"Off the beaten path"- What do you think?

Two recent long threads on this website have generated some peripheral thoughts in my otherwise rusty brain. Chief among them, the frequent references on this website of travelers/tourists (I couldn't care less which term you use) wanting to "go off the beaten path" and "appreciate local culture". Rather than continue to mentally snark at these phrases everytime they pop up, let me ask some questions to the forum. Mainly, what exactly does it mean to you to "go off the beaten path" and more importantly, what do you expect to find there? I promise to try to behave and listen intently... unless you give me a completely cliched answer or a direct reference from some travel TV show (including the one starring you-know-who), then all bets are off!

On an unrelated topic, if you're in Europe this week, don't miss the continent's annual televised exercise in bad taste, otherwise known as the 55th running of the Eurovision Song Contest. Grab yourself a drink (or several) and enjoy!

Posted by Tom
2876 posts

Here's what "off the beaten path" means to me:

  1. find out where the tourbuses go; don't go there.
  2. find out where the cruise ships stop; don't go there.
  3. travel by car.
  4. stay only at B&B's.
Posted by Carroll
Pittsburgh, PA, USA
1456 posts

True confessions here -- I have never tried to go off the beaten path. There is so much great stuff to see in Europe that I haven't seen yet, and the only way to get there is to take the beaten path. Maybe some day after I've seen all the stuff on my list I'll be looking to get off the beaten path, but right now I'm just fine with the well-tread path. That probably makes me a tourist. :)

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10492 posts

"That probably makes me a tourist." I would say that makes you honest and unpretensious...

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

"Off the beaten path..."
I define it as going where I'd like to go, not necessarily where the tour books tell me I should go.
I read a lot of history, and when I find a place that interests me, I try to include it on my itinerary. Sometimes it's a popular site (Rome), and sometimes it's OTBP, like Badajoz, Spain.
I talk to local friends and acquaintances to get ideas as to where they like to go. It's amazing how many spots popular with local residents aren't on any tour itinerary.
When I'm travelling from Point A to Point B, I always do some research into the cities and towns along the way. If I find something that interests me, I make plans to stop and "smell the roses" en route.
I never accept advice that a destination isn't worth it, until I've done my own research. I love the south coast of Spain...its history, its people, its monuments. Yes, it's crazy built up now....but so is Manhattan..and London...and Paris....
I build in more time for my favourite sport than museums, monuments, or memorials.....people watching. Whether it's a small village or large city, there's nothing better than plunking yourself down in a cafe or bar, ordering a coffee or drink, and watching people go by. Go to the same place a couple of times, and you'll be a "regular."
I'm not shy about striking up conversations with people I meet....I get more good advice that way, since locals like nothing better than to impart their expertise to the visitor.
What do I expect to find OTBP?
New friends.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4201 posts

I think you need to mix the beaten path with a some off path time. I really enjoy going to Edinburgh, but it is packed with tourists. I also could not believe the beach we walked on when I went to Harris. It was misty day and it was magical. I just framed a picture I took on that day.

I've wanted to know the Scotland that my grandfather left. That's involved traveling with my sister to Hoy to visit family. We visited a Martelo Tower and we were the only ones there. I loved seeing the Bu at Longhope. I could see how the Viking Longships could have been dragged across from the Pentland to Scappa Flow.

Another component of getting off the beaten path is that you're more likely to meet people. I was really lucky ten or so years ago to decide to sign up for a walking tour. It turned out I was the only American and the other six were from Germany, England and the Netherlands with a Scottish Guide. The Scottish Guide is now my friend and I'm visiting the couple from the Netherlands in July. Strathpeffer was definitely off the American Beaten Path, but interestingly it was firmly on the retired Englishman's Beaten Path as busload of retirees routinely stop off in Strathpeffer for a Scottish evening on their round the highlands tour!

Off the Beaten Path can be about contrasts. Sometimes, off the beaten path can be a block away from the beaten path. The Leith Water Walk rarely has anyone on it. You're down below in the quiet by the river and then pop up to the tourists at the Dean Gallery. What fun.

