Taking the Road Less Traveled
The phrase “road less traveled” has taken on metaphorical meaning. It means to dare to think differently and to carve your own path. Yet here I mean it in the most literal sense - the road less traveled offers a more powerful and meaningful experience.
When deciding on a vacation or a long-term travel trip, it’s always tempting to choose a destination that's easy. One that is well known. That someone you know can vouch for. Maybe a place that speaks your language. Not only that, but popular travel spots are often well frequented for a good reason, be it for their tourist attractions or unique natural beauty.
Yet for the adventurous, and indeed the eco and culture-conscious, the road less traveled offers more opportunity, for learning, for growth, and for true reflection.
This excerpt from the poem by Robert Frost describes it beautifully:
Tourist Trail Becomes a Tourist Trap
Understandably, there are many places in the world that you simply have to go to. You can’t visit the Louvre or see the Eiffel Tower in any other city than Paris. There’s only one place where you can see the Pyramids of Giza – the clue is in the name. In the end, certain places justifiably draw the crowds.
However, there’s no denying that this can be a problem.
In major tourist cities, from Amsterdam to Barcelona, destinations are struggling to keep the infrastructure to meet the footfall. Meanwhile, locals become visibly upset. The damage can also be environmental, as is the case with Maya Bay in Thailand, where 77% of the coral is at risk. The tiny island became popular among travelers and started to receive 5,000 visitors a day after it was shown in the 2000 film ‘The Beach’.
In the end though, you can and will visit wherever you want. Yet the road less traveled potentially offers a much richer experience. No overpriced hotels, fewer crowds to contend with, and more of the cultural differences that make a travel trip interesting.
Here’s the paradox: by traveling to places that are less visited, you may contribute to them becoming busier in the future, especially if you enjoy the experience and recommend it to friends. In this respect, the cycle of tourism is unavoidable.
There’s no solution (it’s a paradox, after all). What you can do is tread lightly wherever you visit, be it a busy touristy city or a quiet mountain village. Never spoil the place, clean up after yourself, and don’t impose your own standards on other people. Aim to observe and understand other cultures rather than dominate and destroy them.
Overall, the aim is to make a positive impact, just like you would want to in your own community.
Seeking Alternative Destinations
It’s funny how destinations become known for being ‘the only place to go’. Las Vegas is known as the main casino city in the world, when in fact there are many alternative destinations that can provide a unique and fulfilling experience. Machu Picchu is now becoming an overcrowded and littered site, while other ancient and impressive ruins in Central and South America lie largely untouched from tourism.
Often, the alternatives are less crowded and offer equally rich and more diverse experiences. However, as a rule of thumb, they will be more challenging. Either a physical challenge will prevent masses of people from visiting a place, as is the case with remote nature spots, or a lack of direct transport and infrastructure will put people off.
If you can overcome these hurdles, then there’s every chance you will find yourself on the road less traveled. For example, you go to a cafe in a small town outside of the capital, where you must struggle through a few sentences of a foreign language to order lunch. A local takes interest and begins a conversation in broken English, and after a while, you are laughing about your different cultures. Adventure is not always about traversing an untouched rainforest, it can simply be about exploring the unknown.
Volunteering and working situations also offer a glimpse into local life and allow you to give time and energy back to the community that you're staying with. Again, this is a form of taking the road less traveled. It requires a trade of something more than cash, which puts many people off.
I believe that taking the road less traveled, at least some of the time, leads to a fuller experience and plenty of personal growth, as well as easing the strain on more crowded destinations that are struggling to cope.
It’s not always easy, but it’s usually worth it.
This article was produced in collaboration with Matthew Warburton.