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