Is This Really Travel?

By Nomadic Matt | Published March 8th, 2010

tour busFor the last three months, I’ve been traveling around Australasia, visiting New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia (for the second time). I’ve noticed something interesting – a lot of the travelers I see are young (18-24) gap year kids, and most never consider leaving “the beaten track.” It’s only the older travelers that seem to even want to venture somewhere different.

Don’t get me wrong – I am happy to see people traveling. Whether by tour, cruise, car, or foot, taking the first proverbial step is a feat in itself. The very fact that someone made the effort is amazing. Not enough people do it.

However, it’s dismaying to see so many young travelers sticking to the same places. Popular places are popular for a reason, and there is nothing wrong with going to them. I go to them too. But when you have nothing but time, you don’t really have an excuse to skip the lesser known destinations.

The majority of gap year travelers always seem to want to stay in the big, popular places. They never even try to see or experience something different. Even when I prod them and try to convince them to step off the tourist trail, they seem uninterested. They just want to follow everyone else because “that’s where everyone else is.”

Take Western Australia, for example. Not a lot of backpackers travel there. Almost all the travelers I speak to say they don’t have enough time to fit it in, even if they are spending months in Australia. Many just have no real answer as to why they aren’t going.

Yet Western Australia is one of the most beautiful parts of the whole country. Even Aussies will tell you that if you want to see the “real” Australia, head west. It’s a lot less developed than the east and incredibly beautiful. However, most travelers I speak to never even consider it. They just stick to the highly touristy and overrated Sydney-to-Cairns route.

I see this pattern a lot in other places, too. In New Zealand, travelers follow the backpacker buses and hardly ever head out of the major tourist centers. In Fiji, they just go to the Yasawa Islands. In Laos, travelers go tubing, get drunk in Vang Vieng, and then declare that they have seen Laos.

There have always been travelers who just stick to the beaten path. Some people just don’t want to make the effort to find something new – they just want to go meet other travelers, have a good time, and get drunk. But if you only came away to get drunk in another country, what’s the point of going away? Stay and get drunk cheaper.

And, based on the conversations I’ve had with people in tourism, this trend in travel seems to be growing.

Backpacking seems to have become an “industry” in this part of the world. Everything seems to be geared toward doing everything for the traveler. There are special backpacker buses. Hostels will pick you up from anywhere. There are special activities, special dinners, and tours. Hostels even have their own bars to keep you in one place. Overall, it seems to always be about taking the work out of long-term travel and making it more like a long holiday. It’s cheap pre-packaged tourism.

Backpacking has always been about being independent. I love how you have to figure it all out for yourself. You find your way and, in the process, you find out about yourself. You need to figure out trains, languages, and moving from point A to B. There’s a journey involved.

In Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, everything is done for you. I feel like it’s becoming more like a guided tour that has you staying in hostels instead of hotels. It’s all easy. You just need to show up, and your hand is held for you.

But travel is more than just going somewhere. In my world, travel is about going to destinations to experience new things, people, and places. It’s about gaining insights into new cultures, trying local food, and, yes, getting drunk at the local waterhole while locals teach you slang and curse words in their native language.

Travel isn’t simply about getting on the Greyhound, being dropped off at a hostel, and then getting shuffled onto a backpacker tour and then a backpacker bar. It’s not about always staying on the beaten path. It’s not always about having your hand held. But the more I see these young travelers simply accepting this type of travel, the more I get discouraged. Is this really what traveling is about?

Then again, maybe I am an old fuddy duddy lamenting about an idea about travel that only existed in my head.

Editor’s Note: My goal here was not to disparage people who travel a certain way. As I say here, all travelers are equal. It doesn’t matter how you travel. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t wish people saw something different or lament the fact that backpacking has become more of an industry than an adventure in solo travel. Everyone has their own opinions. Just remember that popular destinations are great, but they aren’t the only things that exist. Most people on an extended trip have the time to see a mix of places.

comments 104 Comments

Dan

I don’t think you are lamenting on an idea at all. It’s all to easy these days, it ends up being about simply having a good time, doing so while learning about a new culture and experiencing new things is forgotten by the time they down their first beer while waiting for their flight at Heathrow. I’ve got a couple of related posts coming up this week.

I’m an aussie and have only been over to WA once. But its definitely worth the distance. For many backpackers its fairly expensive to travel all the way over to perth – its cheaper for me (i’m in Canberra) to fly to New Zealand.

NomadicMatt

It’s expensive to get there for everyone though flying from Melb to perth via Tiger Air is pretty affordable.

Although TigerAir always overbooked and I only hear bad things about them. Flown with them once myself, and wasn’t too impressed. But if you wanna save then its a good option.

Really great post! This was something that I experienced when I was backpacking. Alone, I went everywhere and had a far more adventurous and enriching experience because of it. Traveling with some of my American roommates, it was far more difficult. They only wanted to go/see/do/eat familiar things! In the end, I preferred to travel alone.

Travel IS simply getting on the greyhound, being dropped at a hostel, then shuffled to a backpacker tour and then a backpacker bar… for those people who are doing it.

I think people’s travel style evolves as they continue on. Early on, I was similar to the folks you’ve described. Since then I’ve lost interested in that style of travel and am more curious to get off the path, so to speak.

For some of those gap-year types, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. For a few, it’ll be the start of their addiction to travel and as they carry on around the world, I think they will eventually move away from wanting to follow the trail and look for more interesting experiences. It just takes a bit of time for them (me) to get to that point.

NomadicMatt

As I said, whatever gets people going is ok with me and if this is all they can do, well, it is still better than nothing. I’d still wish people got a little more creative while away. I’ll keep pushing and hoping.

Poi

I can see why when you talk to people you want to tell them about the special places off the track you think everyone should experience but everyone goes for their own reasons, I see travel as more of a freedom thing and I’ve always thought you should do what makes you happy whether it be spend the day in a bar with your friends or finding an amazing location to take in.
I just hope it doesn;t get to the point we’re people stop talking to each other because there doing a different style of travlelling.

