Why off the beaten path places are sometimes the best places to Visit
One thing we realized reflecting on our last 6 years of full-time travel is that our most vivid memories are from the “off the beaten path places” that we’ve visited. Places like Ukraine, Armenia, Colombia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Georgia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa, and North Macedonia.
That’s not to take away from “popular” destinations. We love places like Germany, Spain and Italy. But there’s something about off the beaten path places that just excites us more.
I started travelling to these kinds of places long before I met Lissette in 2005. I was at a time in my life where I felt stressed (work, a recent divorce, raising a son) but also bored with life. My life felt too structured. I felt there was something missing.
In 2001 I had my first trip to Asia. I was 35 at the time. Despite having lived in Africa and travelling a lot when I was younger I had never actually travelled solo. On that trip I spent 3 weeks bouncing around Hong Kong and South East Asia, mostly travelling solo but also meeting up with my childhood friend “George” (“George” doesn’t want me to use his real name). We spent a lot of time arguing during that trip – we’ve been lifelong friends but it’s where I learned that travelling with someone is something entirely different. I realized during that trip that although it was nice seeing a friendly face, I preferred travelling solo.
I can credit that first trip for giving me the confidence to travel by myself. After that I had a couple of trips to the Dominican Republic where I spontaneously criss-crossed the country on buses and drove a motorcycle through the mountains. I met weird characters, made a few Dominican friends, and was introduced to rum, cigars, merengue music, Dominican strip joints and baseball games. In 2004 I did the same thing in Colombia despite warnings from friends and family. People didn’t just go to Colombia at that time. I remember flying from Bogota to Cartagena on a plane filled with soldiers. I met friendly people, saw some incredible natural beauty and fell in love with the country.
For me there was no other way to travel. Travelling to off the beaten path destinations meant that experiences were authentic and prices low. I would show up in a city and have no issues finding a hotel – any other tourist was most likely fighting over beach chairs at an all-inclusive. I met locals and hung out with them and their friends. I had fun and adventure. I think my experiences also helped me grow, giving me confidence, something that I had lacked in my 20’s.
See my e-book Misadventures in Far Away Places if you want to read more about my early travels.
It was travelling as I did that made me dream of travelling full-time. I was hooked. When I met Lissette in 2005 I told her that travelling was what I wanted to do. Lissette had no issue with that – she had left New York to work in Montreal and wasn’t tied down to anything.
Looking back now at the 6 years since we left Montreal in 2014, it is the off the beaten path places that stick out. We of course haven’t travelled the same that I did on those solo holidays in my mid-30’s. Still though, the attraction (and challenges) of these places are the same: they’re less crowded, less expensive, travel can be more complicated, language is more of a factor. But those destinations also mean more authentic experiences and more meaningful personal interactions. Ukraine, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are 3 countries special to us because of interaction we’ve had with locals. Another thing about off the beaten path places is the unknown and unexpected. Sure, the Lisbons and Romes of the world get great press and accolades. But who would have expected Kyiv (Kiev) to be have some of the most impressive highlights anywhere in Europe? (a place where the Canadian ambassador wrote me and invited us to a Canadian embassy party. Now, would that happen in Paris for example?). Who would have expected Sofia (Bulgaria) to be such a pleasant city? And who would have known about Armenia’s fantastic food, Cognac, and its fractious history with its neighbors? (after a month in Armenia last year the current war with Azerbaijan/Turkey isn’t a surprise to us).
You can read about places but until you’re there they’re just words and places on a map. But it’s getting to know these little known, lesser visited places that really gives you an appreciation for travel. I compare it to discovering a good wine bottle. Sure, it’s great when everyone tells you about a great bottle and you try it and love it. But it’s even better finding a great bottle of wine that nobody’s told you about. That’s what’s special about off the beaten path places.
Related: Have you heard about Moldova? The 5 Best Places to See in Moldova