for example, the time I discovered Thousand Steps Beach in Laguna Beach. It’s probably the most beautiful beach in Southern California with the most beautiful sunsets known to man. For 21 years of my life, this place was unknown to me. Even as a local, I had no idea this place existed. Essentially, I was a “tourist” in my own backyard. But, that doesn’t mean other people–locally or world-wide–didn’t know 1000 Steps Beach existed. If that’s the case, it certainly wouldn’t be fair of me to label the beach as “off the beaten path.”

There’s a lot of Money in Off the Beaten Path Travel
A quick google search of the phrase “off the beaten path” brings up at least ten “Top 10 off the beaten path destinations.” If a place is less-roamed, how did it make its way on a Top 10 list?

The search also brings up several “off the beaten path” tour companies and several “off the beaten path” guidebooks. As you can see, it’s profitable to market “off the beaten path” travel. People can make a lot of money off your desire to be different or to do something different. It’s all a scheme and eventually that little hidden gem is going to be swamped by tourists because everyone bought the same guidebook.

The Issue of “Off the Beaten Path” Being Some Undiscovered Area
If people live there, then a place is not secluded (penguins of Antarctica included). It is not a place that desires to be “discovered,” “tamed,” “studied,” “judged,” “explored” and so on. Locals are doing that everyday.

I would like to think we’re past the days of colonization. But, if we’re desiring to travel to “unknown” places, we’re doing so with the guise that the place may be a little savage; as if it needs discovery from a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows this guy’s cousin who went to some far-reaching area of the edge of Burma to tell you that that place is safe enough for travel and that “the people” who live there are “pretty cool,” too.

But, There’s Nothing Wrong With Getting a Little Lost on Your Travels
It’s ok to put down the GPS or the phone or the map for a moment and take in all the beauties of a place. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: every place is beautiful and has something to offer, no matter what.

It’s perfectly ok to have to point to food when ordering because you don’t know the language.

It’s also perfectly fine to get a little lost. Getting lost happens in travel. The results of getting lost are what make “off the beaten path” travel. It’s a place that’s new to you, not a place you paid $20 to have a guidebook tell you to get lost in. It’s a place where you make the memories, not your tour guide. It’s a place where thousands of other people may be, looking at the same thing you’re looking at, but because you cherish culture and learning so much, you feel like you’re the only one there.

It’s that feeling of awe and appreciation, that single unique feeling of wonder, that sets you apart from the others who are just there for the sake of saying they’ve been there, done that and bought the t-shirt.  That is what traveling should be and for us, that has made all the difference.

Not off the beaten path in Scotland. Not off the beaten path in Scotland.

Ever had that feeling of appreciation on your travels? How do you transcend your travels?

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31 responses

  • Very good.

    There is no difference between tourists and travellers.

    BTW a couple of years ago I did a thoroughly unscientific survey of blogs which mentioned the word ‘Stonehenge’ over the course of a month. I pulled out those that were by people who had visited. The great majority seemed to be glad thay they’d gone.

    • Hi Matt,

      Thank you for your reply.

      We loved Stonehenge. To us, it’s more than just rocks. And a pretty awesome experience. We’re glad we visited. =)

  • Great post. Get out there and see, do, experience the beaten path as well as the one not quite so beaten. But as the Nike motto goes – Just Do It!

    • If you only had 4 days in London, would you consider a trip to Stonehenge a must-see? Always curious to see what adventurers favorite sites are.

      And I couldn’t agree more…getting lost is one of the best experiences a traveler can have!

      • Hi Morgan,

        Thank you for commenting. The lady never asked for opinions on whether she should or should not go to Stonehenge. She only asked for how. People should never forcefully inject their own traveling style to others. She might be a huge fan of archeology for all we know. People were berating her and my husband felt that it was unfair to not get “help” from a “help” forum. But since you asked our opinion, we definitely would suggest Stonehenge. Especially to those who are anthropology geeks like us.