NomadicMatt

I’ll never stop pushing and prodding and talking. Even if I fail, we can all still have a good time together!

One Kool Kat

How about coming up with your top 10 unique, must see, off the beaten path, special places list for as many countries as possible. Matt this guide can be your own or you can solicit ideas for your thousands of followers.

And therein lies a Catch-22, as soon as he publishes them they will become not “Off-the-beaten-path” destinations but popular, must-see hot spots. This is the eternal argument that certain things are better because they’re exclusive – it pops up in music, fashion, film, “The Beach”, etc.

Great post, this sort of travelling really got me down when I did my big trip. I thought to myself so often “this wasn’t what I was expecting/want”. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I did a couple of tours and had a lot of fun on them, it’s hard not to, they’re designed for young travellers.

But, it’s not what I wanted. We could get to a place and I would think “I just want a little longer here. I want to set my own timetable.” (I shall be eternally grateful to an Israeli guy I met in Adelaide. I explained my worries and, just before he left to go home, he told me to go down to the boards and just *find* someone in an advert.) I kept straying off the beaten track after Adelaide, and those are the months I most remember and cherish.

I think the trouble with hand-held-travelling being popular and accessible, is that people can feel pushed into going that route. Like tours are the only way to go travelling. By opening up one route, they obscure other paths.

Just because they aren’t traveling the way you like to doesn’t make them wrong. Sure things are easier these days, just as things were easier for us than they were for our parents. Generations upon generations have grown up only to utter the phrase “Young people these days…”.

As Kirsty said, for some of these people this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, others will probably grow out of this phase and want to experience travel in a new way. Some may choose your “off-the-beaten-path” style, others may not, either way it doesn’t make their experience any less meaningful to them.

We’re all different and that’s what makes the world so interesting. Besides, if everyone went to the “off-the-beaten-path” places they wouldn’t be “off-the-beaten-path” anymore.

NomadicMatt

Kelly,

Good point about off the beaten path places. I agree with you and Kirsty that it’s good that they are traveling. The people I met are having the time of their lives and that is amazing. I’m not trying to take away from their experience just wishing they would see there is more to Australia or anywhere then the big destinations.

My general feeling is people can do what they want, I try really, really hard not to judge the way other people choose to travel. There’s always going to be people talking about the “good old days” or pulling traveler cred on someone else, and there’s always going to be people only interested in the package experience.

I do think you run into more of these people in the more touristy areas: Western Europe, Oceania and SE Asia. When I was traveling through the Balkans there really wasn’t a well defined tourist trek and as a result I rant into a lot of interesting people doing different things. I’m psyched to visit South East Asia but I more or less think of the whole region as “the beaten track” at this point.

Katey

Don’t worry, I just spent 11 months in South East Asia and there are definitely still heaps of “off the beaten track” places to go. There is a standard tour that goes on and a lot of people do it, but it is also easy to avoid that and to see all the rest of the country that you are in that people miss out. We spent a lot of time in North and Central Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia that was completely off the beaten track.

I actually think the opposite. I think when you are that young you tend not to think about the consequences that much, or what could happen, and just enjoy the moment more. I started travelling several years ago when I was just 17, and I found that I was much more able to deal with change than other travellers who were a bit older because I had less inhibitions.
:)

I completely agree. Too many travellers just stick to the beaten path. What I would say though is that sometimes you need a stepping stone like Australia or NZ. Australia was a great foundation for me personally and gave me the confidence and desire to move on to other more challenging destinations.

Matt, there are a lot of reasons why some people stick to the beaten path or the idea of having travel handed in to them first hand. The major reason – time and money.
Put it this way, guidebooks pretty much do the same thing. The purpose of guidebooks is to give travelers ideas, but I notice that travelers that do carry their guidebooks FOLLOW the guidebook like a bible. “Oh I checked this restaurant off the strip, it was on LP, it was great” disappoints me sometimes – and this is why I never carry guidebooks around. I like the ones that were suggested by a friend of a friend, or something I just stumbled upon my own. I buy them of course, gives you an easy history of your destination, ideas of how to travel around, tips and reviews about places but I don’t bring it with me – it stays at home.
Don’t stress about it Matt. Every person has a different way of traveling and everybody has different reasons to travel. You also have to remember that not every place is comfortable for anyone or any place is safe to go solo. I did not think twice about going to Orinoco Delta with a tour, nor would I dare to go on a Safari on my own in Kenya, or trek Nepal solo.
Think back in history, if travelers in the past see how we, travelers in our time, travel today…they’d be just as disappointed as you are right now. Reading guidebooks, planning trips, contacting locals before your arrival, booking accommodations, booking tickets, travel insurances, malaria shots, flashpacking…back in the days people just pack up and go with no set agenda the world was their oyster. Travelers evolve.
With that I will leave two sayings that I keep in heart
“Every traveler is a tourist, but not every tourist is a traveler”
and
“A tourist comes to see what he wants to see, a traveler comes to see what he can see”

I recently had the same thoughts as I was traveling in Vietnam. Today, depending on what country you are in, you see a lot of young travelers exploring the world which I think is brilliant. At the same time they usually stick to easy countries like OZ and NZ, places in Europe and so on.

In Na Thrang , central east coast of Vietnam, I spoke with several travellers who told me they had enjoyed the city and boasted it to be incredible. I, found it dull, unappealing and certainly a place to give a miss. So I wondered what they had seen that i had not and asked around. I always had the same answer: “Didn’t you go on THE boat?” Apparently there’s a boat that takes you a mile into the ocean , and once there you can get drunk like a skunk and drink while swimming in the water. This made Na Thrang a highly recommendable place in Vietnam.

Perhaps I’m getting old, but then it is easy to identify the different priorities travelers will have depending on their age.

At then end it’s all about having fun and learning about our world, so as long as that happens it is well worth going anywhere!

