This article doesn’t reveal anything new for an average+ thinker. It’s just a quick compilation of a few thoughts over a couple of beers in my fav local and it won’t enrich you at all if you’ve travelled to some non-resort destinations already. In the piece’s defence, I must say that it has one good alcohol analogy 🙂 Anyway – the beaten path vs off the beaten path – let’s get on it 🙂
How places became to be “on the beaten path”?
I’m certain that the term “off the beaten path” came to its existence only because of “the beaten path” itself. There’s no dilemma about the chicken and egg unless you’re some sort of Eurocentric arsehole and want to argue that prior to Marco Polo nobody travelled and everything was off the beaten path or something like that.
Once upon a time, everything just was as it was. Then some dominant arseholes came and created A and others created B. And the consequent road in between the two places became a beaten path, in order to trade and stuff like that. Everything else just stayed off that beaten path naturally, until some other dominant arseholes from C showed up with different means of transportation or weaponry and conquered the A and B, connecting them with their old place, creating new beaten paths. And everything else kept being “off the beaten path”.
And this is (IMHO) how it all happened. Btw, the dominant arseholes are still pretty much in the same business even today but things are done in a bit less obvious ways nowadays – let’s be honest – for instance, Manifest Destiny in its original form would be a PR nightmare to handle nowadays, although, for example, the current president of Brazil is trying to prove this theory wrong with his plans for the indigenous inhabitants of Amazonian forest ):
On the other hand – who knows – that bloody Bolsonaro might get a statue somewhere in the future. We do build statues for this kind of people for some reason. The world is full of statues of people who were often mass murderers, racists, genocide architects and all sorts of bad stuff. (2020 UPDATE: following the death of George Floyd that sparked the global #blm protests, it appears that more people have noticed that thing with statues).
I mean that the first wave of overseas travellers, like for example the good old Cristoforo Colombo and his jolly bunch of companions were not exactly multiple bracelets wearing hippies who respected the local cultures and customs, were they?
OK, sorry – back to the subject of the beaten path vs off the beaten path
The difference between the beaten path and off the beaten path isn’t that the more visited places are just some sort of a cliché and the less-visited ones are somewhat super-original. That would be too black & white or – let’s say – the romantic take on this split. In this case, things are IMHO more complex.
Yeah, yeah, all those tourist hotspots, AKA “beaten path” could get really crowded and usually, there is a lot of scam going on in the area, which could make the actual experience a bit annoying. But let’s not forget that there’s a proper reason for all those places to be busy: people want to see them because they’re special and unique, which among other things also attracts wealth, that’s why those previously mentioned dominant arseholes got there in the first place.
Yes, I’m talking about places like Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Charles Bridge, Tour Eiffel, Sagrada Família, Big Ben* and many others. Well, the latter might be more iconic than actually overwhelming once you get there…
True, sometimes there could be a bit of a disappointment when you get to the destination ‘cos they might not be as impressive or simply physically smaller than you have imagined it so (sorry Stonehenge) but that’s mostly due to the disbalance between the hyped-up expectations and reality.
But it’s like the movie based on the book you’ve read ‘cos in your head, you have imagined the set and the characters differently or simply because the timing and conditions of your visit, such as the weather, large crowds or hangover were to spoil your experience.
One way or another, it’s still your own memory and nobody can take it away from you, plus when you see a place you have visited on TV or in the cinema – it feels amazing and exciting, right?
On the other hand, the off the beaten path holds that element of originality big time and please don’t get me wrong, it really could be the aspirant for your top ten memorable moments – just its definition makes it special already.
However, avoiding the beaten path just for the sake of being original is like not drinking the G&T because everyone else does so. Furthermore, it could also be a bit unwise as unknown cocktails can cause unknown consequences 😉
In reality, visiting an off the beaten path location often mean facing undeveloped tourist infrastructure, which could mean bad connections, shitty hotels and expensive services, bad roads and so on. And that could spoil a thing or two for you.
Let’s rush into the conclusion
It’s hard to be objective about places, same as about literature, music, films or anything one perceives through his or her filter. We all like different things, but one thing could be said: in spite of being the first choice of the plan B within drinks, G&T is still a great bloody drink. And the tonic fights Malaria 😉 Btw – if you haven’t done so already – try it with a cucumber instead of the lemon 😉
And the tourist spots? Apart from the above mentioned annoying stuff, the beaten path brings competition, which means lower prices and therefore better choices when it comes to services…
The off the beaten path, in its romantic sense, is the essence of independent travelling, it’s basically the real shit. But let’s be honest. Like with any big reward, the journey could sometimes be really tough, as I’ve mentioned above. It could also be dangerous and at some point, it will certainly be not very comfortable – but when you think about it – nobody won an athletic event by watching sunsets in a horizontal position…
Furthermore, are you sure that there’s The Beach and you’re the one to discover it? There’s not…or is there? Well, one thing is for sure, there are still places that will hit you like a slap in the face if the conditions are right, places that are not promoted in major guides or a Tomb Rider wasn’t filmed at the location to make it an overcrowded place like it happened to Angkor Wat. Do it and go where even Google doesn’t know about it. For instance, Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu were also the “off the beaten path” spots just a few decades ago.
When it comes to the good old beaten path, be clever. Find your way around. Think of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution before you get scammed. Visit Prague’s Charles Bridge in the early hours (like really early, best just before you go home from a night out clubbing or just wake up really early.
Wait for the trillion Chinese photographers who want to capture the sunrise over the Angkor Wat to get in their breakfast-bound buses, etc… Observe the behavioural patterns of shit you want to avoid. There are always some ways to minimise the crap and impact of inconsiderate picture-hungry crowds…
I’m sorry if I’ve not listed any off the beaten path destination here – it would beat the purpose. Find your own 😉 And don’t tell Google about it…
*FYI: the name of the tower you see is actually Elizabeth Tower, Big Ben is just a nickname for the bell inside.
Some practical info about travelling in Latin Americas
- Budget: in case you were interested, here‘s an article listing the country-by-country basic expenses for a traveller in Latin America
- Safety: Few safety tips on how to secure your valuables, what to watch out for and more could be found here
- Transport: Information, safety and some other practical advice regarding public transport in Latin America can be found here
- ATM withdrawal charges: Some practical info, including the list of free-of-charge ATMs in Latin America, can be found here
- Border fees: To find out how much will you have to pay to enter or exit certain countries in Latin America, please click here
- Pre-trip preparations: Few things you can do ahead of time before you’ll become frantically busy prior to your departure are listed here
- Packing list: What to take with you for an extended trip as well as some security tips could be found here
- Cheap Flights: few tips on how to score a cheap/er flight, better seat on a plane, where to get a nap at a particular airport and so on