The world is full of places to go (and food to eat while you’re there!). The thing is, though, the vast majority of spots you’ll see highlighted on everything from Instagram to the old-school glossy magazines tend to repeat the same spots. Often. Look, we’re never going to tell you Bali or Paris aren’t amazing. They are. But those places are consistently over-touristed and now’s the time to think about where else you can go to have a spectacular time with your travel cash.
The spots below are all about taking that extra step off the beaten path. That idea is in-and-of-itself a tough task. We don’t know what “off the beaten path” is to you. Maybe you grew up in Borneo, so its jungles feel familiar. Perhaps you were raised in Russia and sipping vodka and eating caviar is right in your wheelhouse. The whole idea of “exotic” is a dead concept.
Still… there are certain places not attracting travelers or travel dollars and we’re not going to pretend that’s not the case. So we asked folks who are making a living out of traveling the world right now about the less-touristed places worth your vacation time (and money). Here are 15 under-the-radar destinations that some of our favorite travel influencers think you should hit up!
WES TAYLOR (wesleytaylor) — INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA
My favorite city under the radar is Indianapolis, IN. It’s not the most common destination (even living so close, in Chicago) but it has all the charm of a small midwestern town and is home to some of my favorite brunch experiences.
Milktooth is one of the coolest places I’ve ever eaten — an old tire shoot turned into a restaurant. Unique entrees and a great coffee program make it a must-visit whenever I’m in town. The Garden Table is perfect if you or someone you’re traveling with is gluten-free or vegetarian, they have so many yummy options on the healthier side! And if you still have a sweet tooth afterward, hit up Pots & Pans — the cutest little plant and pie shop for a tasty treat and a succulent grown right in Indiana.
MAX ST. ROMAIN (gastronautadf) — UMBRIA, ITALY
Italy is loaded with popular destinations, but the region of Umbria is not one of them. There are many reasons why it might make sense to approach Italy from here, especially if less crowded and low-key are more your style of travel.
Umbria is very centrally located, so it’s a strategic starting point if you plan to explore more regions. Spoleto, one of the main Umbrian towns, still feels like a movie-perfect quiet Italian village where time moves at a slower pace. I was awe struck by the shingle-covered rooftops, church bells in the distance, green rolling hills all around, and gelato shops all around town.
Yes, food! If your taste buds are your guide through Italy, you should know that Umbria has it all: cheese, prosciutto, chocolate, wine (look for Sagrantino grapes), olive oil, truffles, and lots more. And if your guide is your eyesight, there’s a lot to take in. This region flourished during medieval times, and a lot of the architecture reflects it. The towns of Perugia, Assisi, and Bevagna will certainly throw you back to the time of the crusades. This is the way I experienced Italy for the first time, and I am grateful I had a chance to see a quieter side of Italian culture before I got to Rome, Venice, or Florence.
PHIL CALVERT (philwaukee) — CENTRAL ASIA
Central Asia. All of the “Stans” — Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan…(and many more). You’re probably like, “what?” People may not think of these spots as travel destinations but they’re under the radar and seem incredible.
I haven’t been, but I’m planning on it — not even totally sure what to expect.
KARL WATSON (karlwatsondocs) — TRENTINO, ITALY
Trentino in Italy, home of The Dolomites mountain range. Traveling to Italy and most people go to Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, etc. But head north from Verona and you’ll discover the beauty of the Alps, with every outdoor activity you can imagine, mixed in with Northern Italian food. What more could you want?
RACHEL RUDWALL (rachelroams) — LITHUANIA
A black sheep in its region, Lithuania is one of the few European countries that, when I visited, people asked, “Why?” No one asks why you’d want to visit France, England, or even more “exotic” European countries like Hungary or the Slovak Republic. But they ask about Lithuania.
Sandwiched among powerhouse nations like Russia and Germany, as well as better-funded northern neighbors across the Baltics and Scandinavia, Lithuania doesn’t get a lot of attention unless it’s from other countries that are trying to occupy it, historically speaking. That makes for a rich and complex mix of Western European, Soviet, medieval and modern influences at play in Lithuania.
Exploring the capital city of Vilnius—famously marketed as the “G Spot of Europe” in 2018, when its tourism board claimed that, “Nobody knows where it is, but when you find it, it’s amazing,”—you’ll find adventure down each alleyway. Wind your way through Old Town, also known as Senamiestis, and admire the mix of historical buildings ranging from Soviet and neoclassical to Gothic and baroque. Hit Literatu Street for a whimsical walk through Lithuania’s literary history, stroll quietly into the Alumnatas Courtyard for a secret backyard view of the Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, or check out colorful street art around Pylimo g. 66. Grab expertly made modern Lithuanian cuisine at Kitchen as you overlook Town Hall Square, and have a drink along the train tracks at the cool and gritty Peronas Bar.