Federico
maitravelsite dot com

Heh, good comment. I spent a few days in Nha Trang and although the beaches, bars and yes, even the boat trip were fun for what they were, they were far from the highlight of my time in Vietnam. A random bicycle trip outside Hoi An, watching the sun set over Halong Bay, the madness of Saigon … those will be the memories of my time in that wonderful country, not getting drunk in the middle of the ocean with a bunch of other backpackers.

These thoughts have crossed my mind quite a few times in the last few months that I have been on the road. I does seem that people just want to stick to the well beaten route and can’t find it exciting or interesting to eat weird (and maybe not so tasty) food or just go to random places to see how people actually live. they just stay in the backpackers bubbles with their banana pancakes, poncy restaurants, and cheap bars. Perhaps it is just me and the fact that I imagined travelling a more challenging experience full of adventures and discories.

Nathan - As We Travel

your exactly right, and it’s not just you – travel IS about stepping out of your own personal safety bubble, pushing those internal barriers and taking on the world – this kind of thing forces you to grow as a person, and I think THAT is what travel really is about…

Kine

I couldn’t agree with you more, but at the same time… Remember that most of these youths are out travelling on their own for the first time. Some of them are pleased with this sort of travelling, and others (like myself hopefully) use it as some kind of start into something more. Once you’ve done the beaten track it’s much easier to want and see more. That’s at least my experience.

And yes, I’ve been tubing in Vang Vieng for days… But in no way would I ever claim to have seen Laos based on that, and it’s a shame that some people do!

i will travel throught western australia! now i think thats the right idea :) but sure i will also visit the east coast

I´m convinced on western Australia!
A lot of people stick to the beaten path because they want to see the major attractions – maybe they don´t have enough time to see the undiscovered places as well. But I agree with you- it´s good to go towards novelty and discover more unique places – go to rural areas rather than just big cities, but for some people it´s way to much out of their comfort zones.
Me? I´d rather explore.

I couldn’t agree more! This article is exactly why I decided to do what I am doing…

Great stuff Matt!

Sofia

I agree with you. We planned to stay in Australia for 3 months, but left after 3 weeks. It was great fun and all, and perfect for us who love surfing, but it was just too touristy. Hundreds of buses packed with “backpackers” with three suitcases each going to the same places, and rushing to the towns advertized as places that ‘are not yet in Lonely Planet’…

Vi

The only way to travel in Australia – camper van. Otherwise you spend all time in the crowd. Esspecially in the East Coast. Acctually I am glad not many people go West. More space for me :D

Thinking like that is really aaminzg

While I do agree that you gain more from traveling by getting off the traditional tourist path, I also think that travel means something different to everyone, and some people only want to see the “major attractions.”

Why do we have to bother judging people by how they travel? If they want to stay on the beaten path and get drunk, that’s their prerogative. When we start judging how other people do things, we’re just trying to make ourselves feel better by saying “Look, I do it better than them.” There’s not enough time to worry how other people are traveling.

Excactly.
I’ve given up trying to understand why people would rather stay in a resort or go on a cruise – if that’s what makes them happy, who am I to judge right? As long as they have great stories to tell it’s all good.

NomadicMatt

If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad. Maybe I came off as too judgy here but my overall point was that there are more to places than just the main destinations and that the industry in Australia seems to be turning backpacking into a planned vacation instead of something independent.

I take cruises, I do tours, I do solo travel- there is no right way to do it but just like there is more to France than Paris, there is more to Oz than the east coast.

I agree that it is a good thing that people are traveling, even if they don’t stray from the common sites. Maybe they don’t know how to get “off the beaten path,” so to say. I admit that I still find it a bit scary to do something that Lonely Planet has charted out for me, but it is rewarding. I wonder if maybe some of these new travelers just aren’t sure how to travel. Have you asked any of them to accompany you to remote villages or somewhere other than the next big site? Maybe they just need someone to show them how to travel rather than follow a pre-charted course.

NomadicMatt

Oh I am. I am more than happy that people get out there and I understand it can be scary. I write my site to help show people that it’s not as scary as you think.

Articles like this are me thinking outloud and stimulating a discussion! Which, after 26 comments, appears to be working!

becs

Your reviews and recaps don’t help in that matter that you write a lot about what “typical” backpackers are doing also.

It’s hard to get off the beaten trail in NZ as there isn’t a lot of diviate too (and of course, if you want to go off the backpacker bus routes to see a town not on the route, it’s super easy with InterCity lines).

I totally agree in re: to Australia though. All everyone wanted to do on Fraser Island was check things off a list. I went on a package tour (don’t judge, I had a blast!) and we didn’t go to like the “big lake” on the island and everyone bitched, because they wanted to check it off their list. I didn’t care because it meant we got to spend more time at one of the smaller lakes. And isn’t that was travelling is? I did want to get the East Coast Backpackers Bullshit route off my list while I am young as I feel I can do Darwin/West when I am older. And I made it out to the Alice, which most people don’t do anyway.

NomadicMatt

I’m not judging. I’ve taken tours before- they can be a lot of fun. My main point is that you need a good mix of the popular places and the off the beaten path places.

Vi

The price I think is one of main reasons people are going on tours (sometimes myself is not excepion either).

I think that the way that you travel tends to change as you do more of it. A lot of people seem to start off with group tours, then move to a (slightly…) more independent mode of travel (which I tend to call the ‘Lonely Planet tour’) where they do things on their own or with a couple of friends but eat, drink, sleep and see exactly what and where the guidebook tells them to. If they travel enough, there’s a decent chance they’ll eventually get sick of sharing their ‘unique’ experience with a hundred other backpackers everywhere they go, and start making the effort to go somewhere … anywhere … that isn’t mentioned in the guidebooks at all.

I’ve been through all three phases, I guess, and although I now prefer to get away from the hordes, now and again I’ll happily get drunk in a backpacker bar while swapping the same tall stories as everyone else. There’s no right or wrong answer, really – I’m happy to give my thoughts on the subject if I’m asked, but I tend not to share it otherwise. It’s hard not to come across as the travel w**ker, and to be honest, I don’t much mind how anybody else travels. It doesn’t affect me particularly much, and if everybody else is staying in the same hostels and eating at the same restaurants, it means that I can always find somewhere else good to sleep and a great place to eat!

