The challenge in these destinations
Yesterday I wrote about touristy attractions. Today I want to discuss the complete opposite: unknown attractions. I value showing our children the popular destinations. However, there’s something fun in discovering something relatively unknown.
The problem is – how do you find out about these places?
Well, the good news is most of these places are in a guidebook. Not all guidebooks, though. Comprehensive guidebooks, focused on a smaller region, will have more unknown sites and destinations. This is actually a good thing. No one wants to spend their vacation in a place that is just “meh“. If it’s not in a comprehensive guidebook focused on the region, that might be because it’s just “meh“. (And if it’s not in a comprehensive guidebook and you still want to go – that’s ok, too!)
The bad news is that off the beaten path places are not off everyone’s beaten path. I tend to think that statement refers to sites that aren’t on a top 10, 20, or even 50 list of things to do. These are places that your circle of friends might not be as familiar with, but they’re likely a local person’s treasure. The reason this is bad news: crowds are still possible. Don’t worry we’ll talk more about that in a moment.
There are four types of unknown/lesser known destination trips.
- A popular destination, such as Paris, with visits to sites that are off the radar.
- Off the radar cities that are off the typical tourist trail of cities.
- Regions that aren’t visited by many people from your circle or nationality, but have tourists from within the region or are a popular destination for people from another country.
- Places that have tiny populations and tourists rarely go or get a chance to visit. These are much more remote, challenging, and likely expensive to get to.
Six steps to finding and enjoying an “unknown” destination
For the purpose of this post, I’ll focus on the first three I listed above. Remote, challenging, and expensive destinations aren’t something people go into lightly. I’m sure anyone going there with their family will get better resources than I can offer.
For the other three, though, I want to talk about how to find and enjoy them. Remember, the nature of the “unknown” place is they don’t get as many tourists as wherever you’re from. Hopefully, these tips will help.
- What kind of trip do you want? some sites within a popular city, something of the tourist trail in an often visited country, or something completely unfamiliar to you and your circle.
- Search online: Look up photos, websites, and social media and follow the clicking or hashtag trail until you find something appealing.
- Check out a guidebook: Find a comprehensive guidebook for the area of the world you want to visit. Skip the parts about places you are already familiar with and see if you can find a place that interests you.
- Research: Now that you know where you want to go. Go back to the web and guidebook.
- Know the history and geography.
- Consider your transportation options. Remember, it’s “off-the-beaten-path” – roads and public transportation may not be as reliable as places you are accustomed to.
- Learn some language. Don’t count on English speakers working the hotel desk, kiosks, or tours if they don’t get many English-speaking visitors.
- Don’t forget the meals. Research the food. Don’t worry, meal selections will likely be more authentic. This may not appeal to the youngest or pickiest of travels. Knowing what to expect can help. Then you can order something you know they will like, or pack some peanut butter and buy some bread.
- What will you do there? See what attractions, events, and festivals are there. Even if it is relatively unknown, it will likely have a list of must-sees and dos.
- Who does travel to this place – does it have a high season? Try to find out who travels there. Is it a local favorite? Is it popular with German tourists? If there’s a chance it could be busy with their more typical tourist, consider visiting during shoulder season. Then you get the best parts of the destination, without the crowds.
- Is traveling off-season an option?Be cautious of traveling off-season, though. In some places off-season is actually closed season and there may be NOTHING to do.
- Once you are there, talk to locals. What do they recommend?
- Wander. What kinds of things do you stumble upon when you travel without any direction? Some of my favorite trips have been because I hadn’t pre-planned anything and just took random turns as we wandered around.
Every day of the A-Z Challenge I link to another participant writing about something travel-related for the challenge. I actually picked my links before I knew what I would be posting about on any given day. Today’s planned link is with Tui Snider’s Offbeat and Overlooked Travel. Lots of great information fitting in with going to places that aren’t necessarily on a typical top 20 list.
This is hard. Part of me would love to do this- but the other one likes a safe bet when it comes to a vacation, or a trip. With the kids- it’s next to impossible- at least for now. Maybe when they’re older we can do things like go on a hike and see where we end up. I also feel that the world is much smaller than we think and everyone has already seen everything already!
I think you do it already. You just don’t realize it because now you’re in Europe. But, you are having these off-the-beaten-american-family-traveling-to-europe path trips and it’s not so hard and so bad. There aren’t completely unknown destinations, just places that our circle aren’t familiar with and you end up with a vacation that’s more popular to, say, a Dutch traveler or only locals or something. And I bet some of the trips (I can think of one in particular that you prebooked for the summer) you’d probably encourage people going to France from the US to do – even more than, say, Paris or London or something.
Good advice as always Ann!
Wander – that’s my favourite advice ever. I love just wandering to get a feel for a place.
I had to include wander because my W word was going to be Wander – but, now I still might use it anyway. What I thought I was going to use in its place I’m not fond of anymore.
Whenever we’re off the beaten track, or even when we’re on it, we always find that the locals are a great source of information. They are proud of their city and love to see visitors so are only too happy to tell you where to go and what to see. It’s the best part of travelling!
Great post Ann! Getting off the beaten path is very important to us and so we try to get local input whenever possible. We’ve found some of our favorite places this way 🙂
Such wonderful advice Ann, I love the idea of talking to the locals. We always try to do that 🙂
We love the “off the beaten path” locations. We do home exchange as much as possible which puts us in a neighborhood, rather than a city, so it’s a good starting point.