We get it. In a world filled with cookie-cutter travel experiences, there’s nothing more appealing than breaking away from the crowd and checking out some seldom seen locations. Whether it’s camping out in a little known national park or bumming around a tiny fishing village, trips that take you off the beaten path are what make you a traveler and not just a tourist. But there’s risk in trekking where few go, and not just to life and limb. With that in mind, here are some ideas on what you should do before you head off into the unknown:
1. Know the Area As Best You Can Beforehand
Yes, one of the great joys of travel is exploring and discovering. And yes, researching a trip like you’re cramming for a final exam can seem like it might ruin that novelty – but trust us, it’s better to be aware and avoid any possible disasters. Sure, the foreknowledge will help avoid physical danger, like being a little more vigilant when on a cliff-side hiking path notorious for falls over the edge, but it can also prevent your trip from being ruined. There’s nothing worse than spending all your time and energy (as well as a good chunk of your money) traveling to that hidden gem of a restaurant in the French countryside only to discover that it’s shuttered on the day you set aside to visit, because it’s July 14 (Bastille Day).
2. Pack for Emergencies
There’s a reason that Boys Scout’s motto is “Be prepared,” because it’s useful. Whether you’re going to be outdoors or just in a foreign land, sitting down and brainstorming the most likely worst-case scenarios and what provisions you can bring along to help if any of them happen can be a lifesaver. Just be sure to be prudent about what you pack. Sure, a snakebite kit makes sense if you’re hiking in Yosemite, but it’s not going to be as useful as some concealed Eros in your jacket after your pocket gets picked in Rome, and vice versa.
3. Have a Way to Find Your Way Back to the Beaten Path
There’s a certain philosophy of traveling that revels in getting lost. The idea being that without a set route and destination, the traveler is more likely to embrace and absorb the sights, sounds, and culture of his or her destination. And yeah, that makes sense — you probably fondly still recall that cool dive bar you found in San Antonio after you got disoriented walking back from the Alamo museum. But make no mistake, getting lost can suck, especially when you’re your own. So that’s why it’s always a good idea to take steps to keep you from getting truly adrift. Always bring a map of where you’re going, along with tools to figure out where you are (compass, GPS, phrasebook to ask directions, etc). That way, when you do get mixed up on where you are, you can actually enjoy exploring what’s around…because you’ll know you’ll be able to find your way back.
4. Tell Others Where You’re Going
Probably the biggest mistake any off-the-beaten-path traveler makes is not telling anyone where they’re going. Yeah, there’s the individualistic mystique of just riding off into the sunset on your next adventure, but it can leave you stranded if you run into any serious problems. The other benefit of cluing in family or friends to your plans (aside from someone coming to look for you if anything goes awry) is that they might be familiar with your destination, either giving you some cool tips for your trip…or alerting you to the fact that maybe it’s a little more well-known than you thought.