Matt, I spent a year in Australia and dare I say I didn’t have the time or money to visit the west coast >.< The truth is I had a healthy mix of nowheres and must go-tos but ultimately as a non-driver on a travellers budget it really would have taken it's toll. I was quite content to learn how to surf, and get my diving qualifications (both of which I've carried on) even if that meant I was often directly on the tourist trail for extended periods of time.

Another thing that should be considered is that not all travel is what you see at face value, at times you would have even seen me ride on the Oz-Experience bus that you picture in this article, yet when I arrived in a new town; I wrote about the experience for a company that I was working with, I spent time working remotely for backpacker websites, painted boats, farmed vegetables and even had a spell as a deck hand. What you see isn't always the entire picture and the remote working and various other skills I picked up in that year more than make up for any potential lack of culture.

Having said all of this, there is one type of traveller I really could not understand and that was the person who would fly or drive into down for just a day or two and then head off without a second thought. "I'm gonna do Airlie Beach then…". These people literally saw the tourist trail as a shopping list that was to be ticked off and usually had a RTW (Round the world) ticket that attempted to fit 300 countries into 2 days. Whilst I can see how it would be easy to get lured in to this from a boring job back home, I see that these types of tickets could take away from a travellers experience more than the tourist trail idea that you mention.

Overall I would say that whilst yes, the “backpacking industry” is most definitely becoming commercialised but there is always the option to deviate and there are so many opportunities opened up by it at the same time. In fact I’m sure many of the people you see would not have made it away to travel if the industry weren’t so commercialised. Whether this is a good or bad thing is open for debate based on your world view but they sit as a symptom of a globalised and overwhelmingly capitalist society.

P.S. I loved it!

NomadicMatt

For some of my way up the east coast, I did the OZ Experience and there were far too many people on that bus ticking off places. I don’t think they ever left the hostel bar. Quite disappointing.

JP

I get what you’re saying, but a couple of points:

- This criticism of backpacking is not very original, and for example there’s more people complaining about Khao San Road backpackers than there are backpackers at Khao San Road!

Tourism is just like any other business, like music or whatever. There’s something more formatted and predictable to please the majority, and there’s an alternative to please the minority.

- Sure backpackers following a rigid itinerary might miss a lot of interesting stuff, but for example backpackers are not missing much by skipping Invercargill or Gisborne. I think Backpacker buses generally cover the most interesting places in a country. People want to see the top attractions, which is normal; top attractions are considered top attractions for a reason.

Australia is huge so it’s normal that some parts of the countries are less explored. Most people have a limited time and budget, so they’ll prefer to stick around Sydney and Melbourne instead of going West, because Sydney is Sydney and Melbourne is Melbourne.

- Also there is a paradox in what you’re saying, because if you ask why don’t people go to place X, once X is discovered, you can always ask why don’t people go to place Y instead of X, ad infinitum. At the end there are always going to be places more visited than others.

I am personally not interested at all by backpackers buses, hostels, bars, etc. But I just see it as something that answers a demand to please a majority of people. In most things in life we follow the majority without realizing it, it’s more when we’re part of the minority that we notice the majority of sheep. But we’re all sheep.

I think young travelers are new at this, so an element of surprise may not be what they want. At the same time, backpacking as a past independent concept is certainly more mainstream these days. Obviously platforms like the Internet spread the word on this “new” thing called backpacking, and tourism has answered the call. A bit unavoidable. Guess all you can do is be that opposite voice (which you are) and hope it sinks in. Then party with them! :)

mate, i couldnt agree with this post more! i actually had a loooong discussion with a friend about this and he got very defensive, very quickly. Personally, I believe traveling to be about soaking up the culture, i love the new languages, new cuisines, new scripts you see everywhere. I honestly believe if the purpose of your sta-travel rtw ticket was to booze it up in a different country in a backpacker bar with an english speaking barman then you might as well stay at home. Of course it’s good to cut loose, hit a backpacker bar, speak english with people now and again but when that becomes your entire journey, what’s the point?!

Of course it is travel; the problem is most people limit their long distance travels to 1 year, and so a quick visit to the main attractions world wide (Macchu Pichu, Grand Canyon, Pyramids, European cities, Great Wall of China, Ayers Rock, etc) is hard to fit in and still have time to wander off the beaten track.

Western Australia doesn’t offer much more or less than the east coast (I spent 4 months there), so its much easier (and quicker if you don’t have your own transport) to get around the east. If you have limited time, then the east is still the better choice in my opinion.

I think travel is best broken up a bit. Getting off the beaten track is good but so is slowing down to enjoy socialising. How many people get their own boat and sail the Mekong River for example rather than just join a tour and get down to Vang Vieng problem free? Not many but something like this is a great way to break up the usual flights between each countries drinking hole and we all need an ice cold beer wherever we are!

Vi

I like WA much more then East Cost (NSW/QLD). Beaches are empty in WA comparing to East. Ningaloo reef is fantastic for diving. Not many people know there is a big coral reef on West coast too. You won’t found such places like Karijini or Kalbarri in the East. West would be my preference if I would need to choose between West and East. But as far as I have time I am doing both :)

And just for the record… I think Australia is a fantastic place to do a long road trip on, but honestly it’s the worst place I’ve visited as a “backpacker”, its too expensive and touristy now for a start. I won’t go on as I’ll be typing forever otherwise on this issue.

NomadicMatt

Don’t worry- you won’t be the first person to type a long post!

Wow, I guess “backpacking” has become commodified. To me the appeal of travel is figuring it all out, talking and interacting with locals, doing things that aren’t just in the guide book. Taking a backpacker bus isn’t something I’d sign up for; I think I’d feel the same way you do. It’s good that people are getting out, but there are so many different types of travel. I definitely think that independent travel is what allows you to really experience a culture and learn about a place.

