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 9 things you should do before going on an off-the-beaten-path trip:
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).
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.
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.
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 cheap last minute flights, 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.
Make Sure You Have All Your Important Documents (& Photocopies)
Seasoned off-the-beaten-path travelers will tell you one of the most important items to pack on any trip is your document folder. It is very important to carry with you all the necessary pieces of identification. Items like your driver’s license, passport, and insurance cards are required for travel in almost any country. Keep a list of emergency contacts should something not quite go as planned. It is also a great idea to keep photocopies of all documents in a separate location just in case something happens to the original. This will make replacing the documents easier and give you access to any important numbers you may need. Check with the State Department for up-to-date information regarding what travel documents you will need for your destination of choice.
Book to Arrive During the Day & With Your First Night’s Arrangements Sorted
While there is something to be said for traveling freely and without a set schedule, it’s vital to pre-arrange accommodations for the first day and night of an off-the-beaten-path trip. From flight delays to transportation strikes, to the unusual local festival that was not accounted for, trusting that appropriate sleeping quarters will be available on the first night is a risk that one should not have to take. Know where you will start and having that arranged can lessen the stress of arriving after a long flight or train ride. Arriving in the day also helps your body sync to the local time zone and can reduce jet lag, which can help you have a much more enjoyable vacation experience.
Register with the State Department
If you’re traveling internationally, you should register with the State Department. This can open up access to assistance should you find yourself in an awkward predicament. Traveling comes with risks, especially for the off-the-beaten-path traveler. When visiting the more remote parts of the world, literally anything can happen. Having that connection to the state department can offer a lifeline for the savvy traveler. Whether you need documents replaced, help with accommodations, or your travel plans need to change in a hurry, if the State Department knows you are in the area, they will be able to offer resources and connections to resolve almost any issue you may encounter.
Try to Learn a Little of the Local Language
Whether you are needing to ask for directions, find the pharmacy, or just want to know where to find a great lunch, speaking the local language will help you engage the community around you. By meeting the locals where they are, instead of trying to make them accommodate you, you are showing an interest in the local culture and community. The people will respond in kind and you will find your visit to be much more enjoyable. You may even make some new life-long friends. Speaking the language helps connect the traveler to the culture and can open up an experience unlike any other.
Buy Travel Insurance
In this day and age, anything can happen, both at home and abroad. Travel insurance adds peace of mind ensuring that whether there is an illness or injury while traveling, or your travel itinerary needs to change in a hurry, with the help of the travel insurance company you will be able to get the help you need. From rescheduling flights to finding local doctors, or, heaven forbid, luggage so you can continue on your off-the-beaten-path trip, trip insurance is the ticket to ensure that come-what-may, you can still have a great off-the-beaten-path experience.