For a day trip away from the city, hop a quick train west to Trakai, which is home to a 14th-century fortress situated on an island in the middle of Lake Galvé. Stroll the shores of the lake, admire the traditional wooden houses in town, cross the bridge to Trakai Island Castle, then grab a cheap, traditional meal of kibinai (meat pastries) with chicken and mushroom, cold Lithuanian borscht (creamy cabbage soup), and a frothy beer to wash it down.
JUSTIN WALTER (atwjustin) — CARSON CITY, NEVADA
If you’re headed to the Lake Tahoe region, do yourself a favor and stay in nearby Carson City, Nevada. This small town is the perfect home base for big-time adventure!
During my long weekend visit, I loved being just a short drive away from clear bottom kayaking on the turquoise waters of Lake Tahoe as well as skydiving over “Big Blue” from Truckee. Carson City itself is a quaint and charming (non-touristy) town with a lively bar and restaurant scene. Bonus, there’s also waterfall hikes within the city limits. All I’m saying, the secret’s out about Carson City!
MELANIE SUTRATHADA (melaniesutra) — PERU
Peru is definitely one of the most under-the-radar destinations right now. While most Instagrammers are flocking to places like Positano and Bali, Peru feels like a hidden gem filled with culture and history in the best way. This beautiful country is brimming with stories waiting to be told! Whether you’re looking to row down the rivers of the Amazon or hike up the Andes, Peru should be on your bucket list.
DAVID DURAN (mrdavidduran) — SALTA REGION, ARGENTINA
Located in a country with lots of famous tourist spots like Buenos Aires, Mendoza and the Patagonian region, the Salta Region, tucked away in the northwest corner of Argentina, is not yet at the tourism levels of its sister destinations within Argentina. Visit Salta City for delicious Argentinian empanadas (the best in the country), folkloric music and a chance to see 500-year-old child sacrifice mummies at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology. After some time in the city, drive through the polychromatic Valles Calchaquies to Cafayate, a legendary wine town full of palate-pleasing Torrontes and Malbecs.
Also, inside the region are three national parks: the tropical Baritu National Park (home to jaguars, ocelots and speckled bears), El Rey National Park (home to giant anteaters and tapirs), and the arid Los Cardones National Park (home to vicuñas, dinosaur tracks, and 25-foot tall Argentine saguaros) – all below the towering 20,000 foot Nevado de Cachi mountain range.
EMILY HART (emilyventures) — CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK, UTAH
National Parks have experienced huge growth in the last few years, but there are still some amazing under-the-radar destinations. Capitol Reef National Park in Utah is one of my favorite somewhat undiscovered spots.
Of the famous Big 5 Utah National Parks, it is by far the least visited, due to being somewhat off the interstates. But it is just as gorgeous, if not more so, than the other desert parks of the West. It has amazing landscapes, low to no crowds, interesting history, and even pick your own fruit orchards! Definitely worth the detour.
ERIN ROSE BELAIR (roseblacque) — SLOVENIA
I have to say Slovenia. I know during the summer months it’s more popular but after the season ends, you can have the parks almost to yourself. Sure it’s colder but I loved that part of it. I stayed in a castle, drank all the warm beverages, played cards, and just loved every moment of it. The leaves were changing colors and there was something particularly romantic about being there in the fall.
Most people travel in the summer months so it was also really quiet, which was one of the best parts. It was unique and it’s really hard to find that these days I feel.
CAMERON LEE (thecameronlee) — ISLA HOLBOX, MEXICO
Isla Holbox, it’s been called the best-kept secret in Mexico [for a decade or so now] and rightfully so. It’s an island off Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico. Most people think about Cancun or Tulum when visiting Mexico, but no one talks about Holbox, which still remains mostly “untouched” by mainstream tourism. It is a destination known amongst good travelers but unheard of by most.
The streets are unpaved, the water is beautiful, and the only way of transportation here is by foot or golf carts. You really feel like you’re cut off from the rest of the world being here. The best time to come is during the summer so you’re able to fully experience the bioluminescence, which is a natural phenomenon where the water of the seashore is illuminated by the bioluminescent planktons in the water. It’s like a sea of blue twinkle lights straight from the movie The Life of Pi. Plan a visit here soon before it becomes a mass tourist destination!
