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Experience April/May 2023

Why You Should Travel Off the Beaten Path

Alex Tiffany


  • Explore lesser-known and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world.
  • Enriching experiences come from traveling to unique and unconventional locations.
  • Five recommended destinations that offer diverse cultural and natural experiences.
Why You Should Travel Off the Beaten Path

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What’s the most “unusual” destination you’ve ever visited abroad? Have you ever wanted to see more of the world but been daunted when it comes to actually planning a trip to somewhere a bit more off the beaten track?

Taking the road less traveled can be an incredibly enriching experience, and yet so many of us tend to stick to the same tried-and-tested holiday spots. I think this is a real shame. Those who only ever visit the “standard” holiday destinations are missing out on so much.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying countries like France or Italy aren’t worth visiting—they definitely are. Paris is a beautiful city. The vineyards of Tuscany are gorgeous. And the Colosseum is simply stunning.

But the world is such a huge, varied place, and there are so many incredible destinations to discover. I strongly recommend not limiting yourself; instead, step out of your comfort zone to explore some of the lesser known places around the world. You might just be surprised at what you find. Here are five I can personally recommend.

Sri Lanka—This lush, tropical island paradise is just off the southern tip of India. With stunning beaches, varied scenery, delicious food, and a diverse wealth of cultural heritage, this small island nation offers an incredible range of unforgettable experiences.

You can hike to ancient temples in the forested mountains of the interior, spot elephants and leopards in one of the many unspoiled national parks, explore lush green tea estates and thick tropical rainforests, and swim (or surf) in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.

Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country and a fascinating place to immerse yourself in the local culture. Some of my personal recommendations to visit include Yala National Park, the dramatic Sigiriya rock fortress, the tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, and the serenely beautiful Hiriketiya Bay.

For much of last year, Sri Lanka has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. While the country’s economic crisis is ongoing, it’s unlikely to affect foreign visitors too much. I’m actually based in Sri Lanka at the moment, and each place I’ve visited feels completely safe.

Countless local people have told me they’re extremely glad for the tourists who are here. Indeed, tourism is the basis of many Sri Lankans’ livelihoods. By spending your foreign currency here, you’ll be helping them get by despite their country’s economic woes.

Albania—If you’d like to see a totally different side of Europe, I highly recommend a trip to Albania. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world and definitely one of the most underrated gems in the Mediterranean.

Located in the western Balkans, north of Greece and east of Italy, Albania was closed to the outside world for much of the 20th century. Happily, those days are very much in the past, but the country still feels wonderfully undiscovered.

In the south of the country, the Albanian Riviera is home to some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean, kissed by the impossibly clear, calm turquoise waters of the Ionian Sea and framed by dramatic mountains.

Inland, you’ll find beautiful and well-preserved fortified Ottoman towns and castles, such as Berat and Gjirokastra. The modern, quirky capital of Tirana is packed full of fantastic restaurants, bars, museums, and galleries and is surrounded by serene mountains, forests, and lakes.

Bordering Montenegro and Kosovo in the north, the dramatic Albanian Alps are a paradise for hikers and nature lovers, with several national parks and other protected areas.

Albania rewards adventurous travelers more than any other European destination I’ve ever visited. The people are warm and incredibly hospitable, the scenery is breathtaking, and (best of all) in many places, you’ll be the only foreign tourist in sight.

Mexico (beyond Cancun and the Riviera Maya)—Mexico is a massive country with a huge variety of destinations to explore, but sadly many people only ever visit the heavily touristed areas around the Riviera Maya and Cancun. Beyond this relatively small stretch of coast, there’s a world of stunningly diverse, exciting locations awaiting you.

Despite its reputation for crime, the majority of Mexico is perfectly safe to visit, provided you take the usual, sensible precautions.

My personal favorite Mexican state is Oaxaca, on the country’s southwest Pacific coast. It’s an incredible region with stunning beaches, a vibrant and colorful colonial capital (Oaxaca City, or Oaxaca de Juárez), and some of the best food in the country. In fact, Oaxaca is considered one of the culinary capitals of Latin America.

Another great state to explore is Chiapas, which runs along the border with Guatemala and shares more with its southern neighbor than with the rest of Mexico. The picturesque city of San Cristóbal de las Casas is perched high in the mountains and is a fascinating place to learn about the indigenous communities in this area.

