Traveling means you get to experience something new. You meet new people, eat new foods, take in new sights. For me, one of the most exciting things about travel is when I learn something new or something unexpected. I can read travel guides, check out travel magazines and photos and many of them share the same things. Sure, we all want to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Colosseum in Rome or the Taj Mahal in India, but what about the view from a hillside only the locals know about or the best empanadas or even a tour of a cheese factory? How do you find these odd, unusual and special places? In this week’s episode on the Travel Collective YouTube channel, April and I talked about some of the ways we find these types of places to visit during our travels. Here are six of those suggestions.
Check out travel books and older guidebooks. I like to read travel related books or novels. So much so, that I have a travel book club – Wanderlust Book Club – where we read a different travel related book each month. Oh, the places I have discovered! I would never have thought to take a train tour through North Korea as Monisha Rajesh did 2010. After reading your account in her book, Around the World in 80 Trains – it is now on my wish list. And I had never considered walking along the River Ouse in North Yorkshire, England as a means to connect with the life and history of Virginia Woolf. Olivia Laing’s book, To the River shared how history can reside in a place and how you can connect with moments in time by being present in a place.
One of April’s tips was to explore older guidebooks. Which is a fantastic idea. You can often find older, outdated guidebooks in thrift stores or used bookstores. And although they might not be helpful for pricing, contact information or even advise as to what is present today. You can learn a little about what was popular during a different time and possibility discover places that have changed or evolved over time. Years ago, visiting Detroit, I happened upon the abandon train station. Something that would have been listed as a sight to see during its 75-year reign between 1913 and 1988. But in 2009, it was a huge abandon building with tattered windows and crumbling walls. Old guidebooks can give you a glimpse of the recent history of place.
If you are looking for the odd or unusual, check out Atlas Obscura, Unusual Places, or Roadside America for some inspiration. You might also spend a little time browsing Trip Advisor or other travel blogs. Or even our YouTube channel, we’ve shared several unique and unexpected places and ways to travel.
Facebook Groups are a great resource for finding like-minded folks and exploring new places to travel. If you are traveling to a specific country or location, there are often Facebook groups specifically for travelers, giving you access to others who have traveled there. You can also look for groups that are targeted to locals and connect with folks who live in the areas where you are wanting to travel.
Small Tour Companies
There are often smaller, more local tour companies that can offer “off-the-beaten-path” tours and sights. One that April and I often recommend is Free Tours by Foot and Tours By Locals, and AirBnB Experiences. All of these offer tours and experiences by locals in the communities you are visiting. These are great ways to find unexpected and unusual places and experiences to add to your trip.
Local Civic Sites & Businesses
One of our favorite things to do is to tour the local civic sites. City Hall, train stations, even the post office can be historically and architecturally fascinating. Libraries and churches are other options to find unique spots. Often the places will allow you to enter for free and some will offer formal tours. Another suggestion is to look at what is created in this area. Are there breweries, or farms? Is there a cheese or chocolate maker? Factories and other companies will often offer tours or samples. These can be a special addition to your experience.
And finally, think about your interests and see what the area has to offer. Are you a music lover? Check out the local listing for performances. What about street art? Is there a local tour or can you find some information online and visit some site on your own? Don’t forget about local theater – you might want to catch a performance. Local sports can also be fun way to experience the culture.
Getting off-the-beaten-path can expand your experiences and allow to see the place from a different angle. The popular destinations are often overrun with tourist and overpriced tchotchke. Getting away from the crowd, seeing the place from the local’s point of view can create a more enriching experience.
We hope you find something unexpected on your next trip.