My friend, write your own story. Always.
That is why I travel off the beaten path. Because this is MY story.
The problem with the over-touristed world that we live in is that we get used to the convenience. Life-defining experiences are a commodity, spiritual wisdom is auctioned off to the highest bidder, and, ultimately, you aren’t writing your own story: you’re just sold somebody else’s.
The truth is, amigos, that the best things in life have to be earned.
- That’s why the sunrise you just hiked 10 kilometres for steals your breath away just a little more deftly.
- That’s why crossing a border by land brings an extra sense of giddy glee that catching another flight never could.
- That’s why a long hitchhiking journey always feels so more satisfying than another long haul on the bus.
- And that’s why the doobie at the end of the long hitch tastes just that much better.
This post is something of an off the beaten path travel guide. I’m going to tell you my favourite offbeat travel destinations around the world and what you need to do to prepare for them.
But more importantly, I want to inspire you. The world is so big and so beautiful and there are so many life-changing experiences waiting for you out there. But you’ll never find them if you never leave the tourist bubble.
This isn’t an article to decry the easily and over-stomped tourist trail, but it is about why you SHOULD travel off the beaten path.
There are great things waiting out there for you. You just have to earn them.
What is Offbeat Travel?
Offbeat travel is my happy place. I’ve travelled a lot of places in my long and decorated career as a budget backpacker. And A LOT of them have been fairly busy with touristic action…
But the places that truly resonated with me the most in my travels? They were the places far from the taxi cabs and ticketed attractions. They were the places where I nary saw another tourist at all (and, sometimes, nary another soul).
Look, the first thing I want you to understand is that offbeat travel is NOT adventure travel. You’re going to hear me talk a lot about cic, raw, off-the-Richter adventures because that’s ma homeboy; that’s my style and that’s how I like to travel off the beaten path.
But you don’t have to go glacial trekking in Greenland seeking the last woolly mammoth to be an offbeat traveller. Offbeat travel is simply travel that…
- Takes you off the tourist trail and away from the hotspots the tourists frequent.
- Takes you right out of your comfort zone.
Y’know, volunteering in a foreign country (for example) usually IS travelling off the beaten path. You’re generally far from any tourist hubs, living with a local community, and doing something you’ve never done before.
Maybe you’ve never picked tea or built a swamp cottage or milked a goat but pretty soon you’ll be doing all three! At the same time! And you’ll look damn fine why you do it.
Similarly, busking, dumpster diving, and pitching hammocks in parks across the European continent is certainly no high-altitude, high-octane adventure, but it’s damn sure offbeat. Wear a funny hat while you’re at it: unusual tourist status achieved!
The meaning of offbeat travel is not to go toe-to-toe with the ghost of Evil Kneivel on who can do the stupidest thing quicker. Off the beaten path travel is an experience open to EVERYONE; all you need is a curious heart, a dash of bravery, and a willingness to venture in the opposite direction that the Insta influencers are telling you to go.
At the end of the day, if you were going backpacking in New Zealand and instead of immediately jumping on a tourist charter to Milford Sound, you instead hitchhiked to Fortrose for a southeastern sunrise, that’d be offbeat travel.
Where the fuck is Fortrose?
That’s my whole damn point.
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And Why Should You Travel Off the Beaten Path
Because it’s the best way to travel. There – I said it (again). That’s your spicy hot take of the month.
It’s good to be open, understanding, and level-headed to all perspectives on travel, of course. But sometimes, you just gotta drop the pansy-ass wishy-washy shit and say what you really think!
Offbeat tourism is the BEST type of tourism. Because it doesn’t really feel like tourism.
Here’s the dirty little secret people in the tourism industry don’t want you knowing: tourism is fucked. It’s a necessary evil of our world, capitalism, and the economics of local communities, but we’re living in the age of rampant overtourism made only worse by an unquenchable society-wide thirst to maximise every tiny experience (and then boast about it on their socials). And travelling glued to your phone isn’t fixing anything either.
The damage is starting to show.
Tourist trails don’t produce sincere and authentic travel experiences: they produce itineraries. And the locals on these tourist trails aren’t bursting with excitement to greet another foreigner: they smile and nod hoping that it will increase the tip they receive.
But the jaded disposition against tourists melts away once you make the effort to really explore a country. Sincerity is rewarded with sincerity.
Another backpacker in Byron Bay will ALWAYS be ‘just another bloody tourist’. But jump on the ferry and scoot on over to the west coast of Tasmania and the response will be very different…
“Crikey! What the hell you doin’ down here, mate? …Can I buy you a beer?”
Often, when we travel off the beaten path, it can feel like the Gods of Backpakistan are favouring our bold moves. But really, people are.
