Why the term “off the beaten path” annoys me

April 16, 2013

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Travel is awesome: it’s fun, educational, and perhaps even transformative.  But whenever I hear or see the phrase “off the beaten path” it makes me grit my teeth just a little bit.

“Off the beaten path” is probably the most overused term in travel literature and internet forums these days.  It expresses the need to do, see, and experience things in a destination that the “average” or “typical” tourist would not.  The premise in and of itself is not faulty: I can totally understand that your insatiable thirst for something new or different may mean that you want to stray from the carefully conceived itinerary outlined in your guidebook.

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It’s rather the snobbery and pretentiousness that can accompany  this sentiment that get me annoyed. The travellers who think they are better than others or have had more “authentic” experiences because they’ve gone where not many have gone before. I’ve heard and seen travellers boast about getting to far-reaching destinations relatively untouched by hordes of tourists, of being “the first” or “the only” to crack x destination or attempt y experience.  In the next breath, I’ve heard these same travellers disparage others for going on cruises, or coach tours, or all-inclusive resort vacations; I’ve seen them scorn those who go to the Bahamas instead of Burma or Bhutan.

As if going off the beaten path somehow makes you more intelligent and highly evolved than someone else. Um, no.

As I said in my in 7 Travelling Truths post, I believe that all travel is valuable: there is no travel hierarchy and travel is not a race.  Travel should never be the subject of a pissing contest — and if you think you are better than someone else because you travelled to the furthest and the most random corners of the earth then you are a sad little person.

Because, after all, what’s so bad about the beaten path?

The beaten path is the beaten path for a reason. People never would have flocked to, say, the Eiffel Tower if it wasn’t special in some way, they wouldn’t continue to go to the Grand Canyon in droves if it wasn’t, for lack of a better word, epic.

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Let me make myself clear before you get up in arms: there’s nothing wrong with wanting to do something different, wanting to see, feel, and taste the atypical on your journey abroad.  But when your desire to boldly go where no one has gone before is based heavily on competition, chest-thumping bragging rights, and looking down your nose at others because you deem their “ordinary” travels not “alternative enough”, you’ve got a problem.

So what’s my message here? Simple. The road not taken, of course, can yield rewards, but the established road, well-walked, experienced, and trodden, is exactly so for a distinct purpose and shouldn’t be the object of disdain — even if it is “mainstream”.

Besides, travel snobbery is uglier than Cinderella’s stepsisters.  Live life and love travel — all travel — on your own terms.

 What do you think?  What’s your take on travel snobbery and the desire to get off the beaten path?

{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Arianwen April 16, 2013 at 11:02 pm

I agree 100%! When I plan a trip, the first thing I do is read about the places ‘on the beaten path’ because I know I’d be a fool to be in the area and miss them. Then I look into things a little further and see if there’s anywhere that takes my interest that might not be listed as a must see in every guidebook. There are very few places left on this earth where you’re not going to come into contact with other travellers, so you might as well accept it and just do what you know you’ll enjoy. And besides, meeting like-minded travellers is one of the best things about travel. You’d miss out big time if you always tried to avoid them.
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:56 pm

I agree with you there! Some of the best times I’ve had abroad have been precisely because of the other travellers I’ve met. So I personally don’t mind crowds that much. I also like your strategy of figuring out the tourist hotspots first!

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Wild Buttercup April 16, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Yeah, that phrase irks me as well. It makes travel seem too much like a competition. The emphasis needs to be less on “getting off the beaten track” and more on being respectful and learning as we travel.
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Avalon April 17, 2013 at 12:37 am

I actually like the term. It helps me differentiate where is more crowded, where I may have a difficult time accessing, etc. The travel magazines I’ve read have at times used it with snobbery but in my regular convo, I’ve not had that experience. I’ve been blessed.

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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I see where you’re coming from, but at the same time, with all these articles being written about off the beaten track experiences, there’s bound to be more tourists flocking there… perhaps making that destination a tourist trap over time!

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Dani Blanchette April 17, 2013 at 4:11 am

I hate “off the beaten path” too. It is totally meaningless. However I like to say i’m an ‘anti-tourist travel blog’. Mostly because I hate large tourist crowds, and most guides tours. Always have. Doesn’t mean I stay away from the tourist areas, just that I try to find a new view of them. I am a firm believer of 2 things:
1. you have to see tourist things when you go somewhere. like you said, they are popular because they are special.
2. if i wanted to see a bunch of gringos, i’d stay home…so yes, when i travel, i try to get away from the popular foreigner areas most of the time and meet some locals. and most of the places i end up are popular locals areas…so its pretty much the same. :)
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:54 pm

I can dig what you’re saying, especially in regards to number two on your list! :-)

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Jay @ From There To Here April 17, 2013 at 6:11 am

Great post Oneika!

