If you’ve hung around in travel circles, read travel blogs or joined any travel forums, you’ll be very familiar with the phrase “off the beaten path.” Everyone wants to get off the beaten path these days. But what does that even mean? And more importantly, does it even exist?
The beaten path is beaten for a reason
So for there to be an area that is off of the beaten path, that means there has to be a beaten path to begin with. The beaten path, aka the tourist trail, is full of a place’s best known activities that all of the tourists flock to. It’s the must-sees and must-dos. It’s the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Taj Mahal in India and Times Square in New York.
Usually, a path is beaten for a reason. Sure, some things on the beaten path seem incredibly overrated and I’m not sure how they got there (Mona Lisa, I’m looking at you). But others, like Toronto’s CN Tower or Vancouver’s Stanley Park, are beaten for a reason. They’re awesome places that deserve to be visited.
And you are not a lesser traveller for wanting to visit these places or for enjoying them. There’s no shame in saying that you loved the London Eye or a canal boat ride in Amsterdam. Hold your head high and proclaim your love for *insert popular tourist attraction here.*
Why is off the beaten path better?
So why is there shame in enjoying things on the beaten path? Why do us travellers think we’re so much better if our trip is full of hidden gems and undiscovered areas?
Truth time: we’re not better. You’re not a better traveller if you skip the Louvre. There’s no award given out for refusing to look at Big Ben. And no one is judging you for wanting to see the Pyramids.
So why then do we think it’s not a good trip or we’re not good travellers unless we do something no one else has ever done? Why are we obsessed with getting off the beaten path?
Is anything actually off the beaten path anymore?
Back in the day, if you went to a restaurant that wasn’t attached to the hotel where you were staying, people would say you were going off of the beaten path. Or if you attempted to take local transit instead of a taxi, you were really leaving the beaten path behind. But these days, things have changed.
If you’re asking for suggestions in a travel forum or reading about a place on a travel blog, it’s not actually off the beaten path. Sure, it may be a little less well-known, but it’s still touristed. Don’t believe me? Remember that it is being suggested to you by fellow tourists!
Plus, “off the beaten path” is completely relative. To some people, anywhere outside of North America or Europe is off the beaten path. And to others, you’d have to find a place that Google Maps can’t even reach for it to be considered “off the beaten path.”
So unless you visit a completely remote place that is off the grid – and you discover it all by yourself – you’re really not leaving the official beaten path. At least, not completely. And it is very hard in this day and age to find a place like that. Furthermore, most travellers don’t actually want to find a place like that.
You know what would be really off the beaten path for Vancouver? Coming out to my neighbourhood in Surrey. We have a grocery store, a bank and a few needles lying around in the local park. Is it off the beaten path? Absolutely. Would you want to spend much time here as a traveller? Absolutely not.
It’s starting to sound like we don’t actually want to stray that far from the beaten path after all…
Why you should go off the beaten path
Even though “off the beaten path” might not actually exist, let’s say you still want to go there. Or you at least want a place that’s farther from the beaten path and less touristed. That’s totally fine! In fact, I often feel the same way.
Here are some valid reasons to seek the path less travelled:
- You’re sick and tired of fighting with crowds of other tourists
- And you’re even more sick and tired of dealing with their iPads and selfie sticks
- You’re craving a more authentic and local experience
- You’re following something you’re genuinely interested in, like your love of street art or passion for live theatre
- You want to wander and stumble into something wherever you end up
Why you should NOT go off the beaten path
But here are (in my incredibly self-righteous opinion, of course) some reasons why you should not go off of the beaten path. If the only reason you want to leave the path is one of these, you may need to rethink your route:
- You want to be the first or only person to discover something
- You want to get a photo with no one else in it for Instagram
- And you want to brag about a bar/cafe/park no one has heard of on your blog
If you want to be the first or only person to discover something, I hate to break it to you (actually, I don’t mind): you’re not the first or the only. I guarantee you some other traveller has been there before. And, more importantly, there is likely a community of local people who frequent that area every day. So no, you didn’t discover that restaurant or this viewpoint. It might be time to ask yourself why being the first or only is so important to you.
When it comes to bragging about finding some place that no one has heard of, I get it. I’ve been there. I’m sure you can find a direct quote on this blog of me saying, “And then we just stumbled into this little pub that we found…” But the truth is, we went to that one pub one time and it just happened to be adorable. We didn’t discover it and it isn’t a hidden gem to the countless other people who go there regularly. Plus, there may have been a million other pubs that were even cuter, but we didn’t take the time to find out. So do I really have anything to brag about?
What’s the path forward?
rant post was inspired by a podcast I was listening to. The people on the podcast were saying that they don’t want to go to Iceland, even though they have never been, because everyone has been and they don’t know what would be left to discover. Um, seriously!?! Iceland – that’s what would be left to discover! The beautiful and awe-inspiring country that you haven’t seen with your own two eyes.
Why is Iceland only worth visiting if no one else has been there? Why would you only want to go somewhere if you could be the first/only? You’re not a better traveller for going somewhere no one else has been. And if that attitude causes you to miss out on Iceland? Well, that just sucks for you.
Travel is becoming more accessible and our world is becoming more connected. Places that were once off the beaten path, like Iceland and Bali, are now tourist hot spots. Of course, there are pros and cons to this (overtourism, anyone?) – but we’ll save that for another blog post!
So what’s the path forward? Your path. Whether it’s beaten or not so beaten, you should have the trip that you want for your own reasons.
Plan an itinerary that honours your interests. If you love art, then of course you should head to the Louvre in Paris or Vatican City in Rome. Sure, they’re not exactly hidden gems, but they are awesome spots for art. And then you might visit an obscure art museum that many tourists skip. Choose places to visit that you will love – not ones that will look best on social media or that will give you “bragging rights” among other travellers.
And if you do end up on the beaten path, do so without shame. You’re there because you want to be. And you can do the beaten path, or any path for that matter, in your own way.
That’s what will always make your trips unique – the fact that you’re on them, seeing and doing things for yourself – whether that’s exploring famous Angkor Wat or hanging out on a small Vietnamese island.
What do you think about everyone wanting to get “off the beaten path?” I would love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below!