Then there's adventure. I got a wee bit lost in the borders one time. A lorry driver finally set me on the beaten path again. But it was fun while it lasted.

So, it's about learning, it's about meeting people, it's about contrasts. It's about a bit of adventure.


Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
797 posts

Off the beaten path - another one of those pretentious phrases. Like asking for itinerary suggestions, but only if it's off the beaten path.
Forgive me, but I want to go to Vienna and see the Hofburg again - and eat Sacher Torte and schnitzel till I explode. I want to see the Van Gogh Museum and the Louvre. I want to see the Tower of London and watch the changing of the Guard. I want to see so many things ON the beaten path. I want to take a cable car ion the Alps. I might even take the (GASP) Sound of Music tour this trip. And I 'm going to shop at the Christmas markets. I hope I never get so jaded about Europe that I won't be able to enjoy myself if I am someplace where there be might be other (omg - tourists??)

Posted by Ceidleh
Boston, MA, United States
1282 posts

It means putting away your guidebooks and the carefully honed minute-by-minute itinerary you spent 3 months organizing in spreadsheet format - even just for 1 hour a day. Veer away from those blockbuster sights you initially came for and have a genuinely unexpected experience every now and then. You might just find those are your best memories when you get back.

It means trying something different once in awhile, even if it falls outside of your normal comfort zone at home. Maybe that means trying foie gras in Paris when you swear by junk food at home, trying to decipher public transit in Italy when you normally take the car out at home to get a gallon of milk 2 blocks away, or spending time going cow-tipping in rural Ireland with your Irish friends once the pub crawl ends (there are so few cows at home in the city).

It does not mean "I'm such a superior traveler/tourist compared to you because I only go to places no one writes about in guidebooks!".

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

Elaine...perhaps those who just want OTBP suggestions already have their ON the path part of their journey already planned. That's not pretentious, that's wise planning.
And I don't think anyone has suggested that those who venture to less well known destinations have become jaded with Europe.
No one's criticised for wanting to visit the Louvre multiple times, or even for taking the Sound of Music tour. Some people liked that tour...others didn't, and its perfectly fair for both sides to air their opinions when a poster asks. So why condemn those who are looking for something a little different?

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
4201 posts

Yes Norm is right. It's not about being jaded. Just because you enjoy going off the beaten path doesn't mean that other times you're on the beaten path. You can do both in one trip, in one day, in one hour! Pam

Posted by Thomas
Vienna, Austria
517 posts

Steve, I like your style.
In fact, Steve has inspired me to boldly say the following: OTBP doesn't have to be about "location", it can also be about "approach". (Sorry if that sounds too "Zen") Which naturally leads to the "Tourist" vs "Traveler" topic. I agree that many split this hair too finely. Which isn't to say that there isn't a difference. Renting an apartment in Paris for a month? That sounds so "traveler" to me. It's about wanting/needing to absorb the essence of a city into your very DNA and not caring what the folks back home might say. (Sorry Steve, for reading motives into your stay that probably aren't there.)
Let the slings and arrows fly!
P.S.- Eurovision Song Contest! talk about fun so cheesy you can spread it on a cracker!

Posted by Kelly
St Petersburg Florida
951 posts

I think that the first time you go anywhere in Europe, you will never be "off the beaten path". When it is my first time in any city across the pond, I want to visit all the main sites. And guess who's guidebook I use? Yes, I love the way RS spoon feeds me Europe. He makes it possible for me to do Europe without the help of tour guides. When I am done visiting all the staples of all the countries I go to, then I will go back and discover the nooks and crannies that I may have missed because I was in line to some touristy museum or monument or in a souvenir shop, looking at cheaply made trinkets that I will probably not buy. Whether you are a tourist visiting all the main sites with your camera around your neck or "off the beaten path" hanging out with the locals in some cool pub not listed in any guidebook, it is better than not experiencing this very important aspect of life.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10492 posts

"! P.S.- Eurovision Song Contest! talk about fun so cheesy you can spread it on a cracker!" That should be the contest's official motto. This was, of course, the platform that first vomited ABBA onto the worldwide music scene.

