One of the best things about traveling is experiencing new things. The adventurous feeling you get when you step outside your comfort zone to learn about other cultures, meet new people, and see beautiful places. One of my favorite things to do when I visit somewhere is to just walk around, let myself get a little lost. That’s how you find the most amazing things that aren’t in the guidebooks.
Getting off the beaten path is an important part of sustainable travel to me. Mass tourism has a serious dark side, leaving cities overrun and locals pushed out of home and profit. Going to less developed tourist destinations, getting away from the crowds, and showing in interest that goes beyond on the main attractions is vital. It’ll create a much more enjoyable experience for everyone involved. It’s why slow travel and sustainable tourism are the key to the future of travel.
But finding those off the beaten path travel experiences and hidden gems* can be a challenge. In many destinations, there is a developed tourism infrastructure that drives people to the same spots over and over again. It’s what most visitors seem to like, so that’s what is catered to. Luckily, the tide is shifting on that and more and more tour operators and locals are tapping into the desire to see less established tourist attractions and showing different sides of their home. Difficult does not mean impossible, as long as you’re willing to put in a bit of effort and research. And why wouldn’t you? With these tips you’ll be able to find unique travel experiences and off the beaten path activities wherever you go.
*I just want to make a note here. There’s a lot of work still to be done in decolonizing travel content, including my own! When I use the word “hidden gem” I mean something that the average tourist doesn’t know about, but the locals obviously would. It’s important to realize, especially as a white western traveler, that although things might be new to you, you aren’t “discovering” anything. Check your privilege and colonial heritage with your bags please 😉
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Search in Atlas Obscura
If you don’t know Atlas Obscura yet, you’re in for a treat. It is basically a counterpart to Tripadvisor, where instead of big ticket tourist attractions, people list their favorite hidden gems. It’s the perfect place to start your search for off the beaten path experiences and unique things to do and see in any city.
Book Unique Local Tours
I love Free Walking Tours. I’ve mentioned it in several posts before, and it’s something I do on pretty much every solo trip I take. I think they’re a great way to get to know a place and learn about the culture and history. And the guides always have the best tips for unexpected things to do and places to eat.
Most Free Walking Tours are a pretty general and aim to hit the main attractions and sights. They often function as a teaser so that you then pay to book a more specific tour. I’ve actually done this several times if I was impressed with the guides and interested in the other tours on offer.
With competition for guided tours high, especially in popular destinations, most companies try to come up with new and fresh ideas for tours that dive a bit deeper into a specific part of the local culture and history. These types of tours are my favorite to do if I have a bit of time to spare, like the Medici Tour in Florence and the Alternative Walking Tour in Berlin.
And it’s not just big tour companies, more and more local freelance guides are getting into the game. And who better to show you around their town than someone who lives there and knows it well? Withlocals is a platform for finding private tours tailored to your interests, like art and food experiences.
Get Local Travel Information
No one knows a destination like the people who live there. Especially the ones that work in tourism. That’s why local tourism boards and tourist information are a great resource. Here you can find all upcoming events, fun things to do, and unexpected travel experiences. It’s one of my first stops on any trip and also to prepare beforehand.
Another good way to find local travel information is through bloggers and influencers. They spend their days exploring their own backyard and know it like no other. So read local travel blogs to find those off the beaten path activities. And don’t be afraid to reach out to bloggers and influencers to ask for personal recommendations. Most will be more than happy to suggest something fun for you to do.
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Join Online Travel Communities
Online travel communities are a fantastic resource for travel tips of any kind. From what luggage to get to where to go on your honeymoon, travelers love to give their opinion 😉
Facebook Groups like Girls Love Travel & Women Who Travel are women’s only groups, whereas the BuzzFeed spin off group Bring Me is for travelers of all genders. If you’re looking to meet up with locals or recommendations specifically for locals as a solo female traveler Host A Sister, Travel Meet Ups & Overnight are the groups to join. Lastly for Facebook Groups, you can join local groups for travelers as well to ask for tips.
I’m a member of Wanderful, which is an international community for women travelers. Wanderful organizes offline and online events & meetups, and offers an amazing sisterhood of women around the world. If you join any travel community as a female traveler or travel content creator, it should be this one! Wanderful allows you to connect with women wherever you go, ask for tips and recommendations and join fun events and tours.
Are you a travel creator? Join the upcoming WITS online by Wanderful on April 20-25!
Ask Your Host
And last but not least, don’t forget to ask your host for recommendations. I use Couchsurfing a lot and my hosts have always had the best suggestions for things to do and places to eat. I’ve had so many adventures through Couchsurfing that I never would have otherwise experienced! From being shown around the region to being invited to family parties.
If CS is not your thing, an AirBnb host usually also has a lot of knowledge to offer. They’re less likely to actually take you there, but will probably be happy to point you in the direction of some unforgettable travel experiences.
And for hotel and hostel stays, I’ve found the reception staff a great source of information. They know their town and can give you some insider tips, as well as book and organize day trips and activities for you. No need to do it all on your own 😉
So now that you have the proper tools, you too can find unique travel experiences wherever you go. I urge you to look beyond the main attractions and famous sights. Instead of trying to recreate the same Instagram picture, venture out and discover everything else your destination has the offer. Talk to the locals, stray off the beaten path, and keep an open mind. Adventure starts at the end of your comfort zone!
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