  • Very good points. I have been guilty of using these words but it is because many people want to feel as though they are explorers in a sense. They are discovering something that the majority of tourists don’t – most of the time that means visiting lesser known tourist areas. Either way you splice it you are are tourist/traveler in another country and everyone has their own traveling intentions so why berate someone because of their ideas of travel?
    I have struggled with this idea of traveler vs tourist for a while but now I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter what you label it as long as we are responsible travellers while in another country/city.


    • Hi Murissa,

      Thanks for your response. =)

      Traveling taught us to be less judgmental in many regards. We also learned to be much more respectful of differences. Unfortunately, sometimes it doesn’t work for others. And we agree: no matter how you look at it, travel is travel.

  • I’m realizing the more I travel, the less interested I am in the big attractions (Trevi Fountain, Eiffel Tower, etc.) simply because seeing a monument isn’t really seeing the city I’m in. But it doesn’t mean I’ve completely lost interest in all those “touristy” things. I prefer to just BE somewhere, sitting at a cafe or in a plaza, just enjoying the change of scenery. But I still want to see certain things like Machu Picchu and Chichen Itza and the Great Wall of China. You’re right, you can’t REALLY get off the beaten path. I recently had someone ask me for the “must see” things in a city because he wanted to get off the beaten path. Huh? That doesn’t even make sense. Go just to go, go to see something that grabs your interest, but don’t go to impress someone else.

    • Hi Ali,

      thank you for the response. =)

      For us, a monument is not just a monument. We’re especially interested in the art and history as well as the past and present social impact. We’re nerds for that kind of historical influences. We agree, a city is not solely represented by the major attractions. We prefer a mixture of different ways to explore cities including yours. Our point is merely to express that there is not a superior traveling style, and we should respect and accept each other.

  • I don’t think off the beaten path means no tourists. You can’t find many of those places, if you do, you’re a pretty awesome explorer! Some places get a million tourists, but it is for a reason. I did go to Stonehenge, was I disappointed? yes. Was I glad that I went? yes. Would I go again? No. Would I recommend people to go? Absolutely!

    I think the idea of off the beaten path is to go somewhere not yet found by the majority of tourists.Going to many islands in Philippines I’d consider to be off the beaten path as opposed to Thailand. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy Thailand, I did! What it means that the path to Thailand is more beaten than the path to Philippines, but yes the path has already been taken by many before you no matter where you go :)

    • Hi Jarmo~
      Thank you for commenting. Our Filipino friends would disagree with you on your comparison, but would appreciate you for visiting their country. For us, We are merely expressing that any types of comparison is pointless. In our opinion, one should also never blatantly refuse to travel somewhere based on the number of tourists in order to represent themselves as being better (although we are not saying that you do that.) We dislike giving anything a label to represent superiority. “Off the beaten path” to us, is merely a label to do just that. Can’t we all just share travel stories without labels of comparison?

    • Hi Andrea and John,

      We totally agree with you. Traveling is traveling and we should all just share stories without labeling of superiority. We loved and enjoyed the Freedom Trail, especially all the inexpensive and free sites. If you are art history geeks like us, you would also appreciate the Museum of Fine Arts.

      Happy travels~

  • I like to see the obvious sites. They are popular for a reason, after all. But I think it’s still possible to discover some very quiet and very beautiful locations if you have the time and inclination to walk in the opposite direction to everyone else. I’m not saying these places will be undiscovered, but certainly more chilled.out.

    • Hi Arianwen,

      Thank you for commenting. We agree with you. A mixture of different types of itineraries also works best for us. Happy travels~

  • Great article. When I travel I always try to go “off the beaten path.” However, it gets really difficult to do not go to touristy places.
    Love the photo! Scotland is one of my favorite countries in Europe.

    • Thank you, Alex.

