Must I get “Off The Beaten Path” when I travel?

Ankor Thom

I’m a big advocate of getting off the beaten path, but I would agree that there’s nothing wrong with the attractions of the “tourist trail.” These standard attractions—from Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat right on down to small-town museums and curiosities—are part of what inspires people to travel in the first place.

So why do salty travelers tend to prefer roads less traveled to the tourist trail? I think there are two main reasons. First, big tourist attractions (naturally) attract lots of tourists, which can make these places feel overcrowded, inauthentic and only tenuously connected to the host culture. Second, major tourist sights tend to be the default activity when you are traveling too quickly or unimaginatively to truly experience a place. Instead of trying to see, say, the Colosseum, St. Mark’s Square and the Uffizi Gallery over the course of four days in Italy, I’ve found it more enjoyable to just stay put in Rome (or Venice, or Florence) for all four of those days and mix in some spontaneous, unconventional experiences with the obvious local attractions.

Even if you do find yourself in the midst of a huge crowd when visiting the Acropolis or Uluru or Iguazu Falls, it’s good to be respectful of the individuals around you, since a given tourist crowd can hold its own dynamic and diversity. One of my favorite books of recent memory was Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” which tells the story of Junior, a poor Spokane Indian kid living in Washington. Junior dreams of visiting the Great Wall of China, and one of the more moving scenes in the book is when his best friend Rowdy realizes that Junior is actually going to do it someday.

This is the kind of story I want keep in mind should I ever go to, say, the popular Badaling section of the Great Wall near Beijing and find myself in a sea of tourists. At one level, dealing with a big crowd of people might feel distracting, but at another level it can be humbling to realize that many of those people may well be in the midst of the most amazing experience of their lives.

Excerpted from Ask Rolf on World Hum

Posted by | Comments Off on Must I get “Off The Beaten Path” when I travel?  | March 22, 2014
Category: Rolf Potts

Comments are closed.