In each installment of the Uproxx Travel Guide, we ask some of our favorite professional travelers to answer one travel question — then share their best advice with you. From informational, to inspirational, to entertaining, our aim is to incite your wanderlust and provide bite-size takeaways you can put to use on your own adventures.
This Week’s Question: In an age when finding “off the beaten path” experiences is harder than ever, how do you chase experiences that don’t feel canned? How do you “seek the unique,” so to speak?
Marko & Alex Ayling
A (Marko): I always say that the modern traveler’s challenge is how to get lost in the era of Google Maps! How do you find something novel in a time when terra incognito has all but disappeared? And with the advent of VR Tourism, we’re going to be able to teleport our eyes and ears to places like the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China in a matter of seconds.
First, we must recognize that the most-viewed sites are not necessarily the best, and that travel is not about checking heritage sites off your list as if you were shopping at the super market. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone, about doing something new and trying something that scares you. It’s about listening. It’s about exchanging perspectives between you and the people you meet. Truth is, you don’t have to leave your city to do that, but traveling to the other side of the world is sure to shake things up for you.
Secondly, I encourage people to follow their passions. Go to the places that interest you. If everyone’s interests are different, then so are everyone’s travels. People get stuck on the beaten path when they don’t use enough imagination to think up a better idea. So, be passionate and inventive.
A: I was just watching The Martian, thinking how special it was when Matt Damon mentioned he was the first person to ever tread that particular soil on Mars, and what an incredibly rare and beautiful experience that is in this day and age. Because of the accessibility of travel and the globalized nature of the world today, it’s becoming harder and harder to find places that haven’t been touted on Instagram ad nauseam.
For me, finding that magic means getting out of big cities, getting into nature, or going rural. One of my greatest adventures was a year and a half WWOOFing — volunteering on organic farms — throughout Southeast Asia and Australia, and that helped me experience cultures across the globe in an authentic, meaningful way.
Don Wildman hosts Travel Channel’s long-running Mysteries at the Museum. For decades, he’s traveled the world on television, but he feels like he’s still barely scratched the surface of all the places he longs to see.
A: Simple: I travel without plans. I care about seeing landmarks and monuments. I’m not above being a tourist. But I want to feel as though I’m discovering the place myself. It’s a fiction, of course; the discovery’s long been done. But it can still be my own organic experience if I allow the location to reveal itself to me in my own time. “Run Your Own Race” is my favorite adage—and it applies to travel.
Kate McCulley quit her job to travel the world in 2011. Five years and 63 countries later, she’s still going strong. She’s survived a shipwreck, feasted on zebra, and danced all night with Vikings. Her site, AdventurousKate.com, is a resource showing women how to travel the world on their own terms.
A: I find that reaching out to locals often ends up with good suggestions of things to do, places to eat, and more! I often reach out to my own readers, who are generous, but another suggestion is to ask if any of your friends know someone in your destination. You might end up chatting with a long-lost cousin or former coworker and end up making a new friend!
A: For me, the best guidebook is people I meet. On the road, I ask questions to strangers with reckless abandon and wait to see which restaurants or sights come up more than once. That’s what makes travel feel like an exploration for me — the investigation aspect.
In a place like Thailand, where tourist tracks are deep, you can still get off the trail if you’re ready to be intrepid. Try camping in one of the pristine marine parks, trek in Mae Sot rather than Chiang Mai, or visit villages that don’t get mentioned in your guidebook.
I also like to get away from guided experiences as much as possible by controlling my mode of transport. I bought a car in Uganda and drove across East Africa for four months. Was I still covering some of the same tracks as someone who bought a tour? Sure. But I controlled my time and route and moved at my pace. In Vietnam, I bought a traditional x’ampan to row down the Mekong Delta, in Cambodia I got a bike, and in Australia I used a car powered with used french fry oil.
Having a way to get around on your own volition helps you ditch the well-worn routes.
Kiersten Rich is the author of award-winning solo female travel & lifestyle blog, The Blonde Abroad, which features travel tips, fashion, festivals and photography from around the world. You can follow her on Instagram at @theblondeabroad and on Facebook.
A: When I first started traveling in the long-term, I found that volunteer travel was the key to a deeper level of travel. Also, moving somewhere, spending a few weeks somewhere, or just simply immersing yourself fully in a destination is another defining factor for me. It could be any place in the world, whether it’s a remote village in Bolivia or New York City. Experiencing that destination through the eyes of a local is where the magic happens.
A: There’s always an underground scene beneath the surface. Finding out about it is typically word of mouth, so I always have my eyes and ears open for unique experiences and interesting people. Burning Man has also introduced me to people who are curating inspired travel experiences like Habitas. I’m looking forward to attending my first one in 2016.
Trevor Morrow is a travel writer whose worked has appeared on Outside Online, Details, Men’s Journal, Inside Hook and more (he’s also the author of this article). You can follow him on his lifestyle travel blog, Trevor Morrow Travel, on Instagram at @trevormorrow and on Snapchat, username: thetrevormorrow.
A: There are different levels to getting “off the beaten path” — and it depends on how deep you want to dive.
For a shallower dive off the beaten path, it’s all about talking to the locals. You should of course talk to a variety of locals to get a diverse set of suggestions — but also consider seeking out locals who are most like you (people who you think share your interests, taste or style).
For example, if you’re in a major city and want to know where the young trendsetters are shopping, eating or drinking right now, just stop into a trendy coffee shop, barber shop or bar — chances are the barista, barber or bartender will know all the coolest places.
Stopping into clothing or home design stores that speak to your style is also a great idea — the employees working within will likely share your taste (they’re working there) and it’s super easy to strike up a conversation with them (part of their job is to talk to you).
Ask things like: Where do you grab lunch around here when you’re on break? Where do you like to get a drink with your friends? If you were going to take your girlfriend or boyfriend out to a nice dinner, where would you go? Where are the tourist neighborhoods or tourist traps I should avoid if I want to live like a local while I’m here?
For a deeper dive, consider volunteering. I’ve volunteered with small NGOs in Nepal, Kenya and Tanzania through Global Volunteer Network, and I can say that there are few better ways to get off the beaten path.
As a volunteer, you’ll live with a local family, often in lesser visited areas outside of major cities, and you’ll be working with other volunteers, who also happen to be adventurous travelers looking for authentic experiences — just like you.
Have your own off the beaten track stories to tell? Share them in the comments! Have a traveler you’d like to recommend we talk to for this series? Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)!