For the record, I do enjoy watching Eurovision. In more ways than one, it's like a car wreck. You just can't help but look on in morbid fascination.

Posted by Maureen
1357 posts

Hey, don't knock Eurovision, introduced us to Lordi. Just knowing that there's such a thing as Norwegian Death Metal makes me happy.

I love doing the beaten path stuff and am totally not ashamed to it. Took the kids to Bunratty last summer, and we're taking them to Neuschwanstein next summer. So there. But I like to define my "off the beaten path" more as "off the beaten American tourist path". We've visited some places in Europe that are well frequented by more local (meaning the same nationality) tourists, but rarely see Americans. It's in the guidebooks, just not in Rick's. Many of the families we met on our last visit to Austria stay at the same farmhouse every summer for 2-3 weeks, but that farmhouse had never had an American family stay there. Until us. :) It's in the same town that my German uncle's family went to every summer when he was a boy, too.

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1730 posts

Tom-I agree that "off the beaten path" has become a yada yada yada phrase for me, too. I think maybe they mean that they don't want to get back home and compare checklists with other people. They want to feel like they did something different and special. But do they travel like that here in the US? Do they go to northern Arizona but skip the Grand Canyon? Do they plan a weekend in Peoria rather than in Chicago? Probably not.

However, it is a question that newbies tend to ask, so we'll all smile nicely and answer politely. Yada yada yada.

Posted by Kathy
St. Louis, Missouri, USA
206 posts

I think that the way many who post here travel would be considered off the beaten path by others, for example travelers who take bus tours. Simply using public transportation exposes tourists to locals. When visiting Rome, we wanted to get to the Vatican early one morning, and planned on taking the bus (one of the more notorious Rome buses). When the bus came, we got on and I was shocked how crowded it was that early...until I thought about it and realized these were Romans on their way to work! While using public transportation in London, my daughter commented frequently on how Londoners were dressed (much more dressed up). Another aspect that many here advocate is staying in a popular spot overnight, versus day tripping. That allows one to see places when they are uncrowded in the evening and the morning. As Pam mentioned above, it can be surprisingly easy to have unique experiences in/near touristy places. When we visited Chaumont last summer, we arrived at the chateau a few minutes before it opened. My son was looking around and commenting that he wasn't sure how we were going to get in, and then the drawbridge started to come down! On that day, our family and one other couple were the only people who got to see that!

That being said, in Italy we were so fortunate to have the experience of staying in a private home in a small village in Liguria. That was probably once in a lifetime for us, and truly allowed us to visit with Italians and get a sense of differences and similarities to life for us here.

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
7866 posts

Off the beaten path, a term I don't use, is when I look around and there are no other tourists around me. I've achieved it many times in my life.

Once, I had gone to a night club in Honolulu with a group of friends. They all petered out before I did. When I left, there were no tourists out at all - just gangs of locals. On one street corner, I walked through a group and they started saying "watch out Hali, watch out."

Fortunately, I was able to duck into a McDonalds where I spotted a couple of burly Marines and their wives. They had been at the same nightclub so I struck up a conversation and walked out with them (then high tailed it back to my hotel).

Yes, I was off the beaten path that night.

Another time, my wife and I were pulled into the "third degree" room when trying to leave a small Korean airfield at the south end of the peninsula. My wife hadn't had her passport stamped when we entered the country near Seoul. It's a one year prison term and million Juan fine to be in the country illegally (they are still at war). Fortunately, the Korean officer decided to let us go (without even a bribe).

