THE BEST OFF THE BEATEN PATH TRAVEL TIPS
Whether you call it getting off the beaten track or off the beaten path, the result is the same. You're looking for unique experiences, the so-called hidden gems, that make travel feel alive.
Or, well, are you? Because before we dive head first into these off the beaten path travel tips, let's just check in.
Are you looking for unusual things to do because that's what you want? Or because that's what you feel you should be doing.
Because if visiting Big Ben, eating a croissant on the Eiffel Tower and swinging through New York with a pretzel in one hand and a Statue of Liberty souvenir in the other is your thing... Then go for it! Forget the weird sense of tourist travel shame!
But, or even and, if you also want to get off the beaten path then here's how to do it.
Off the beaten path vs off the beaten track. What’s the difference? And what's the meaning and origin of off the beaten track anyway?
Path is the American version and track is the British English idiom.
The beating part refers to uncharted territory, when people had to literally beat a path through the thick undergrowth. The next people to follow along had the benefit of walking along the beaten track - a much easier and less labour-intensive method of travel.
1 - Visit Smaller Cities and Neighbourhoods
From the curious Eiffel Bridge in Girona (yes, it's the same guy) to the sandy beaches and powerful Peace Palace of The Hague, some of the best trips I've been on have involved the smaller cities near the big ones.
So, Girona instead of Barcelona. The Hague instead of Amsterdam. Chiavenna instead of Milan.
You can extend the idea to regions as well. Visit Ras al Khaimah instead of Dubai, for example. Or Namibia instead of South Africa.
If you're not sure where to find ideas (after all, you don't know what you don't know) then browse around the destinations page here. We love finding hidden gems for you!
2 - Ask Locals for Tips Before You Go
Asking people for help before you've met them is easier said than done, right?
Not always! People are SO helpful online if you know where to look. Ask on Twitter, look out for Facebook Groups, ask in the blog comments or if all else fails, ask me and I'll see if I can direct you somewhere!
Check out apps like Spotted by Locals, where a few pounds will buy you a downloadable map with non-touristy recommendations.
Disclosure - I once met the man who runs the app. He's a lovely guy and offered me free maps for review purposes. One day, I'll take him up on the offer!
3 - Travel Under Your Own Steam
Whether we're talking about hiring a car and planning your own route, hiking for days on end or just, quite literally, walking away from the crowds for the afternoon, the best way to escape the crowds is to...
... escape from the crowds.
The best memories I have from Venice, one of the most overcrowded tourist destinations on earth, are those when I just turned left when everyone else turned right.
"Lines of laundry stretch along the peeling plaster and painted shutters like flags on a village fete. Tanned men in loafers drive their speedboats too fast, sloshing foam onto the brickwork that looks as though it has seen it all. There’s the sound of a baby crying and the smell of freshly baked bread. And not a tourist to be seen."
4 - Take a Cooking Class
Look, if you've been around for a while, I know I’m starting to sound a little obsessed by this.
But seriously. Chefs are passionate people. They have to be to follow that lifestyle.
They’re passionate about food and where it comes from. They source ingredients, they know where to shop, they know the history of the dish. You'll find so much rich information and getting off the beaten path travel tips by talking to chefs, you'll keep yourself busy for weeks.
You’ll also get the chance to mix with other people, resident and traveller alike, and the whole conversation will feel a whole lot less creepy than if you try while walking down the street.
By talking to other people, you’ll find even more up to date suggestions and (cliché alert!) hidden gems.
We found a blazing rust-red shipwreck on an unmarked beach in Greece simply by talking to people during a cooking lesson.
5 - Travel in the Off Season
Instead of physically getting off the beaten track, you can achieve much the same thing by simply travelling at a different time in the off season.
As long as things are still open, travel in the off season can be hugely rewarding. For a start, the crowds are gone. But so, too, are a lot of the seasonal workers and the production-line feel of some parts of the world.
Residents themselves will be more relaxed and willing to stop and chat.
And it's a wonderful way to experience the authentic side of your destination.
Why some people hate the phrase getting off the beaten track
Editors are tired of seeing it and, let’s face it, some use it pretty smugly as a reason to feel superior.
Live and let live, I say.
Track, path, on, off, there’s room for us all in this world.
WHY I LOVE GETTING OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Personally? I LOVE getting off the beaten track.
Why? Because I hate being beaten. Figuratively and literally. Literally.
I’m not a particularly patient person and despite my British accent, I really don’t like queues.
To me, nothing sucks the soul out of a situation faster than trudging at a glacial pace through a tetris-shaped cordon walkway, hearing orders barked from staff who’ve lost the will to live and wondering where the toilets are.
I mean. That’s what airports are for. And immigration.
But once I’m on the ground, I like to feel free! Free, free I tell you!
As Though I'm Not There
I like to see the world as though I’m not there. I want to taste food as it should be, not how it’s been “repackaged” for foreigners. I want to see the mist rising up as the mountain reaches the morning sky, not a forest of selfie sticks blocking my view. I want to speak to someone who still feels their story is one to be told, not simply rehashed for the sake of a quick buck.
And, if I’m honest, I want that subtle thrill of adventure, that hint of unsteadiness and newness that makes me feel like an explorer.
So, with all that said, for me, getting off the beaten track is more about losing the crowds and finding an experience that means something to me.
It’s not better in a moral sense. I’d no more recommend skipping the Eiffel Tower and the Sistine Chapel than I’d suggest swapping a face towel for sandpaper and flicking salt in your eyes.
But there is, as it turns out, a hidden benefit for trying to get off the beaten track a little more.
Why Getting off the Beaten Path is Important
Just as the world would not go hungry, even with its population of 7.7 billion, if we all shared our food, so overtourism would melt away if we all spread out a little more.
Residents of cities like Amsterdam, Venice and Barcelona have moved beyond the “off the beaten track” debate. They’re actively trying to lay down tracks to move people away from their cities. Because the funny thing is, you really don’t have to go far from any of these to find incredibly beautiful, authentic, fascinating places. Places where residents will be pleased to see you!