As you said, it’s the snobbery and pretentiousness that accompanies the statement that undermines travel. I read this great post awhile back discussing similar sentiments… http://www.mike-jess.com/2013/03/traveller-vs-tourist.html
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:53 pm

This is such a fabulous post! I really think that with the explosions of travel blogs and social media highlighting a lot people are jockeying to distinguish themselves through their offbeat travel experiences — which means a lot of chest puffing and bragging about being random and alternative (which undermines what travel should be about, learning, growing, and enjoying for yourself and not just to impress others).

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Crystal April 17, 2013 at 7:49 am

If I ever find myself off the beaten path while travelling, it’s usually because I’ve gotten myself lost!!

Loved this post. You made some really points. Travel should be for fun and educational purposes — not a chance to brag (though the invention of FB also means that bragging got a whole lot easier to do and pass off as status updates…) and compete with other people.

Hope you’re well copine!
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:51 pm

LOL! So glad you touched on Facebook! To be honest, I’ve really become aware of my status updates on my personal page as one friend ‘joked’ that it appeared I was bragging, gah! Facebook for me is a way to keep folks abreast of my whereabouts, joys, and successes, but I never want it to be viewed as “look at what a great life I’m having”.

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Melissa April 17, 2013 at 7:59 am

This is the exact reason why I skip over many a travel/expat blog. It seems that travel for some is just to boast about some obscure place or adventure they have had. Like Avalon however I don’t like crowds so I do try to see places that are less frequented or I will go to the big sites at off times when less people are around.
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:49 pm

I really don’t get this competing for the most random destination/experience thing. All travel is invaluable, and really, travel is so personal that what you may find obscure another person may find commonplace.

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Bret @ GGT April 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm

I agree with you about the snobbery aspects not being cool. We try never to disparage other forms of travel in our stories. However, I do think there are unique benefits to “off the beaten path” travel, both in terms of authentic experiences and economic benefits to the indigenous people, that you simply do not get with other forms of travel.

For me, the interest in ecotourism/sustainable travel comes from an understanding of history, and how Colonial Imperialism watered down the indigenous cultures around the world almost to the point of homogeny. Now, there’s something to be said for the influences Colonial cultures had on countries such as Peru, Curacao, etc. But, more often than not, those influences came at the expense of traditional cultures in those regions, many of which were ultimately transformed beyond recognition or wiped out completely.

For me, getting “off the beaten path” when we travel is a way of honoring, and hopefully helping to preserve, those elements that make each destination truly unique in the face of widespread corporatization and commercialization of the global economy. I don’t judge anyone else for not traveling the way we do, but I CONSTANTLY emphasize the rewards of taking the road less traveled.
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Thanks for your comment, Bret! I do recognize the benefits of off the beaten path travel, but don’t think that this should be a singular aim when for many, getting out there and seeing the world (even on a guided tour) is a huge feat in and of itself. Rather, it’s the commoditization of travel that bothers me, the chest beating and boasting about discovering lands yet unexplored. I’m moreso talking about those who reduce others’ travel experiences to unimportant occurrences simply because they aren’t alternative enough. I think there’s room for different types and ways of travel, and really commend you for championing off the beaten path travel as it relates to combatting corporatization and commercialization!

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Jim O'Donnell April 17, 2013 at 3:29 pm

When I first saw the title of this I thought the post was going to be completely opposite of what it turned out to be. Thank God. I could not agree with you more Oneika. I really dont think there are many “unexplored” places anymore. Were there ever? Humans have been almost everywhere on this planet. Just because they didnt write a blog about it doesnt mean they werent there and didnt have an impact. Travel is valuable. Period.

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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:36 pm

I agree with you Jim! I think that every inch of the earth has been explored at some point by some human, so those hoping to be “first” are sadly too late!! lol!

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Nicole | the wondernuts April 17, 2013 at 3:32 pm

We agree! They’re tourist sites for a reason. And sometimes, the places considered “off the beaten path” tend to be the most beaten anyways. So…
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:36 pm

True dat!

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opportunemma April 17, 2013 at 6:06 pm

Reading this post (and the intelligent comments) made me so happy! It’s nice to know there are other bloggers out there who feel the same way I do about pretentious travelers that belittle others. I often defend guided tours because, like you said, there is no travel hierarchy, and, in some cases, a bus tour is the only way someone can travel (due to age or disability, etc.) so criticizing that is just rude. As Wild Buttercup mentioned in her comment, it’s more important to be respectful of and learn about the place you’re visiting and its host culture than to get “off the beaten path.”
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Exactly! Sometimes we need to recognize the limitations of ourselves and others. Some of the choices we make in travel are dictated by factors such as mobility and finances and age — so glad you brought that up!