If you’re more of a big-city person, Mexico City is one of the most vibrant, cultured, and fun-loving capital cities in the world. Check out the elegant Condesa neighborhood, home to some of the city’s best restaurants, galleries, and bars. Don’t miss the National Museum of Anthropology, which is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited and contains a giant collection of artifacts from Mexico’s pre-Hispanic civilizations.

Almaty, Kazakhstan—Kazakhstan is an enormous, diverse country, and Almaty, the former capital, is a fascinating cultural melting pot. Of all the cities I’ve visited in the world, Almaty is probably the one that surprised me the most.

Nestled in the shadow of the snow-capped Tian Shan Mountains, Central Asia’s “Big Apple” is a modern and cosmopolitan city with an incredible natural setting. The city has a unique blend of Russian, European, Central Asian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and Mongolian influences due to its historically strategic location on the Silk Road.

The Green Bazaar is a great place to stock up on local produce, spices, and traditional ingredients from around the region. Take a stroll through the lush and beautifully landscaped Panfilovets’ Park, which is home to a stunning Orthodox cathedral made entirely from wood, plus a number of sculptures and other monuments.

One of the most memorable experiences you can have in Almaty is a trip to the Arasan Baths. This spa complex contains a range of saunas, steam rooms, plunge pools, baths, and even a Moroccan-style hammam, all housed inside an amazing building with traditional Central Asian architectural features.

From just outside the city, you can take a cable car up to Shymbulak, a high-altitude mountain resort, where you can ski in the winter or hike in the summer.

If you have a little more time to explore, the area around Almaty is home to some of the most spectacularly wild and untamed mountain scenery, with soaring peaks, pristine rivers and lakes, and expansive steppe grasslands.

The dramatic Charyn Canyon (the “Grand Canyon of Central Asia”), picturesque Kolsai Lakes National Park, and the vast and otherworldly Altyn-Emel National Park are all breathtaking and (relatively) accessible from the city.

This place is a million miles from the Kazakhstan of the Borat movies and an amazing gateway to a stunning and unique region that’s a long way off of most people’s travel radar.

Namibia—A vast, sparsely populated country in southern Africa, it’s one of the safest African countries to visit, one of the easiest to explore independently, and home to some of the most staggering natural scenery on the continent.

In the southern Namib desert, Sossusvlei is a spectacular place known for its endless sea of towering sand dunes, some of which are among the tallest in the world. Next to this is the impossibly photogenic Deadvlei, named for the remains of ancient acacia trees that have been petrified by the intense heat and dryness.

In the north of the country, Etosha National Park is one of the largest national parks in Africa and one of the best places for spotting wildlife. As well as the big five—lion, leopard, black rhinoceros, elephant, and African buffalo—you have an excellent chance of seeing other stunning species here, including zebra, giraffe, wildebeest, cheetah, and ostrich.

For a truly unforgettable experience, hire a 4x4 fully equipped with camping gear (roof tents are amazing, even if you don’t usually like camping). Head to Spitzkoppe, an ancient granite outcrop that rises dramatically 5,600 feet from the Namib desert, and spend a night there under the stars. The night sky here is spectacular beyond words.

The next time you’re planning a trip abroad, I really recommend exploring somewhere a little different, beyond the typical tourist destinations. Any of these five places would be a great place to start. With their varied landscapes, cultures, and activities, each one has so much to offer.

Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from experiencing the wealth of what the world has to offer. Traveling off the beaten path is so incredibly rewarding and something I urge everybody to do at least once.

A word of warning, though: Adventurous travel is addictive!

The Benefits of Off-the-Beaten-Path Travel

Why cast your net widely? These benefits have a bit of an overlap, but in a nutshell:

It can be more immensely rewarding. Not only is it liberating to escape from the crowds that plague popular tourist hotspots, offbeat travel also offers you the chance to immerse yourself in local cultures, enjoy different cuisines, and uncover hidden gems.

You’ll have unique experiences. It’s an opportunity to explore places many people don’t even know exist. You’ll find yourself in places untouched by mass tourism, allowing you to enjoy unique and authentic experiences you’ll remember forever.

You’ll meet new people. Away from the tourist traps, you’re much more likely to have meaningful interactions with locals who will share their culture with you. You’ll probably meet a more interesting range of fellow travelers, too.

You’re more likely to have a positive impact. By avoiding destinations with mass appeal, you’re less likely to contribute to the negative impacts of “over-tourism,” such as crowding, inflated prices, and environmental damage.

You’ll learn more about the world. You’ll get amazing insights into different cultures, histories, and ways of life. It might even give you a new perspective on where you live, too.