How Far Do You Have To Go for an Off-The-Beaten Path Experience?


Do you think our trip is insane? How about mundane?

Maybe you think it's just average.

Most of the emails we receive come from readers who think our trip has been pretty epic and want advice on replicating it. But there are others who reach out and say that our itineraries are too "touristy" and that our adventures too "been there, done that."

To them, I say, "Bah, humbug!"

I recently read a story about Alastair Humphreys, who's been traveling the world for several years doing things like walking across India and rowing the Atlantic. You know, the usual. A few years ago, Alastair was named National Geographics's Adventurer of the Year for his promotion of "microadventures."


Alastair has done a lot of pretty awesome travel, but he realized that not everyone can take five years off and spend months exploring Iceland. What everyone can do, however, is take a few hours and explore somewhere near their home.

I agree with Alastair. We could all do with a healthy does of exploration at home. Even something as simple as taking a different route to and from work can open your eyes to a whole set of new experiences and perspective.

But I also believe in the importance of leaving your hometown and country and going somewhere that makes you just a tad (or a lot) uncomfortable.

The biggest reason Rob and I chose to spend the majority of one year in Asia is because the Asian culture and way of life is so different from what we have at home. That was appealing scary.

But to some adventure purists, our trip isn't impressive at all.

"Everyone goes to Bali," they say.

Or, "That itinerary is what every traveler does."

I disagree.

Every destination has its secrets.

Does every traveler to Bali walk outside Ubud's city center and stumble onto elaborate Balinese ceremonies?

preparing a blessing

Does every visitor to Luang Prabang tutor a monk reading the Steve Jobs autobiography?

this novice monk highlights words he doesn't know in Steve Jobs' biography and brings the book to Big Brother Mouse tutoring center to learn English

Does every tourist in Borneo hitch a three hour car ride with a lovely Muslim couple?

looking down from the peak

Does every traveler get two flat tires while exploring the hidden temples of Angkor?

view of Angkor Wat from Phnom Bakheng

Does every tourist in Vietnam learn about the sad past of their Hmong guide in Sapa?

us and our guide

Does every traveler learn how to cook curry with a Bengali refugee in Malaysia?

Does every visitor to Thailand work on an organic farm run by a former monk who fell in love with a woman?

making compost

Does every traveler to Burma get invited inside people's houses to take photos next to their Obama and Hillary calendars?

Does every beach hopper in the Philippines have a conversation about the Catholic church's stance on birth control?

Sitting in a waterfall of the cold springs

Does every traveler get invited to an Akha tribal wedding in rural Laos?

Lina doing the local version of the electric slide at an Akha tribe wedding outside of Muang Sing

Does every trekker on Everest take the time to talk to the owner of the tea house and listen to him express fear for his son's life as a high altitude Sherpa?


Does every visitor to India survive a broken down tuk-tuk in the middle of nowhere?


Off-the-beaten path is what you make of it.

Sure, Paris is "done," London is "explored," Florence is "so last year."

But even in Paris, London, and Florence, there's a lot to discover that's not in the guidebook. You just have to let the magic of travel happen. Let yourself get lost, keep walking toward whatever interests you, make wrong turns.

The best way to discover a destination--not matter how discovered--is to give yourself time.

You could have the most incredible and unique experience in San Francisco if you go out and seek it. You could have the most whitewashed experience in India if you only stay in fancy hotels and never speak to locals.

Remember, there's nothing wrong with hitting the highlights. For each country we visited, we had a list of "must do's." But we also had a list of "might do's," many of which we skipped in favor of a conversation, a lingering meal, or a wrong turn.

You don't have to go far to have a unique experience.

Maybe you're not comfortable traveling to Asia, or at least to some of the places in Asia that we ended up visiting. But that doesn't mean that you can't go somewhere new, talk to someone you haven't talked to, eat food you haven't tasted.

Travel is a state of mind.

Let it happen, wherever you are. And don't let anyone tell you that what you're doing or seeing isn't worth it.

What kind of off-the-beaten path experiences have you had?

Did you have to travel far to find them? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!