People see a lone foreigner a long way from home and a long way from glitzy hotels and overcrowded beachfronts and they want to be kind to them. They want to show them their home and give a wayward traveller a point of connection.
And, ultimately, you can rock up for a Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan or another ditzy selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower, but you wouldn’t be writing your own story then. You’d just be doing what all the other tourists do.
Offbeat tourism is the best kind of tourism because it’s NOT tourism.
Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone
That’s why offbeat travel is the ULTIMATE form of travel, but it’s not necessarily why I travel off the beaten path. (At least, not entirely.)
Growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone: this is the whittler’s blade that I’ve carved much of my adult life with. This is the mantra that underpins The Broke Backpacker Manifesto and ideology as a whole.
I like travelling off the beaten track, but I ain’t a busker and it’s been a long time since I volunteered. I travel raw and I travel in a way that challenges me physically and mentally.
For the longest time, I was a grade-A hustler of the budget backpacking arts. Sleeping rough, hitchhiking, travelling overland, travelling with barely any money, and scraping by on my own wits and ingenuity to achieve my goals; these activities were my daily routine.
I kept pushing from one obscure travel destination to another. India taught me a lot; Venezuela dealt me some harsh truths. Myanmar was like stepping back in time. Iran was irresistible. And Pakistan?
I wanted to be the very best (like no one ever was). But not as a traveller; as a person.
See, the more I pushed myself, the more I realised I was getting stronger. Physically, sure, but emotionally and mentally – that’s the most important thing. That’s exactly why I was travelling in the first place.
The trekking, the motorbiking, the sleeping in caves: these things aren’t necessary for breaking off the tourist trail. But I think it’s fair to say that a lot of offbeat travellers are drawn to these kinds of epic adventures (and, coincidentally, bombin’ mountains).
Maybe we’re just loose cannon adrenaline junkies, but I like to think more poetically. I like to think that when go the places and the things that scare us, our hearts beat harder and faster. And we can feel it.
And we know that we’re growing.
Top Off the Beaten Path Destinations
Right, so now you know why you should kick that tourist trail to the curb and head to pastures more wacky and wild! So… where are those pastures?
Honestly, there are still heaps of undiscovered holiday destinations (or, at least, semi-discovered) and offbeat tourist attractions around the world waiting for your keen adventurer’s eyes. However, one of the points I really want to drive home with this article is that you can travel off the beaten track ANYWHERE. You just have to make a concerted effort to leave the tourist bubble and backpacker hubs.
Besides, if you’ve been around The Broke Backpacker’s neck of the woods at all, you already know what my top recommendation is going to be…
I know I said that offbeat isn’t adventure travel, but let’s be real: the two are made for each other. They go together like peas and carrots. And Pakistan is that creamy mash that you mix that shit into!
Pakistan is a MUST-VISIT offbeat destination for any and all lovers of adventure travel, world-class trekking, fucking unreal mountain ranges, insane motorbike romps, or just some delish charas and chai.
I first explored Pakistan on a backpacking trip in 2016 back when it was easily one of the most off the beaten path travel destinations in the world. Online info was scant and every day was an adventure into the unknown!
These days, Pakistan is progressively climbing its way onto people’s radars (which is exactly why you need to get yo’ ass over there NOW). It just goes to show that these incredible offbeat travel destinations blow up for a reason, and then they don’t stay offbeat for long!
Pakistan is defined by its mesmerising landscapes, the people and their unrelenting warmth, and, of course, the hiking opportunities that left me with a sense of inner-contentment that I still don’t find anywhere else in the world. Pakistan is a home to me, and it’s the reason I endeavour to inspire people to travel to the places that might seem frightening: to find that same feeling.
Sometimes, the places we’re told not to go are the most beautiful of all.
Mmm, segue, amigos! For Iran to Pakistan, I’m feeling another peas and carrots metaphor. Maybe it’s just like good sex to even better sex!
Iran is a perfect example of why so many of the off the beaten path travel destinations that we’re told not to go are EXACTLY where you SHOULD go. It’s also a perfect example of why offbeat travel doesn’t need to have adrenaline-pumping adventures attached.
When I say that disengaging from the tourist mumbo-jumbo leaves you with a more authentic travel experience, this is why. A local in Iran doesn’t see a foreign traveller and immediately think, “Argh, an infidel. We must behead them in the streets!”
They get giddy with elation at the chance to meet a foreigner. They think:
“Shit, this person could have gone anywhere. Thailand, Paris, Berlin… But they came here. They must really genuinely be interested in Iran and my home…
Iran is not a slam-dunk of world-class adventure tourism material (although it’s bloody beautiful). It’s a chance to travel somewhere with an intoxicating culture, unbelievably hospitable people, and a deeply complex history and society that somehow adds to the beauty (despite what elements you may disagree with).