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christina April 17, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Amen! I fully agree that travel should never be a pissing contest. Some people need to get off their high horse and just freakin learn to enjoy life!
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Hell yea!

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negrita April 17, 2013 at 8:05 pm

I confess that I’m somewhat of a travel snob. In general, I don’t like doing things everyone else does because when popularity comes into the equation, authenticy is breached. I have looked down on all-inclusives and such because *I* like the eperience different cultures, and being on a secluded property with a bunch of priviledged people like myself doesn’t allow me to do that (though these days I just want to get away, so all-inclusives are more appealing). There is a lot of grey area; I don’t think “third world” equates to more authenticity than say…going to Paris. One of my most enjoyable experiences was going to Rome. Loved every minute of it. But I think it’s because the culture hasn’t been totally sanitized. I’m from Chicago. It’s not a place that many people think when they want to travel, but it never fails that first-time travelers are amazed at what my city has to offer. Unfortunately, the current mayor wants it to be NYC-lite, and he is slowing trying to erase what makes Chicago, Chicago. Another favorite vacation was Trinidad. Because Trinidad isn’t a tourist island, people go to visit family or experience Carnival. Trinidad Carnival was one of THE BEST experiences of my life and I can’t wait to do it again. When most people think “Carnival,” they think Rio. Though I haven’t been to Brazil, I can’t help feeling the experience in Trinidad is much more personal. The world is getting more homogenized, so I will continue to seek “off the beaten path” vacations when I can. It’s nice to get away from industrialized, capitalist societies/norms every once in a while.

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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:34 pm

I understand where you’re coming from, but people have different different aims for travel, and that’s okay. I know really know of anyone going on an all-inclusive vacay to Cuba or the Dominican for the cultural experience– I think most of the time they go to relax on a beautiful beach… And that’s okay. Travel doesn’t always have to be “meaningful” or “cultural”, it can just fit into the realm of fun and breezy and light. I also don’t think that popular destinations become more watered down or less authentic — just tell that to the locals who live there and go about their lives on the daily! I can see where you’re coming from though, thanks for your comment!! p.s. I would love to play mas in Trini Carnival!

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Deidre April 17, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I totally agree. Travel is travel.

Some snobberies that I myself am guilty of, when I studied abroad in Australia I came with 70 other Americans and most of them never made a single Australian friend. I found this really really really sad.
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:31 pm

I think I’m guilty of that snobbery as well — I kind of feel like you SHOULD make an attempt to integrate/meet new people who aren’t from your country when you travel.

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Andreas Moser April 18, 2013 at 1:08 pm

All kind of travel is better than sitting at home.
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Richtig! ;-)

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Erika April 18, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I really appreciate this! It’s almost like you’re not considered a “true” traveler if you travel in a more conventional way.

There’s a diversity in ways of traveling, just like with people. Some people want to try it all, some people have their preferences, but like you said — what is the USE of putting down people because they’re not like you? So much for being “open-minded!” Haha.
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

I know, right?! It’s almost like travel has become a competitive sport. Snobby folks are missing the point, I think.

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This Battered Suitcase April 18, 2013 at 8:37 pm

YES. This article totally sums up my opinion on the matter. I wrote a similar article about how all travel is travel, and we should never judge someone if they choose to take the same trip to Hawaii every year. To each their own!! Great post.
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Thanks chicky! Travel is such a personal thing, and so much more than a bragging point or commodity. Live and let live, I say.

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Amanda April 19, 2013 at 4:39 am

I’m totally with you on this one! Especially the part about the beaten path being beaten for a good reason. Usually, those places ARE worth visiting! I can’t stand travelers who look down their noses at other travelers based on where they’ve been (or, in most cases, haven’t been).

Guess where I’m going this summer? To all the big cities in Western Europe. You’d better believe that I’m going to ride a gondola in Venice and go see the Eiffel Tower. And I’m going to love it. Screw anyone who will judge me for it.
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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:28 pm

Sounds like a big summer!! Will you be in London at any point? Come say hi!

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Angel April 19, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Preach!

If you’ve never seen the White House, the Eiffel Tower, or heck, Disney World, you are traveling. You are experiencing something new. And if your eyes are open, if you are compassionate and curious, everywhere you go will be special.

I love this blog.