CHARLOTTE AND NATALIE (ourtasteforlife) — FLORES, INDONESIA
We love wandering off-the-beaten-track when we travel. There is something incredibly satisfying about creating a path rather than following one. As two female travelers, it isn’t always easy, but we’ve managed to visit several under-the-radar destinations that ultimately enriched our travel experience.
One of the locations that really springs to mind is Flores Island in Indonesia. Located Far East of Bali & Lombok, many tourists overlook Flores in favor of its more commercial neighbors; but, it’s a shame because the island has a lot to offer. Boasting smoldering volcanoes, cotton candy pink beaches, and deadly Komodo Dragons, Flores is a destination that screams adventure.
Another advantage of visiting lesser-known destinations such as Flores is that you’ll often get to experience a raw side to the local culture. We stayed with a local family in Flores for almost a week, and it turned out to be one of our most memorable travel experiences.
KRYSTLE WRIGHT (krystlejwright) — LET THE WIND GUIDE YOU
I have such mixed feelings about social media and the impact it has caused to areas that don’t normally see such heavy foot traffic. Rather than reveal some of my favorite low key destinations, what I would suggest instead is that when you take off on your adventure, the conversation becomes currency.
Many of my most memorable experiences on the road has been thanks to chatting with strangers and having no expectations in place. I worry that trying to research everything loses the aura of adventure and allowing the sporadic nature to run its course. There are pros and cons to everything, but I am a big believer in going with the flow even if it leads to a challenging time. Sometimes the “bad” stories result in the most entertaining stories.
WRITER’S PICK: ZACH JOHNSTON (ztp_johnston) — THE YUKON
It’s hard not to think of the Yukon and not think of wildlife, Northern Lights, and all the snow. This place is remote. A two-and-a-half-hour flight north of Vancouver and you’ll be in the small burg of Whitehorse — a town that’s a gateway to some of the most pristine wilds North America has to offer. If you dig on an outdoor adventure during any season, this place is going to be your jam. Mountain biking, serious trekking, glacier skiing, hunting, fishing, river rafting, day hikes barely scratch the surface of how deep you can go with the wilderness here. The best part, this place is so vast and empty of throngs of people, you will start to feel like you have the entire world to yourself.
That being said, Whitehorse has a dope, burgeoning food scene (Woodcutter’s Blanket is a must stop). There are killer breweries where anything goes and also leans heavily on local, wild ingredients (definitely don’t sleep on Deep Dark Wood Brewing, also Woodcutter’s again). There’s a distinct art scene that feels like small-town Western Washington and Oregon where everyone seems to know your name and support your dreams.
EDITOR’S PICK: STEVE BRAMUCCI (stevebram) — JATBULA TRAIL, KATHERINE GORGE, NORTHERN TERRITORY, AUSTRALIA
Let me ask you something: How under-the-radar are you willing to go? Because Australia’s Northern Territory is already under-the-radar. And Katherine — a dusty outpost that still manages to be the territory’s third-biggest town — is a little further under that. And then again, Katherine/Nitmiluk Gorge National Park, a truly stunning gorge hewn into deep red stone, is even more remote. It’s hard to get shine when nearby Kakadu National Park pulls so much focus.
But the most off-the-beaten-track of all is actually… a beaten track. Or a trail, called the Jatbula Trail, that connects the Katherine. Nitmiluk Gorge to Edith/ Leliyn Falls, some 40 miles away.
Put simply, this is my favorite hike on earth. Bar none. It’s not something you do in a rush though. In fact, I recommend really stretching it out. The trail, marked by the occasional reflective arrow hung on signposts or trees, bumps into the Katherine River over and over, always at stunning falls or isolated swimming holes. Done as a five or six-day trip, the secret is to wake and break camp early and hike your daily section of the trail — about seven miles — before winding up at a new swimming hole around lunch where you’ll spend your afternoon and evening cooling off, reading, and truly taking in the wilderness.
MEGA-ESSENTIAL PRO-TIP: The trail doesn’t open until helicopters have confirmed that all saltwater crocs have left the area (making swimming safe), which is typically in April. By late June, there’s really not enough water left flowing to wow you. By late July, some of the swimming spots are too stagnant or shallow to enjoy.
So listen close: Go on this adventure in May or early June. If you do, I absolutely guarantee it will be one of the best adventures of your year. You will dive off rocks into pristine blue pools. You will sleep under a sea of stars. You will watch giant monitor lizards — relatives of the Komodo Dragon — fishing from the rocks. You will hike under the unforgiving Outback sun and then lounge your afternoons away in cool pools. You’ll see virtually no one.
It is blissful and isolated and one of my top five travel experiences on this planet, hands down. Seriously.