Travelling Iran is an opportunity to see the world with your own eyes through the power of offbeat travel. You find your own truth through experience. I promise you: the lies we’ve been told by the media are just that.
It’s an exquisite country, one of my all-time backpacking heavyweight champions, and the fact that it’s still one of the cheapest destinations for an off the beaten path vacation is just a little bit of corn on top.
Y’know… to go with your peas and carrots.
Get in before it booms! I’m telling you – the Central Asia boom is coming.
The Stan brothers of the Great Steppes of Eurasia bring both adventure travel AND offbeat tourism in droves… because there is barely any tourism! Ever wanted to just ride a horse, hunt wildlife, and drink vodka under the stars? Well, you do now, so get your ass to Central Asia!
Specifically, Central Asia encompasses:
Of these, Kazakhstan arguably boasts the most entrenched tourism scene (but you’re really stretching the meaning of ‘entrenched’). Meanwhile, backpacking in Kyrgyzstan is a phenomenal experience with landscapes that genuinely do leave you stunned that such a pristine gem could still exist.
Central Asia (and particularly Kyrgyzstan) were creeping up pre-pandemic as some of the best off the beaten path travel destinations to plan your next trip to. Now, with the world beginning to slowly open up, you have an entire region of low population density and heavenly landscapes borderline unexplored by foreign tourists desperate to show you what they got.
Ever wondered why the Celestial Mountains are in Kyrgyzstan? Because it’s outta this fucking world.
A Few More of My Favourite Offbeat Travel Destinations
Because three just wasn’t enough! The world is abundant with wicked off the beaten path destinations; you just gotta put your traveller pants on.
Mmm, backpacking in the Caucasus region.
The Caucasus region is the kind of place that when you tell people where you went, they say: “Oh cool, what’s that taste like?”
Specifically, the Caucasus region includes:
- Azerbaijan (although I have it on good authority that Azerbaijan is a bit dull).
Mixing unreal landscapes with an ever-growing growing digital nomad scene and an old as balls (and, at times, dark as balls) history, the Caucasus is set to boom. And if it doesn’t? Well… that’s even better!
Travelling Western Europe is top-notch! Except you’re paying top dollar for what is, by far and large, more of the same – relative normalcy (but with better wine).
Scoot yo’ patootie over to the east side of Europe, however, and you get something much more beguiling. Cheaper, grittier, and cut just a bit rougher around the edges, Eastern Europe beckons all offbeat travellers souring the continent. Particularly…
There are still offbeat travel destinations in Europe and they do tantalise the senses. Things get wilder over there – take a party hat.
I visited Venezuela sometime after it all went to shit but before it went even more to shit. It’s a good example of how going to the real ‘Do Not Go’ zones can reap the ripest rewards.
Venezuela is a whole other world – an ecstatic culture and vibrant people walled off by the unjustness of the world. It’s certainly less than accessible right now, but when the opportunity arises, go to Venezuela. You won’t be disappointed. (To clarify though, don’t go at the moment – it is simply too dangerous.)
Another country that, tragically, is less than accessible right now. But when Myanmar does begin to shake itself off once more, do consider going on a backpacking trip there.
Myanmar is a chance for the Southeast Asia experience that once was when Southeast Asia could still be considered travelling off the beaten path. The mouth-watering food, the humbling architecture, the diversity of the land – these are all good reasons to visit Myanmar. But really, the true pull is the people.
People are happy – they smile. They’re far from cynical. They’re delighted just to meet a foreigner, and then to talk to one too? Mind. Blown.
It’s good vibes in Myanmar.
Israel is a guaranteed good time. Hummus, joints, and husky-voiced locals with perfect sculpted abdominal muscles (feeding you hummus and joints). But travelling Israel is a dichotomy; it breaks the heart as much as it feeds it.
Seeing Palestine is another world unto itself. It’s a mindfuck for the uninitiated; it chews up your sense of what people are and what they are capable of. And at the end of that, you’re still left with the realisation that you’re travelling a region filled with kind people and kinder moments – the same as anywhere else.
Always write your own story. Don’t run away from the things that might hurt to know, see, and understand. There’s growth in all things you learn.
Perhaps a bit of an odd choice, however, travelling Tasmania (and particularly in a van), is guaranteed to be a wacky adventure. Oz is already kinda weird; the deeper south you go, the more… Australian… the locals get.