Angel

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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:27 pm

I want you make your comment my personal motto!!! Yassss, girl!!

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Mil April 20, 2013 at 1:28 pm

So true, Oneika. You summed it up so well. There is a kind of judgemental attitude some world travelers have. And the well-known sites as you say, are well-known for a reason so they are worth seeing. Travel can be a unique experience even in front of the most touristy sites because it’s different with *your* eyes.

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Oneika April 22, 2013 at 11:23 pm

You hit the nail on the head with your last statement! Seriously, one’s man’s trash is another’s treasure. You never know how you’ll react to a certain place until you experience it personally…

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fotoeins | Henry April 23, 2013 at 5:50 am

Lots of people have written their opinions about which I also share. Instead of dwelling upon them again, I’d like to say: thanks for your post, Oneika.
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berto April 24, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I enjoyed the piece. I can say I am guilty of being a travel snob and I am working on it. And I agree any traveling is good traveling. I did cruises and the all inclusive resorts and that was my foray into becoming a traveler. My issue with the “beaten path” is that it keeps folks from seeing other places and people and experiences due to misconceptions. Like certain countries off the beaten path are believed to be of less significance or dangerouse. My personal issue with the resorts and cruises is that they don’t support local economies. I try to book lodging from locals and support local businesses as much as I can. Funny story: when I went to guatemala i tried to book lodging from a guatemalan but for whatever reason ended up booking from an Expat. The snob in me was disappointed but the host turned out to be great and was someone who actually supported the local community. Keep up the good work!!

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Ryan April 27, 2013 at 11:32 pm

I agree with you 100%. Even though I usually prefer traveling to some “off the beaten path” countries or locations, I still think that there’s appeal with the mainstream ones. After all, popular places are usually popular for a reason. Also, I have no problem traveling alone or as part of a tour group. There are advantages to both ways.

Something that really annoys me personally is how many travel snobs like to talk about how they like to go to “off the beaten path” third world countries and “live like locals” to soak in the full experience of a country. I’m sorry, but if you are a traveler, you are not living like a local, especially if you are staying in a hostel.
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TammyOnTheMove May 10, 2013 at 2:59 am

The term doesn’t annoy me if it is used when somebody has actually been to a destination that was off the beaten tourist path (I have to admit I used it before. Being an expat in Cambodia I do really get to see many places that tourists don’t go to. :-) ). However a lot of people use it for places that may be exotic (i.e. Pai in Thailand), but that are published in Lonely Planet, which in itself suggests that it is not off the ebaten path anymore and probably has been visited by many other people before.
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Tiffany Harrison May 14, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Love this post!! Particularly the part where you mention “I believe that all travel is valuable: there is no travel hierarchy and travel is not a race.” So true! It’s easy to get caught up in constantly wanting to try new things, or be the first to try this or that, that we overlook the fact that “the beaten path is the beaten path for a reason.”

Keep up the great posts – love reading them :)
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Oneika May 15, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Thanks Tiffany!

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Katrina Mauro May 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm

While the term doesn’t necessarily annoy me per say, it’s just not a realistic term these days… I mean, it’s not like new, previously undiscovered places and cultures pop up every day. Of course there are tribes in jungles or mountains etc. with little contact to the modern world, but seriously how many of us are really going to get there without a tour? And, if there’s a tour company going there, I assure you it’s not off the beaten path.
While we “adventurers” and “explorers” may go outside of the general tourist traps to find certain unique experiences, there’s many interesting and unique experiences to be had even within the tourist trap. For me, some of my best experiences have been within the touristy areas, and it’s not the tourists that make those experiences unique or different, its the natives of the place that I connect with. The residents of a city know it best, so if you are willing to meet and talk to them, and maybe hang out with them, you will find a world of hidden treasures that few other tourists will – and perhaps learn something in the process.
Hey, I am currently an antique carpet dealer because I was willing to go with a tout in Sultanahmet (Istanbul, Turkey’s tourist center). The shop he brought me to shut down for 6 hours just to teach me about carpets. I’ve been back to see them 3 times since 2008 when we met, and everyone in the shop is practically family now.
The intrinsic problem with going too far “off the beaten path” (unless of course you know someone who does know the area/people/culture) is that you will have nothing to base your decisions on. Well traveled routes have a host of information on where to stay, what to eat, what to do, cultural norms, etc. With no advice or suggestions, your adventure could become a nightmare.
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Jamaica My Way June 4, 2013 at 5:20 am

I have comments to make on both sides of the argument but first I’d like to say this is a great post. I’ve never thought of it in that way before, guess it was never on my mind. And I hate that phrase too…..WAY over done.