We were off the beaten path that day too. Luckily, we didn't end up in prison or we would have been even further off the beaten path. :)

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
3036 posts

For me, "Off the beaten path" means doing what YOU want- not what you think others expect you to do. If you want to see xyz.. then do it. But don't do it beacuse you're afraid someone will say "WHAT! you didn't do ..." We have met some wonderful people in "tourist" cities. We even made lifelong friends with a jeweler in Inverness. He and his wife invited us to spend several days with them one December. He started his own jewelery design business and I now have some wonderful, unique pieces that he helped me design! Talk about a great souviener. But the friendship is what I value most. Yes, most people will start off on the path. There is a good reason the path is there... lots of people have felt that this (what ever or where ever THIS is) is important. But, once you are comfortable then you can begin to wander ...

Posted by Adam
2923 posts

If I ask for ideas about seeing architecture, or mountains, or any other particular thing, am I a pretentious elitist? Then why disparage those whose "particular thing" is "off the beaten path?"

There's no big mystery about what this phrase means. It's generally about no-blockbuster-sights, sit-back-and-smell-the-culture destinations.

Personally I like to include this sort of thing along with visits to justly popular (and thus crowded) attractions and cities. It varies the pace and adds texture.

The truth is that for me as an American the beaten path is pretty narrow, and most of Europe is off of it. So it's not hard to do.

And if it doesn't appeal to you, don't go there. Like anything else: Afraid of heights, avoid Peyrepertuse; Ancient Regime chateaux leave you cold, skip the Loire.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

As others have already alluded to; We have not yet been everywhere we want to be, so what sense does it make for us to dwell on being "off the beaten path"?

We go to most of the big hit sites we can in the places we have visited so far. But when the place is too "touristy" for comfort, we don't linger. We move on to the next thing. We always include a rural component to our trips and see small towns that don't always live off tourism.

We try to include places that are a little quirky when we can. For example, this July we will spend two nights in Cesky Krumlov between Prague and Munich. Now, everyone who reads Rick Steves' books knows about the place. And I fully expect the place to be full of tourists. But I'll bet 99% of Americans have never even heard of it. So is it on or off the beaten path? You tell me.

Posted by Norm
Ottawa, Canada
4555 posts

James...have patience...we're working on it. But there are lots of OTBP destinations to explore in western Europe...and, of course, a return to old favourites.

Posted by Angela
Chicago/Rural WI
811 posts

For me, "Off the beaten path" is anywhere I've never been before. I guess you could say it's "Off MY beaten path," regardless of whether billions of tourists have come before me or not.

So it could be Brno, Czech Republic, or standing in line for the Eiffel Tower, it's all new to me. And because my husband and I generally never travel the same road twice, we've covered a lot of new (to us) ground and have a lot left to cover. Whether or not someone (or millions) before have done the same thing is not important to us. If we want to see it, we do (ok, unless it is downright "Williamsburg-ish"); if it's not in our guidebook, we roll with it. If there are other tourists around, we don't hyperventilate; if there are no other tourists around, we forge ahead. No biggie.

It's all a new experience.

Posted by Norma
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
4504 posts

James, I have been to Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia and they are clearly off the beaten path and I found them in the main to be relatively boring, with people in the tourist industry there unclear on the concept of pleasing and attracting tourists. Very like Hungary & Czechoslovakia just after the break-up of the USSR. So OTBP is an ideal much sought after but sometimes when you find it, it is not "vaut le voyage".

As for Scandinavia, those countries I found to be much like Canada once you leave the cities, and if I want to see miles & miles of trees & rocks I can do that about 45 kms from where I live.

As always, just my personal opinion.

Posted by Laurie Beth
Was MN, now TX
646 posts

I agree with many of the posters here that OTBP can be anywhere. To me it is expanding your travel experiences beyond the 'must see' museums or sights. No matter where I go I try to visit bars/cafes away from the tourist areas, go to a local park, a laundromat or a grocery store; try to talk to people who live in the area even if I speak their language very little or poorly. A good example is the Cinque Terra. To many, that is OTBP, but thanks to Rick, it is very much on alot of folks path. But if you walk around the villages early in the morning or later in the evening you'll experience glimpses of what it must have been like before it was discovered. When in Rome last Sept. I followed Ron in Rome's public transportation directions to the aquaduct park. On my way I stopped and watched the kids at recess at a local school. On the walk back I stopped at a bar for a coffee and to use their toilet. I never ran into anyone who spoke English and didn't see a single tourist-just lots of people jogging and mothers pushing baby carriages. To me that was OTBP.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

James in Germany,

It is probably fair to say that most all of us here could use a "perspective/attitude adjustment" once in a while. We are human after all. But for one paticular individual to take it upon himhelf to dole out the adjustments day after day, makes me think THAT person needs MORE than just an adjustment.