Ironically, my first backpacking/hostel experience was in Western Australia. I spent 6 months in Perth doing a student exchange. I didn’t have money nor much extra time, but we managed to rent a car and drive up an down the coast. I did manage to squeeze in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Cairns. And, you are right, Western Australia is gorgeous! I fell in love with traveling and photography there.

NomadicMatt

Did you make it to Coral Bay? It’s one of my favorite parts of Australia.

Different strokes for different folks.

I personally love checking out the out-of-the-way areas and finding something beyond the normal tourist routes, but I also enjoy lifestyle experiments and novelty to a degree that most people would find uncomfortable.

It’s great to make people aware of the different options so that they aren’t just settling because they don’t know of any other way, but there will always be some who really enjoy that more well-tread path, and as you said, they’re no more or less ‘travelers’ than anyone else.

I agree that it’s become ridiculously easy to “backpack” around the world – especially in Australia and New Zealand. Maybe someone needs to coin a new term for the old definition of backpacking. Any suggestions?

In regards to travellers missing out on Western Australia, I think one of the main reasons is that it’s not as accessible. If a backpacker rents a campervan for the trip, the companies often charge an extra fee for going out into the outback and require the rental of a 4WD vehicle which is more costly than a regular 2WD. They also have travel restrictions in Northern, Central and Western Australia that limit where backpackers can go. So, unless they take the Southern route, they might not see Perth or head up to Darwin, and that takes a good chunk of time.

Plus, backpackers aren’t exactly known for having a bundle of cash lying around. If they’re in Australia or New Zealand, they’re likely to be there on a Working Holiday Visa and need to find work along their travels to stay in the black. Although the adventurous outback is enticing, it doesn’t offer as many options for work as cities on the beaten path.

Hi Matt,
Your article really stuck a cord with me as it totally reminded me of my own reaction to some campers. Years ago, when we had 2 young boys, my husband & I decided it would be a good family experience to go camping. We didn’t have any experience, but we did our research, bought tents & sleeping bags, and headed out, boys in tow. It was THE most amazing fun & we have wonderful family memories because of it!
But the thing that struck me at the time was some of the other campers. They would arrive at some beautiful spot (think Yosemite) in their RVs (sometimes big, sometimes small), never to be seen again once they had parked and set up. Cook inside, eat inside, watch TV inside . . .
Much as I tried not to presume what their lives might entail, I just couldn’t help but wonder, “Why are you even here?”

Really it’s all about what that person wants from their travels. Some just want a good time away from home, for others it’s about exploration. At the beginning it can be very intimidating to go far off the beaten path, once a bit is learned and confidence gained it gets easier, but until then some travellers may prefer to test their wings in easier places.

I’m all for either type of travel as long as it’s truly how that person wants to spend their time.

I agree wholeheartedly, however you have to also take into account that not everyone had the luxury of being able to travel for long periods of time. I LOVE visiting the unexplored parts of the world, however I normally only get a week off at a time. So, a lot of times I don’t have the time to wander off the path. So, instead I go to “popular” places and then wander off the path while I’m there. Also, places are popular for a good reason, it’s usually because they are extraordinary and deserved to be visited! I have been to Argentina 7X now and every time I go I spend a considerable amount of time in BA. I love that city to pieces, so I have no desire to go elsewhere…

Ed

I’ve been to Western Australia – Perth, Wave Rock, Pinnacles, etc – and here’s what I have to say about it – BOOORING! Yeah, we saw almost no other tourists and in many places no other people at all. So what?

I have no idea why anyone would suggest Western Australia as a good off-the-beaten track destination. The people there are pretty much exactly like the people in the UK or USA or the rest of Australia, cultural differences are negligible. The sights to be seen are laughable.

Northern Territory smokes Western Australia in every category (Uluru, King’s Canyon, Kakadu vs what in WA, the Wave Rock?) even if it gets far more tourists, but I can also see why somebody on a budget would avoid it. Practically the only way of visiting on a budget is a car of your own and sleeping in a tent.

Also, this whole thing of “all travel is equal, all travelers are equal, blah blah blah” is just ridiculous. Can you possibly be more PC-correct? FFS, take a stance on something.

So if one guy books an all-inclusive package tour to Egypt and another guy does it independently by driving his own car, they’re equal as travelers? Are you out of your f’ing mind?

I say, some people travel wrong. They rush through a lot of destinations on limited time while on pre-packaged tours meeting only people exactly like them – the other people on the tour. You have to be a retard to claim that this is a travel in any sense of the word.

When I started out, I used to go on a fair few tours myself, especially in countries I didn’t feel comfortable in (3rd world). I WISH there would’ve been someone there for me to tell me “you know, you could get a far better experience if you did _____________ rather than being on this tour.”

NomadicMatt

The Northern Territory is great but WA all the way! Perth, Freemantle, Karijini National Park, Coral Bay, Nigaloo reef, Margret River, Exmouth, Broome- I’ll take it any day!

On your other point, I will say that people do rush destinations and that is wrong. It is far better to explore a place than take a picture. If you don’t have the time, then don’t go….however, I don’t care how they get there. I steer people towards solo travel but if a tour is what it takes to get them to see Egypt, then I’ll take it.

NomadicMatt

Let’s hope they do when they are older but for most of these young travelers, this is their one big trip. I’d wish they spent there time getting to see more than a hostel bar.

Georgie

Hey Matt great post. Everybody should have a go at somewhere different like you say. Though a lot of your website seems directed at the very market you are talking about here; how about some more travel stories or articles from off the beaten path? Africa maybe? or is there not enough of an audience for this? It seems you write for the very people that you say would benifit from the experience of going eleswhere.

sato travel a official website that presents economical rates for the Military Travel, Sato Travel agency and Sato Travel Europe.

You’re so right, Matt. Travel is MUCH more than following the beaten track and settling for prearranged routes and schedules. To me, travel is mostly about discovering NEW things and aiming to leave the tourist crowds for less predictable and usual travel experiences – whenever and wherever possible.

