Everywhere within the world of travel do we hear the term ‘off the beaten track’.
It’s a term which seems to encapsulate the majority of foreign adventures abroad depending on the amount of personal travel experience the person saying it has. It is also a favourite of travel companies keen to lure travellers with promises of an adventure no one else is capable of delivering.
Sometimes I wonder if travelling ‘on the beaten track’ would be preferable as most travellers seem to be as far off the track as humanly possible. It makes me question whether any travellers are still travelling the well-trodden path or if they have in fact, defected to the dark side.
Getting off the beaten track
If I were a tour operator I would only operate tours ‘on the beaten track’ where no one travels these days, which would of course be the new ‘off the beaten track’ – or something to that effect. It all gets very confusing and I’m never quite sure when my feet pound the dirt paths and backstreet sidewalks if I am in fact on or off the beaten track. It makes my head hurt and now I need to sit down.
Once upon a time air travel wasn’t as accessible and walking out of a perfectly good job to travel in favour of starting a family was unheard of, now it is the norm. Now ‘gap year’ students trace the borders of a map as a stop-gap between university and the working world which can I just say is brilliant. It teaches them basic survival skills and can be humbling if done correctly. So with so many people travelling and such easy accessibility, it’s no wonder we are turning our backs on conventional travel destinations and the well-trodden path.
There is of course the legacy of true explorers such as Ernest Shackleton who survived the wintery wrath of Antarctica without the modern creature comforts of synthetic fibres, and John Powell who sailed into the unknown down the unchartered Colorado River inside the belly of the Grand Canyon. These storm-troopers of the travel world set the benchmark high and I suppose it is the duty of all travellers to bare this in mind when setting off with backpacks in tow.
So here is my definition of travel and this is something I’ve lived by since setting out at 22 years old, are you ready for it? Whether you are travelling on or off the beaten track, to Europe or forging your path through the Congolese jungle it is how you approach every encounter. I speak to as many locals as possible to help charter my path – after all they know the country better than any guidebook can claim to. Wander away from the main tourist streets, use local buses, try new cuisine where the locals eat, learn a few language phrases (basic greetings can be enough) to scratch beneath the surface and try to give a good representation of your own country through kindness as much as expecting it from other people. I also tend to ask if how many ways there are to make it from point A to B and decide which suits me better. Example: there generally tend to be local buses but perhaps you could speed along the train tracks as an alternative, or follow a snaking river path by boat or hiking the dusty trails!
So whether you’re walking tracks where no other footprints exist or wiping dust from your forehead stirred up by travellers ahead of you, it is after all your experience and can be conducted in a way which best suits you, not necessarily the same way as people who laid the foundations ahead of you.
Put that in your ‘off or on the beaten track’ pipe and smoke it!