The Los Angeles Times recently ran a travel article about 63 off the beaten path destinations in Europe that I've been enjoying. (I tend to enjoy most any travel article that highlights a variety of places, even if they aren't places on the top of my personal travel list.) Though I do question the use of the phrase "off the beaten path" when describing places like Barcelona or Munich.
Tim and I would never be considered hardcore off the beaten path type travelers (at least not by those folks who truly are hardcore off the beaten path type travelers). Sure, we have some approaches to traveling that are more extreme than others (like never booking ahead or traveling with only two 2 liter/140 cu.in. bags). But as far as paths go, we're not racing off into the jungle beating down a way for us alone.
That said, we've certainly gone to places without a guidebook and places that weren't mentioned in any guidebooks. (Though many of them are now, hurumph.) We're very comfortable throwing a dart at a map and deciding to check it out with little or no research. We really enjoy places that see very few travelers, if any. Tim's even done a bit of technically-not-legal-wandering into Burma in search of elephant poachers. And we've certainly had a number of unique (or bizarre/dangerous/exotic) experiences during our travels. So although we might not be considered trailblazers when it comes to traveling, we don't mind meandering into lesser known places and experiences.
But seeing the LA Times article makes me wonder what most people consider off the beaten path. Given the article's introduction ("Considering a trip to Europe? Look past the crowds and hefty price tag of Europe's usual suspects and venture onto a road less traveled") and the places it goes on to suggest, I'm assuming people who aren't backpackers consider off the beaten path to mean places that aren't Paris or London. But can it really be that easy?
I have to assume that most backpackers have a different take on the definition. (Otherwise all of us would have been off the beaten path and then some!) So do backpackers consider off the beaten path to mean only those places that aren't listed in guidebooks yet? (That's definitely a component for me.) Is it based on the number of Western tourists a place receives? (This is a factor for me too.) If a country or city is perceived to be more dangerous, does it get a spot "off the path"? (I think it does, mostly because that implies it sees less tourists.) What creates the impression that something is off the beaten path? Are there off the beaten path places and really off the beaten path places?
It also makes me wonder about the little bit of competition backpackers can get into when talking about where they've been or where they're going next. There's always a bit of bravado when someone says they've traveled through certain areas of the world versus, say, Argentina or Thailand. I'll admit I fall into that trap sometimes too (I'd be surprised if most backpackers don't now and again) – part of the reason I would love to travel to Iran (a small part, but a part nevertheless) is that most Americans don't go there and/or are scared to do so. (Though it's all relative: For a British person reading this blog, traveling to Iran isn't as big a deal.)
Last week on a walk down to the water (have I mentioned the street we live on runs straight into the water?), Tim and I were trading tidbits about different places in India. There are a few remote eastern states where travelers need to receive permission from the local chieftan before visiting villages within the state. And while married couples can visit together, everyone else must be in groups of four people. When Tim mentioned how this area of India sounded beautiful, he was also quick to say, "But that's so not how we travel."
And he's totally right. Getting permission from chieftans, being required to travel in groups, exploring countries that are still in the throes of conflict – these are all places I will gladly leave to the BBC to explore on my behalf. It's not that I don't want to travel like that, it's more that I don't know if I would enjoy that type of travel. It seems limiting and stressful. And I am less apt to travel in places that are limiting and stressful.
Maybe on our next round-the-world trip these are things we can consider. But for our shorter 1-week to 3-week long trips? I'll take a bit more security. Perhaps not as secure or "on the path" as Munich, of course, but maybe something a bit more secure than Kabul. (Though I have read Kabul is supposed to be stunning...)
Either way, I don't think it really matters if the places we go are on well-trodden paths or in far-away locations. I suppose the only thing that truly matters is the quality of the experiences we have and the connections we make when we visit. And surely following our hearts to the places we want to travel and are eager to explore is worth more than any off the beaten path label could ever be.