“There are special backpacker buses, hostels will pick you up from anywhere, there are special activities, special dinners.” True! This reminds me of a trip we made to the Meteora monasteries in Greece about ten years ago. In the evening, our guide had arranged a dinner for everyone on this bus tour at a local, touristy restaurant. However, we made other plans and ate at a cosy, family-owned restaurant on the other side of town. I can bet we had a far more genuine experience than those who went to the special dinner prepared solely for tourists.

What about those of us who travel for the sole sake of interacting with other travelers?

Sure, I travel to see new places and learn about different cultures and I love interacting with the locals…but I also love interacting with my fellow backpackers, too. In fact, sitting in a hostel bar and swapping travel stories is one of my favorite things to do when I’m on the road.

Maybe it’s because I hail from America, where only 10 percent of it’s citizens own passports and no one ever travels ANYWHERE, but I really feel like I’m among “my people” when I’m around other travelers. They’re fascinating, risk-taking adventure-seekers and a whole lot of fun to hang out with.

And I’m saying this as a seasoned traveler who’s 27 and way past the stage where I judged a city’s worthiness on the price of it’s beer or size of it’s discos.

You made a good point. However, it can be difficult to find information about places that are not in guide books or on the internet. It is amazing what you can find out about about a place by asking around. Ask people not connected with the local travel industry and you occasionally find a gold mine.

Nathan - As We Travel

it’s about time someone wrote about this, so thanks Matthew for been honest and bringing this up – but aren’t most people like sheep, and simply follow everyone else wherever they go?

Its a shame cos there are so many amazing places which these people could get to experience, but FEAR, dishonestly and a general social conditioned patterned thought that – if no-one has gone there then it isn’t worth seeing… not consciously of course, but it’s that fear which holds 99% of people back from not doing what they REALLY want to do… and thats sad :(

Dee

You´re so right! I have a friend who lived in London for a year and didn´t even see the Buckingham palace. She spent the entire year clubbing. I´m going to Thailand in November and all I hear is how I should go to the full moon party and get drunk..or people asking me why I´m travelling that far to lie on some beach. And when I asked a co worker where I should go they said “Uh, the market! You´re gonna buy sooo many things!”.

That´s why I travel alone…it´s the only way I can actually do something else besides the typical stuff.

Interesting.
It would seem that some people traveling overseas may be doing so with less curiosity than someone else traveling domestically, yet, based on some popular past articles, perhaps you would give that overseas traveler more cred, because he/she got a passport to do it?
It’s a slippery area when you start judging “travelers”. But it has gotten me thinking about the subject…..

David's Trips and Holidays

I guess is a way to stay “safe” and be able to keep still the travelling spirit on the gap year :-)

The Japanese are notorious for doing this in France: Only taking tour buses and sticking to the beaten path. But really, who cares? If that’s the way they enjoy traveling, fine by me.

Charlie

Well i love going ON the beaten track my next trip…bangkok,bali,jakarta,penang,kuala lumpur,siem reap,phnom penh,sihanoukville,saigon,nha trang,hoi an,danang,hue,hanoi and pattaya…..WHY??? because im 21 young and i have my whole life to go off the beaten track and see beautiful places and things where nobody ventures
Yea i will visit the main things along the way i.e angkor wat…but for now while im young and able i want to paaaaarty like everyone my age and single should do…(before you get a girlfreind/wife/kids/mortgage in any order haha) p.s i don’t class myself as a backpacker but i will need a backpack..:)

carla moreno

I agree with Colin Wright “they’re no more or less travelers than anyone else.” I’ve traveled in many ways and slept in nice hotels, hostels (and let me tell ya’ not all hostels are groovy hangouts with Wi-Fi), bat infested attics, hammocks in jungles, and couch surfed (without even being a CS’er member) I love to travel far and away places as well as traveling right here in the USA.

It’s true, some places are very touristy and not much of an experience and it’s true that some people ‘rush’ through their travel, but it’s always encouraging to see people out and about in the world seeing and exploring new things whether in well tread areas or off the beaten path.

My preference? Off the beaten path of course, but I also believe ‘travelers evolve” as someone stated earlier. Things change with age and experience, and you never know how you will view creature comforts when you’re 80.

NomadicMatt

Touristy places are popular for a reason and there’s nothing wrong with going there but just staying on some easy path is a holiday. It’s not travel as we think of what a backpacking experience is.

But I do give them credit for going.

I love this post! It’s so true about young travelers (and even families who travel!). As an African safari travel agent, I find that many families with younger children aren’t looking to venture off the beaten path. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest mistakes you could make. Some of the greatest cultural experiences occur when you travel off the beaten path to small African townships and are able to interact with the local, which is by far one of the most rewarding experiences!

Backpacking is nothing like it was even 15 years ago when I first set off to explore Asia. I find older travelers (35 plus) to be much more adventurous than their younger counterparts. Shouldn´t it be the opposite? Each to his own, but I prefer hanging out with the locals– a bicycle is thebest way I´ve found to really get off the beaten path.

Dude, I am so obsessed with this post. My fondest backpacking memories are when I’ve gotten lost, met people outside of whatever program/tour/whatnot I’m in and seen the real honest-to-goodness place I’m visiting. However, tours and backpacker destinations are a really great way to meet people, especially for those of us who are shy.

My fondest travel memory EVER was when I hooked up with a friend in Croatia and chilled with her family, who spoke little to no English, ate Croatian fish caught by an old Croatian man and cooked in his stone oven. Which was, yup, build by his old Croatian hands. So much better than any hostel or backpackers diner…

Thanks for posting. My favorite so far!

NomadicMatt

Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Travel is all about those happy accidents isn’t it?

visionsur

hoping for a travel like you mentioned , i did take a solo trip to Nepal . For few days it was intresting to discover new places and people but i only know how i made it , i had to do cycling for 3 days on my own , without directions although it was life time moment but it was terrific at that time now when i think about it its wonderful . but i think if you are not hardcore traveller than its better to take the road already been taken by others.