Tassie is also a worthy reminder that you don’t HAVE to start throwing darts at a world map and score a country you can’t pronounce to find your next offbeat destination. Even the heavily touristed and heavily structured countries of the planet still offer some wild adventures. You just have to be ready to look for it.
Trek, hitch, volunteer, meet locals and go on the adventures they offer. Motorbike, kayak, or buy a goddamn hovercraft! Just leave the taxi, leave the Contiki tours, and LEAVE the tourist bubble. The world still has many secrets.
While very few will have backpacking Afghanistan at the top of their to-do list, it remains a beautiful and complex country off the beaten path.
The Broke Backpacker cannot in good conscience encourage you to travel there while it remains under Taliban rule. However, we can encourage you to consider its awesome history and incredible people. Once upon a time, Afghanistan was a legendary stop along the OG Hippy Trail – and one day it will rise again as an incredible place to visit.
Its mountains call to be trekked through by donkey; its chai invites you to sit down and talk with the people in the streets. The bazaars and the market life – and even the skiing – wait patiently to be explored once again. Once again, the wilds of Afghanistan will welcome you.
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Your Off the Beaten Path Travel Guide: Last Few Tips!
Get prepared for the long roads ahead! There are times you may need a tent. Or a portable gas cooker. Or maybe even a headtorch?
That was a test: of course you need a headtorch. You might be careering headfirst into the jaws of danger, but you’re damn well at least gonna see where you’re going while you do it!
Packing as an Offbeat Traveller
Get yourself some top-quality backpacking gear! Truthfully, I wouldn’t ever leave on an offbeat travel adventure without a few of my trusty sidekicks.
While there are plenty of ways to offbeat travel, budget backpacking, unexpected adventures, and journeys off the well-trodden tourist trail all tend to share the same space. No offbeat adventure is complete without the adventure essentials:
Osprey Aether 70L Backpack
Ya can’t go backpacking anywhere without a blasted backpack! Words cannot describe what a friend the Osprey Aether has been to The Broke Backpacker on the road. It’s had a long and illustrious career; Ospreys don’t go down easily.
Feathered Friends Swift 20 YF
My philosophy is that with an EPIC sleeping bag, you can sleep anywhere. A tent is a nice bonus, but a real sleek sleeping bag means you can roll out anywhere in a and stay warm in a pinch. And the Feathered Friends Swift bag is about as premium as it gets.
Grayl Geopress Filtered Bottle
Always travel with a water bottle! They save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. The Grayl Geopress acts as a purifier AND temperature regulator – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are.
Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
Every traveller should have a head torch! A decent head torch could save your life. When you’re camping, hiking, or even if the power just went out, a top-quality headlamp is a MUST. The Petzl Actik Core is an awesome piece of kit because it’s USB chargeable—batteries begone!
First Aid Kit
Never go off the beaten track (or even on it) without your first aid kit! Cuts, bruises, scrapes, third-degree sunburn: a first aid kit will be able to handle most of these minor situations.
Let me tell you a little story and then you can decide for yourself whether you need proper travel insurance coverage before you go venturing off the beaten path.
A Story on the Necessity of Travel Insurance
“Once upon a time, I almost lost my leg in a sweltering jungle…
I battled a seriously nasty infection that snaked up past my knee and by the time I made it to a local hospital they wanted to amputate. I was delirious, unable to walk, and in a lot of pain but I managed to call my insurance provider – they moved me to a much better private hospital where the doctors were able to save my leg.
I wracked up $15,000 in hospital bills, but these were completely covered by my travel insurance. Luckily, I still have my leg today, and whilst it is permanently damaged, I’m grateful every day it’s still attached!
Moral of the story: consider getting travel insurance before you head out into the wilds, people!“
Travel Offbeat, Live Upbeat
And hit every downbeat.
You SHOULD travel off the beaten path. You SHOULD leave the itinerary at home, alongside your hesitation, and travel somewhere that both frightens and excites you. Because that is how we grow.
I firmly believe that travel is for everyone – that it should be accessible to everyone. You don’t need much money to travel, but you do need the courage to walk your own way.
You see, the problem with conventional tourism is that it tells you how to travel. It’s an industry built on selling pre-meditated adventures as entirely unique experiences. If you walk the tourist trail, you’ll visit many countries in your time…
But you won’t travel any of them.
But travel is for EVERYONE, and so is offbeat travel. You don’t have to scale the Karakoram peaks or unearth the subaqueous depths of the Mariana Trench to break off the beaten path. You only have to willing to go your own way. And find your own answers to the questions that you have.
And write them down. It’s a big and boldly beautiful world still filled with many secrets for those who are willing to search for them. There are a lot of good stories waiting to be told…
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