BTW, I feel like I've only just begun my travels, yet I have already been to five of the countries you just listed as OTBP places, and I have posted advice here on all of them in the past. I've also stood in line for hours to climb the Eiffel Tower. So what.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10492 posts

Hmm, I never realized "I see a star" was from Eurovision. I only know the Dutch version, "Ik zie een ster".

Best Eurvision song in my opinion? From 1965...


Not the best singing, but a pretty nifty tune.

And to see a great example of why the combination of the 1970s and Eurovision were such a lethal trainwreck, check out Belgium's entry from 1973. The song isn't awful, but... oh dear God, just watch:


Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
8720 posts

"Off the beaten path" is one interesting phrase,, but my another one is:

"live like a local"

I am sorry, even if you rent an apartment you are not really "living like a local". You are not going to work everyday, you are not scrubbing floors and getting the sink fixed( hopefully) you are not running to pick up the kids while juggling three other boring errands.. ( pick up milk, drop clothes at drycleaners, pick up stamps)

You are on holiday, you are eating out more often then most locals( even if you eat many dinners at home and all breakfasts) you do not have boring errands to do, and you are not having to get in the rush hour mob everyday to get to work.

I personally do not WANT to live like a local. I actually like hotels , maid service and eating out, LOL I have stayed with family, ,and trust me, watching grandpa clear the toilet isn't that fun,, but hey,, its what the locals have to do.. LOL

I think what most of us want,, is to just enjoy ourselves and get a sense of the place we are visiting,, and that if I am in line at the Eiffel Tower, or the Coliseum I am still having a "real " experience,, there is nothing fake or bad about wanting to see world class sites..

I do think sometimes its nice to go out of the CITIES and enjoy the countryside, and that by the nature of most big sites being in large cities ,, that smaller centers are more about meeting local people, eating local specialities, and just RELAXING,, NO MUSEUMS OR CHURCHES TODAY! Most locals on their days off do that,, just relax,, they don't visit the sites in their towns much,, they just hang around a cafe or park. Lovely,, but not a better or lovelier experience then seeing major tourist sites.
Just different.

Posted by Sherry
Colorado Springs
54 posts

"Off the beaten path" for me has been when I have gotten lost while on my travels. Believe it or not, I traveled to Europe many times prior to learning about the benefits of RS guidebooks. During these trips I was OTBP many times because I had no idea what I was doing . . . AND . . . loved every minute of it. My best memories of getting confused and taking buses the wrong direction and then finding my way back to town. I found the most memorable churches and parks this way. I have also found the best places to eat by stumbling upon a small place away from all the crowds (tourist or locals). I will admit that a couple of times I was OTBP and REALLY should not have been there - but that is another story.

What do I expect to find when I am OTBP? Something new - not found in a guidebook.

Posted by Lisa
Italy 2012
104 posts

Pat makes a great point. We just returned from our Paris/London trip last week. Italy 2012! I am already thinking of our return. My husband says "I will only go if you do not drag me to every church, museum or cemetary." (which I did in Paris/London and I still did not see everything in 14 days) My husband is not a "snob" he acutally would prefer a motorhome travelling across the U.S. (I wish RS had a series USA) but he went to Europe for me and he really likes what he thinks are the simple aspects of life in a new city. Going to the market, doing laundry etc. (Did you know Mondays in Paris are a happening night to do laundry in Paris?..at least Rue Cler neighborhood. That doesn't mean that he does not want to be a "tourist", which we know we are, but just "experience" something different.