Okay here’s my “both sides”. Even though I AM the dreaded off-the-beaten-path traveler I have done and enjoyed MANY typical tourist activities for many reasons. #1 because some are worth doing and #2 because I get them for free in exchange for reviews. The reason I prefer NON-touristy activities is because I enjoy mingling with local people more than other tourists because I can see tourist people any time at home. They come from where I come from lol.

For me where the “snobbery” comes in is here: Specifically because I do and write about things that not many people write about, I get billions of emails asking me for advice, tips, contacts and even full itineraries for this type of travel. However, as soon as I turned it into a package to sell people run the other way when they see a price tag. They can’t appreciate all the work and learning that went into forging that path for ourselves and they want the knowledge for free. #1 it’s extremely time consuming to plan someone’s trip, and #2 they don’t want to pay yet they WOULD pay a travel agent who’s never even been to that destination for a typical touristy package.

I guess if there is snobbery involved I’d say we’ve earned our stripes and just feel worn down by feeling like we’re not worth paying. That’s my take on it anyway. Great post and thanks for giving me a different way to think about things.
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Ani June 5, 2013 at 3:59 am

While I can respect a lot of points in this post I don’t totally agree with all of them. Snobbery aside there is a big difference between what we generally consider to be tourism and traveling. Its something that those of us who live, work and travel in more obscure places struggle with on a daily basis. Because while I don’t believe that I am in any way better than anyone else I do believe that the experience gained in these two different forms of travel is vastly different. Staying in an all-inclusive resort in Cancun for instance, does not give one a picture or understanding of Mexico in any way shape or form. Cancun is altogether false. The hotel district there is built specifically for foreigners and caters directly to their needs/desires. It does not challenge people to think outside the box, see another way of life or open their minds to new experiences and attitudes. Its not to say that these people are somehow lesser in value than those who, say, spend 6 months living with an Afghani family in the mountains, but its only fair that the person who roughed it in unfamiliar territory and gave in to a way of life outside his/her comfort zone might feel a bit fussed by the tourist who stayed in an all inclusive resort or two and says he has experienced Mexico… I agree that people have turned traveling into a contest of worth and “coolness” which is disgusting and disturbing, but I do think that there is a great level of distinction between the many ways of vacationing, traveling, exploring, experiencing the world. For the record, I think that “off the beaten track” is one of the worst phrases anywhere, and gives people an overinflated ego where non is necessary!

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Amanda Halm June 6, 2013 at 6:42 pm

I didn’t read all of this post. I scrolled down quickly to tell you how much I LOVE it and how much it needs to be said. I cannot stand arrogance. It honestly turned me off of traveling (at first) because I was exposed to so many condescending travelers. ‘YOU’VE NEVER BEEN to ___”. At the time, I didn’t have money to go anywhere – I was poor as a kid, so traveling seemed like a huge luxury and expense. And it is, sometimes!

They didn’t want me to go to whatever obscure destination they were talking about. It’s the same with books and movies. “YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF ___”. What I am trying to say is that this type of attitude shuts people out, instead of making it more appealing. Because they’re just going to associate whatever it is with that snobbish, holier-than-though, hipster attitude.
Thanks for writing! Peace.

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Ani October 29, 2013 at 6:51 am

I also hate the term “off the beaten path” but mostly because if you are reading it in most forms of travel literature or tour advertising you can be sure that it is in fact very much on the beaten path. And while I agree that there is an overabundance of unpleasant ego in the world of travel I do look down on all-inclusive resorts, tour packages and organized experiences. This is why: These establishments and companies are often owned by foreign conglomerates and/or the very rich, thus taking a great deal of business away from local residents and throwing off economic balance in a huge way (for instance after the 2004 Tsunami in Thailand large companies came in a grabbed up land destroyed by the wave which perviously held small, local businesses, now many areas have huge hotels like the Marriot which have pushed out locals and displaced tons of families). Likewise these huge hotels are destroying the environment in many places, like in Thailand where they have virtually eliminated local turtle populations by developing beach areas where they lay their eggs. All inclusive resorts also hurt local economies because tourists have no need to venture out into the towns, buy food from street vendors, visit local bars or spend money anywhere outside the hotel. In similar fashion tour companies monopolize the business and cut out independent leaders, eateries and establishments. To be a responsible traveler it is important to NOT use these kinds of things and thats not snobbery, that is simple respect for the areas you are visiting! On top of which, the authenticity of an experience is compromised if you have a bunch of giant tour buses holding 30-40 westerners being hauled into a spot on a daily basis. There simply is no denying that!
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