      We just don’t believe off the beaten path exists, especially when used as a label to elevate a journey and/ or oneself. It tends to objectify locals who have lived in the area for years. Happy travels~

  • Yes, yes and yes. I couldn’t agree more. If you travel just to be that person to say you go off the beaten path, you aren’t really traveling at all I don’t think. Popular sights are popular for a reason. I wouldn’t want to miss seeing the Eiffel Tower just because it’s well visited. I think you can always see something new in what an infinite number of people have seen.

    • Hi Suzy,

      thank you for commenting. I would agree, the outlook that you have in travel is much more important than trying to label it to feel different or special. =)

      Thank you for reading!

    • Thank you, for your response, Charu. Agree. it’s true people don’t want to do what others have done. But, I think we’re lucky enough to experience it in the first place. So, it doesn’t need a special name.

  • Love this post and so true. I travel to locations that I find interesting to me. I may go to a happening touristy spot or I may not; it depends on what I like and how much time I have to spend. For instance, if I ever go to Paris, I have no interest to go to the Louvre, because I’m not an art museum kinda girl, but I will definitely find myself at the Eiffel Tower. My friend just got back and she had no line at the Louvre on a Thursday late morning. Now, if I was walking by and saw no line, I might consider it. When I went to London, I went to the Imperial War Museum and Churchill’s War Rooms instead of say Tate Modern, but that’s because I love military and war history. I went to Memphis. Did I feel it necessary to go to Graceland even though I’m not an Elvis fan? Yes. When we found out that it was an hour and 45 min wait, we took our picture in front of the wall out on the street and got out of there.
    However, I will say that if a restaurant is known to be too touristy and really not great, I will probably steer clear of it and find something else.

    • Thank you for your comment, Kristi.

      Art is my career and life. We never miss a museum. :) I always wanted to be a director of either The Met, The Louvre, or The National Palace Museum of Taiwan. What a career that would be, up close and personal with all the art work!

      We completely agree, each person has their own interest and budget which makes many traveling options out there. No one is more superior and it drives us nuts when people bash on others to elevate themselves. Happy travels~ Go Nuts!

  • amen! i love this post. i am learning to be better about traveling for me, and if that means hiking the freedom trail (which i loved, btw), then hand me my toms and point me to the red line. thank you for posting this – i will definitely share. also…LOVE 1000 steps beach. i literally learned of it two weeks ago, aka the week i moved back to texas after being in LA for five years. it is by far my favorite socal beach, and i am sick i didn’t know of it sooner.

    • Thank you for your support, Eva.
      LA is definitely one of the many unique cities out there. At least to me, it is the most diverse city there is, with top of the line authentic food and culture from all over the world. Unfortunately, due to its vast size and none-public transport friendliness. It is hard for visitors to discover the real side of LA and the pockets of awesome without a local guide. People’s imagination of LA are often shattered by our famous landmarks, and our gloomy and cold beaches. We found that South OC’s beaches usually match up with visitor’s imagination of LA’s coastline instead of Malibu. After 20+ years of being in LA, we still discover pockets of exciting areas every weekend or newly imported KBBQ joint from Korea. We <3 Los Angeles.

  • Yes, I love this post and completely agree! Whilst I enjoy sitting in cafes and people watching in places to get a feel for them, the monuments, sites, and tourist attractions offer us an insight into the history of a place more than any amount of people watching could. “Tourist attractions” have a place in the past which is why they are so popular and why people keep flocking to them. A place wouldn’t be where it is today without its history and, as tourists, we should be delving into this as well as the things we can discover in the present – ergo, visit tourist attractions and museums! – to get a more rounded picture of a place.

  • I think that it can be very tempting to go in search of “off the beaten path” and to look for that “new”, “undiscovered” locale… for so many reasons. I have often been amazed when I have visited tourist destinations because in going there, you discover that they really are extraordinary places and that is why people flock to see them.

    • Hi Mary,

      We wholeheartedly agree with extraordinary. We were just at San Marco Square in Venice. There were tons of people. Yet, you can’t argue with the fact that the square and the church have showed up in so many historical paintings. And that makes it neat. =D

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