Posted by Chris
Orange County, CA, USA
31 posts

Everyone has lots of good points regarding to go OTBP or not, but one thing I know for sure is if your entire tour group is wearing matching shirts and/or matching florescent lanyards with name tags you definitely aren't going OTBP! I saw a couple of groups like this in London while on a RS tour, with a wonderful guide who always wore black or navy blue until the last day when he wore fire engine red. I said something like "Hey - why did you wait until the last day to wear something that lets us easily find you in a crowd?" and he said I was the first person to notice his method (or madness). He explained that he purposely dressed to blend in so that we would really pay attention when he was explaining to us the streets we were walking or the bus or Tube lines we were using, because he knew we'd need to use them during free time, as well as to catch up if the whole group couldn't get into the same bus, etc.

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2193 posts

Excellent perspective, Pat! Thanks for that. I also wanted to point out that Steve’s approach for his current holiday seems to me to be about as close as a typical American worker with limited vacation time can get to trying to “live like a local” in Europe (assuming that’s what they wish to do), even if it’s just for a month. Of course, you’re not really living like a local until you get back home, but who cares about that...you're on vacation now. :) I also appreciated Norm's comments. Glad to see that this thread didn’t deteriorate like others have as of late…although a hearty attempt was made.

Posted by Lisa
Italy 2012
104 posts

Chris...thats funny. On our trip when I could not get my husband and son's attention while doing one of our "walks". I would whip my umbrella out of my citysafe (product placement) purse and hold it up like a tour guide and say "this way boys!". Now we for sure where acting like tourists.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10492 posts

"Glad to see that this thread didn’t deteriorate like others have as of late…" I was waiting for the really pretensious clap-trap about "I'm a traveler, not a tourist", but for the most part, the replies thus far haven't been as stuck-up as is typical for these more pensive threads. Maybe we need a little more clueless narcisism to liven things up and validate Godwin's Law.

Posted by Toni
Charlotte, NC, USA
3036 posts

Don't know if I'm a narcisist... maybe... maybe even probably. But I am a headonist (forgive my spelling..). Part of why I travel the way I do is to "fill up my senses" (like in the old John Denver song). I love to experience the sounds, smells, sights and sensations of a place! When I travel, I can relax and revel in it, unlike my normal everyday life where I rush from task to task!!! Europe or Vegas, Canada or Florida.... I like being able to FULLY experience a place. No, I'll never be a local... I don't try to be. But I do want to savor everything...

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1525 posts

Expanding upon the "fill up my senses" theme;

I'll bet the vast majority of people can and do live much of their lives on something like a mental "autopilot" where their days are filled with familiar tasks that they can do without a great deal of thought. There is nothing wrong with that, of course - in limited doses. But I need to shake things up a little. That's why I like to travel. It forces the autopilot to click off and the mind to turn on.

Now, if my trip is full of things familiar (like familiar chain hotels, restaurants, road signs, architecture, etc.) there is a danger of the autopilot kicking in again. That's why, after visiting something like 42 states and 5 Canadian provinces, We started focusing on Europe.

When Europe starts getting too familiar, we'll look harder for the less beaten paths (as we are this year with a dip into Eastern Europe). But for us it's more about keeping the imagination active than how well something qualifies as off the beaten path to someone else.