Katey

Really good post. Myself and my boyfriend appear to travel in a similar way to you. We want to experience the people, culture and nature of every country we are in and will stay for as long as we can in each country to try to get a comprehensive view of what that country is like. We really dislike tours and the backpacker beaten track crowd. This is mainly because we are a bit older than them and apparently have different tastes, which is not a problem and I possibly would have been part of that crowd if I had travelled at the age of 18. So everyone is different and that is fine. What does annoy me though is when people state an opinion of an entire country based solely on the two or three touristy centres in their 10 day trip in that country. (Especially if they have a negative opinion and it happens to be a country that I love). The most annoying and most obvious example of this is Laos. I spent 3 months in Laos and that definitely wasn’t long enough. A whole month was spent in the far north and a whole month in the south, the rest in the middle. For most people Laos means Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiene. My opinion is that LP is beautiful, VV is a bit of a hole now but a lot of fun and Vientiane is one of my favourite cities. But those three places are absolutely nothing like anywhere else I went in Laos. I had people say, “I didn’t like Laos as I thought Laos would be more rural” that had only visiting VV and the capitol city! Or “there are too many tourists in Laos”, they had only visited the top three obviously as we were lucky if we came across another tourist in most of our time there. There is also the shock people have if I mention I spent 3 months there, “what could you possibly have done for 3 months”, “you must have been reallllly drunk all of the time”, “but what else is there other than tubing”. This all annoys me as I really fell in love with Laos and it hurts when people say horrible things about something you love and this information will be passed on to others, but on the plus side, if they tell their friends that Laos sucks, then they won’t go and it will stay deserted and beautiful out of the big 3 and I can return to enjoy “off the beaten track” for a long time yet…

Katey

There was also the girl who had spent a small amount of days in Delhi and managed to form the opinion that she hated India and would never return (the whole country…)

Matt,

Perhaps because of the pride you have in the way you travel, you intermingle “backpacker” with “independent” or “adventure” traveller. I see a backpacker as someone who travels relatively light, with a backpack, supposedly to allow more mobility and flexibility in their movements and itinerary. It doesn’t mean they will actually be any more adventurous. I definitely am not a backpacker, but independent I consider myself to be.

It’s interesting seeing how people travel nowadays. Americans get criticised for being so little traveled. I argue, though, Americans are just as capable of getting off the beaten trail. The notion of Highway 66, cross country drives, eating at the local diner… that’s getting off the beaten track (NYC, Niagara Falls, San Francisco, National Mall), only in their own country.

As travelers, we have so many resources available to us nowadays. English is becoming more and more prevalently spoken. Signs are including English. Internet has offered more information via websites, blogs, social networking. Books are providing more and more extensive coverage. In some ways, what used to be considered off the beaten track is now the beaten track. How many Westerners venture in Asia a mere fifteen years ago? Now they are swarming all over the place in comparison.

Patrick Falterman

I agree. I had much more fun being lost for three days and nearly dying of thirst in a remote highland desert near the Chile-Argentina border than I did in Buenos Aires. I also had more fun sleeping a five hour trailless hike into the Darièn Gap away from Capurganà in Colombia that I had in Capurganà itself. I hate seeing other backpackers, really…Not what I came here to see.

I think the word “travel” itself really has a wide meaning. People are diverse too, so they choose what they like to do, their travel style. I agree with you, if you stick to one style of traveling, then your experience will we limited to just that.

My husband and I are backpackers, and we usually just go with the flow. We are bargain hunters. When a repositioning transatlantic cruise from Florida to Barcelona was the same cost as the flight, we chose to enjoy the luxury and many stops of the cruise ship (we stopped in otherwise difficult/expensive places to reach, like Madeira Island in Atlantic, and Sardinia). I enjoyed wearing my same dark green cargo pants again and again in formal dinners while majority of the women wore their best cocktail dresses.

Hostels and budget hotels are great, but when Priceline gave us cheaper 4 stars hotels in Copenhagen and Amsterdam than the hostels for two person, we chose the 4 stars one. We travel between cities in Western Europe mostly by public buses and trains, but we also did car road trip Toulouse-Monaco-Paris (and of course anything in between).

We visited obvious tourist destinations, but also did some trekking in places that we just happened to encounter. We have some missions of where to go, but we also love to just stroll aimlessly in cities and towns.

I guess, We do what we feel right (and cheap?) for the moment, be flexible about it, and see what opportunities lay in front of us. We don’t want to limit ourselves by rules (or gimmick if somebody might say it).

Natalia

Well, as an Australian who has travelled MUCH of Australia, I can say I never made it to Western Australia – very expensive to get there from just about anywhere!

But I do agree with this post. And I don’t quite get the ‘but young people are inexperienced and want the expected’ vibe. My first ‘big’ trip was turning up in Japan with a return air ticket, a suitcase, a ridiculously small amount of money and no plan. I had a blast. And I know plenty of people who did something similar when rather young. Most of my travel since then has been ‘independent’ and is going to stay that way. Fair enough if people are choosing the ‘show me what you think I need to see/ticking off a checklist’ route, but it is a bit sad if they are doing that because they don’t realise there are other options.

This is good and even better discussion! I agree with many of the points here and though travel ranges and differs for different people (different strokes for different folks), I agree that there has to be some creativity and adventure to it or its just going to become so mundane that travelers will fall out of love with it or just stop doing it all together. There has to be a “fly by the seat of your pants” feel to it at times, which I think often can get lost in the commercialism.

some people just are not meant to explore and get off the beaten path and be thankful for thank because if everyone did get off the tourist trail the industry would just follow them and there would be no where left for you to “discover”

I couldn’t agree more! Traveling off the beaten path is one of the most rewarding experiences you could ever have. The authenticity of food, culture, and accommodations is unmatched by any traditional tour. In fact, in my personal experience, I’ve found that some of the most “touristy” tours make facts and history up just to entertain the tourists. That’s the absolute worst.

I think it’s about confidence and energy. You have to be willing to be uncomfortable and willing to get lost. That’s really scary sometimes. But my advice would be to just try it once and see what happens.

