After almost three years on the road, I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to avoid crowds and get off the beaten track. Here are some of my go-to ways of getting more off the beaten track while traveling.
No crowds. More local flavor. Less souvenir stalls.
In our current era of mass tourism, who doesn’t want these?
The benefits of getting off the beaten track while traveling are obvious. We travelers hit the road to immerse ourselves in different cultures and landscapes, not have fridge magnets and menus in 12 different languages forcibly immersed up our nostrils.
Getting off the beaten track means escaping the tourist grind, finding experiences you can’t find on the back of a postcard or every other basic AF Instagram feed.
But avoiding that beaten track ain’t always easy. Anyone and their mother can find the top 10 sights on a map… but how to find that super cool temple you had no idea existed, or end up in a town where visitors are a rarity and everyone is more hospitable than a grandmother on a mission to feed her grandkids’ underweight friends?
After several years on the road—and being rather averse to tourist traps—I have a few tips and tricks up my sleeve that might help you on your quest.
5 things I do to find offbeat experiences on the road
1. Visit off the beaten track destinations.
Collective groan, go: UUUUUGH!
Okay, you can chill now. It sounds obvious, but hear me out.
Scientifically speaking, it’s approximately 24389048 times easier to find off the beaten track things to do in a place like Bangladesh than it is in, say, Thailand.
Thailand sees more than 35 million foreign tourists per year, compared to several hundred thousand in Bangladesh (if even). Tourists in Thailand roam far and wide, and many spend months or years in the country; finding places without foreign tourists in Thailand is virtually impossible. On the other hand, if you want to find a place without foreign tourists in Bangladesh, all you have to do is walk outside.
Unusual destinations aren’t always the easiest places to get to. Visa bureaucracy and lack of travel information available in books or online often complicate things. But for adventurous spirits, the struggle is almost always worth it.
2. Get a car or motorbike to explore places on your own.
Forget renting drivers or restricting yourself to public transport—getting your own vehicle is one of the most liberating ways to dig deep into a new place. I recently learned this on my motorbiking quest in Pakistan.
Public transport has schedules, and doesn’t always run to places you might want to visit. Private drivers are well and good, but often costly if hired for more than a day or two.
On the other hand, if you’re behind the wheel or handlebars, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want.
Mysterious crumbling ruins begging your attention to your left? Time to stop. Utterly adorable old lady smiling at you as she sells snacks on the roadside? Obviously you should pay her a visit.
You can drive virtually anywhere, and because you have your own transport, you know you’ll always have some way to make it back to wherever you came from. No more rushing to catch the last bus of the day, or risk being stranded overnight. Just running out of fuel, but that’s a different story.
3. Find local traveler Facebook groups or Instagram pages for recommendations.
Asking other tourists for recommendations about places to visit will lead you to overtouristed spots 98% of the time. Most are as clueless as you; why would you want to tap into their (nonexistent) expertise?
Locals, on the other hand, know what’s up. It’s not always easy to find locals who understand you want to get away from touristy places, but there’s usually a traveler community lurking somewhere online in every country. If anyone’s going to know about sweet spots no one’s ever heard of, it’s local travelers.
For example, in Pakistan I reference the Facebook group The Karakoram Club when hunting for places to visit in the mountainous north, and Travel Beautiful Pakistan on Instagram for visual inspiration from all over the country. Both are run by locals, and promote content from knowledgeable local travelers. Once you get through some of the clutter and noise, they’re goldmines of information.
4. Peruse the shit out of Google Maps.
Google is our omnipotent overlord. Rather than resist their domination of the internet, use it to your advantage.
Google Maps is often filled with places you’ve never even heard of, especially in countries where people are very active online. Spend a few minutes (or *cough* hours) trolling through what’s on the map in your area. Look at photos people upload of places. See what looks cool and what doesn’t. Make a quest out of visiting places that might be interesting; even if they turn out to be lame, you know what they say: it’s all about the journey maaaan.
An addition to this strategy I often apply when looking for good local restaurants overseas (my favorite hobby): avoid anything with excessive numbers of foreigners/outsiders proclaiming its authenticity or quality. In non-English speaking countries, the best places tourists have never heard of often have lots of good reviews in the local language, and few in English.
Of course, use your discretion. If someone seems like they have no idea what they’re talking about—looking at every Indian who reviews Dominos proclaiming “never been 2 italy but this most authentic Italien food in India”, or all the Americans who seem to think McDonalds merits 5-star ratings—you should probably disregard their review. Just sayin’.
5. Don’t be afraid to get lost, ask questions, and just… go.
Spontaneous adventures and unexpected discoveries are the most satisfying, in my humble opinion. Planning a bit is fine—it’s good to at least have a direction you’d like to go in—but don’t be afraid to adapt your plans on the fly.
When I’m roaming around a new place on my own, I usually head out with little intention other than to go… somewhere. I inevitably get lost along the way—my blog is Lost with Purpose for a reason—then savor being in the unknown deep end.
I ask locals where to go or what in the area is nice when language barriers are low. I don’t hesitate to stroll down interesting looking roads or poke around in cool buildings when they appear. Stairs are an invitation; there are almost always ways to the rooftop of a building. Going up to check out views at the top is almost always a good idea.
More often than not, getting off the beaten pack boils down to being flexible about where you go… and how you get there. Keep an open mind and ears, and you never know where you might end up. That’s half the fun!
Want more tips to help you get the most from your travels? Here’s 27 easy ways to be a more responsible traveler.