It’s the “off-the-beaten-path-almost-got-robbed-and-landed-in-the-hospital” moments that you remember most. Like the time in some tiny Italian town when I got some kind of bug bite on my face and my lip swelled up so big I had to go to the emergency room, which, by the way, had a garbage can full of liquor bottles and black shutters on the windows like an insane asylum.

I don’t remember those kind of details of the Vatican.

Anis Salvesen

You are right on! I totally agree with you that “travel is about going to destinations to experience new things, people, and places. It’s about gaining insights into new cultures, trying local food, and yes, getting drunk at the local waterhole while locals tell you slang and curse words in their native language.” Have we traveled together before? :)

One great resource for meeting locals, really gaining an insight into their culture is this site: https://www.tripping.com. You can arrange to meet locals at their favorite pub or even stay at their place.

I can also see the lure of sticking to the well-trod path, going where everyone else goes, doing what the guidebooks say to do. Besides using sites like Tripping, I think that reading your blog, seeing what great alternatives exist is a great way for young people who might otherwise be tempted to only do the most touristy things to be motivated to be more adventurous.

Alexandra

I have to say i agree. I travelled alone for 6 months when i was 22 and it was the best decision i ever made. I went to the more touristy places but also made an effort to go explore the tiny little towns and places not so many others go. Sure it was a little harder as you had to get local transport where i’d be the only english speaker onboard, but that was part of the fun. If i got lost i kew i had my possessions on me and an emergency $30 in my pocket

Also went to WA and it was truly beautiful, i’d planned to go from Melbourne to Cairns as it was my first ever trip but along the way i heard such good things about WA and went 3,000k down the west coast and it was truly stunning.

Far too many backpackers seem to just move from one tourist hotspot to the next, only speaking to eachother and hanging out in backpacker bars. If you want to do that then fine, but to me travelling is much more about being more adventurous, meeting the local people, taking local transport & exploring places not stuffed full of backpackers

Blue

That’s all very well, but wo’s to afford the ridiculous expenses one incurs at these ‘off the beaten path’ places? Like one other comment mentioned, it’s cheaper to travel to New Zealand from Sydney than it is to Broome, and far easier to get to.

I find this sort of advice, coming from travelers who enjoy all expense paid amenities, just plain tedious. Stick to your product placement, please.

Hey brother, I’ve been looking at your site for awhile and I thought i had to leave a post on this, great article and its so true, I’ve only just started traveling this year, only been at it afew months but my idea of it was meeting new people, learning about new cultures etc, I’m in new zealand at the moment and I meet people everyday who just stick to the main places and it is fun but its not my idea of real backpacking. I plan to go and see all the areas i can whilst i’m here and who knows may even bump into your on the road! Safe travels dude

NomadicMatt

I’m all over the place so you never know! I love NZ though. Have a great time!

??

Could I just say nice to read a comfort to discover anyone who really realizes what they are talking about on the web. You actually can take a difficulty to light and make it vital. Even more people should study this and understand it section of the story. I can’t believe you’re not very popular because you definitely have the gift.

Travel’s what you make of it. Quit being such a snob.

NomadicMatt

Just sitting in the philosopher’s chair….

Andrew

I completely agree. Even on beaten backpacker track of the East Coast, travellers just fly from Melbourne to Sydney to Cairns and neglect everything in between. One of the nicest places in Australia I think is the NSW Central Coast – http://bit.ly/qjr25u. Love it!

Matt

All this tourist vs travelers nonsense is just stuff that young people talk about. I’ve been traveling for over 20 years now. But I still get young “travelers” sneering at me calling me a “tourist”. It’s ridiculous really.

But you yourself Matt are hardly going off the beaten track by going to Thailand and Australasia repeatedly…great destinations sure but full of gap year students and rather dull travelers, and about as challenging as eating bread.

Go to somewhere really off the beaten track if you want to experience travel outside of the “industry” as you call it. You will get to meet the eccentric travelers that have long since stopped going to all the safe, well trodden places you have been to.

rico

not judging cos its not that important but many of your trips seem to be on well trodden paths

geezer

I saw the young (and not so young, in their thirties) crowd in Koh lanta last winter : sad full moon parties (nobody dancing), beer & alcohol, not much interest in the culture of the host country , or even in socializing in older (I’m 50) travellers like me. And this new male fashion of tattoed bare head ? yiikes. It screams out loud vulgarity and lack of basic education.

Nick

This gap year prejudice is extremely dis-heartening to me (I’m on a double gap year) Iv seen some increadable things on this trip including Australia and New Zealand in which I camped independently and hitchhiked the whole 3 months and saw the nature and culture the coutry has to offer, but what is dissapointing is when I was in countries such as India or Mexico and as soon as the fact that I was on a gap year came up other older travellers jumped to massive stereotypes about the reasons I was travelling, I don’t think these prejudices are helped by posts such as these, Iv met many older travellers than me traveling how you have described, and of course many on their gap years as well

Have you ever considered about adding a little bit more than just your articles?
I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. However think about if you added some great visuals or videos to give your posts more, “pop”!
Your content is excellent but with pics and video clips, this website
could certainly be one of the greatest in its field.
Fantastic blog!

Inge

I see your point. However, you seem to know how westerners have this idea that other cultures are scary and Asia and Latin-America etc. are incredibly unsafe and traveling there is taking an unnecessary risk.

I bet you can imagine how hard it is for a 19-year-old girl like me to convince my parents I can simply pack a bag and go see the world on my own- it was a hell of a lot easier to convince them I could travel alone if I bought a bus pass. So I’m grateful they’re there. It’s not like I don’t want to get off the beaten path, it’s just that I think it’s a good first step towards really traveling on your own. If this first step wouldn’t be there, I think many of us wouldn’t be traveling at all. Anyway, if you just keep on buying those bus passes you miss out on the best parts of traveling. So as long as people my age actually use it as a first step only, I do think it’s a good thing.

I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was wondering what all
is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty
penny? I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% certain.

Any recommendations or advice would be greatly appreciated.
Cheers

Leave a comment