Posted by Nancy
Taylor, TX, USA
416 posts

For me, OTBP has been things like going to a dog show in Gonzaga, Italy and visiting distant cousins on their farm outside Leimiswil, Switzerland. Also, going to the Source de Lison the day after Christmas and eating at a Mexican restaurant somewhere between Gray and Dijon, France (for that matter, visiting my sister and her husband in Gray when her husband was on a special project at the Deere plant in Arc le Gray). However, all of these were framed by being ON the beaten path (sightseeing in Verona, Florence, Venice, Luzern, Strasbourg and Heidelberg; spending two weeks in the Berner Oberland and a week in Berlin; going wine-tasting in Beaune and then spending 3 days in Paris). What did I expect to find each time I went OTBP? Well, the dog show was something I planned into my itinerary and I was hoping to connect with Italian dog fanciers and I certainly did! I also got to see exactly how it is done differently there and what is the same as in the US (for example, in some breeds the handlers are dressed very casually while in others, they are as dressed up as we are and ALL dogs are vet-checked before they can be exhibited--something that doesn't happen here in the States). As for visiting distant cousins, well they have a small farm and I got to see how the Swiss government's subsidies have made it possible for them to continue to make a living and I learned how their building codes are such that you cannot build if you might block someone else's view so they put up stick structures to show exactly what the volume of a building will be and allow the neighbors plenty of time to comment on whether or not the thing should be built. Visiting the Source de Lison was a chance to connect with nature in the dead of winter and eating Mexican food in France was a chance to see how the food was presented differently from my usual Tex-Mex fare. First time I had mole sauce, too! In short, OTBP gave me learning opportunities that are not in guidebooks.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10492 posts

All right, at least I can see that the veterans here, with a few exceptions, aren't so deluded that they think they must be "living like a local" if they stray one block off the Rick Steves walking tours. If you really want to live like a local this summer... put on a pair of shorts, leave your money belt behind, and help James mow his lawn, help my father-in-law harvest his vegetables, go to Carrefour and Aldi to buy groceries, etc.

Posted by Ceidleh
Boston, MA, United States
1282 posts

I'll pass on Aldi...we have plenty of them here in the United States. I prefer to get my OTBP Prawn Cocktail or Lamb & Mint crisps at Marks & Spencer's Food Hall (which we don't have here).

Posted by Laurel
Arlington, WA
871 posts

I think that once a place is touted as being OTBP, it no longer is. I agree with Angela, it's where I haven't been before and not having any expectations about it. It's turning off the GPS and letting yourself get lost. But, mind you, you can miss a lot of good stuff by going OTBP

Posted by Michael
Des Moines, IA
2193 posts

Tom makes a great point. But since most of us only live like locals when we’re home, can’t we just mow our own lawn and be done with it? I’ll pick up some organic vegetables at the downtown farmer’s market on Saturday and will hit our local specialty market tonight for a few imports not available at the grocery store. Rest assured, I will shop at our huge supermarket chain, Hy-Vee, this weekend. I sure as hell don’t need to go to Germany to live like a local or watch another American living like a local…I live like a local every day in Iowa. When I am in Germany, I’m on vacation. When I’m in California, I’m on vacation. Regardless of where I vacation, I always try to weave in a few unique and off the well-worn road experiences that the masses wouldn’t care about or even know about. I also experience the big hitters relative to the places I’m visiting…isn’t that part of the reason we visit the places we do? The lawn will need to be mowed when I get back, and I can then start living like a local again...in Iowa.

Posted by Beatrix
2110 posts

Well, I start out every trip in Germany with a visit to Aldi :-)

A big selling point when choosing a hotel in Berlin was the Aldi located next door. We bought breakfast, snacks and drinks cheaply - incl. the mandatory champagne to toast the New Year - thus saving money and allowing us a splurge dinner on New Year's Eve

Going OTBP is something we do all the time as visiting family and friends forces us to do so since they live OTBP. But we have learned to make the best of it. That means sometimes you have to work extra hard not to feel bored. Sometimes you find true gems that I wouldn't have want to miss for the world

Is being part of the New Year's Eve festival in Berlin OTBP? It doesn't make any list of top festivals to visit in Germany even though there were at least a million people surrounding us

Going OTBP doesn't mean I will not see a Christmas Market. But it doesn't have to be the one in Nuernberg, the one in Muenster is well-known and incredible beautiful as well. Just not a well-known tourist destination. People watching becomes more interesting and "authentic"

Leipzig is still OTBP for RS, doesn't get mentioned in his books. But if you want to understand anything at all about Germany's more recent history you cannot miss the "City of Heros". The "Museum Runde Ecke" is small, the exhibits aren't presented in any spectacular way. But if it doesn't touch you to the core nothing else will. Not much in this Stasi (the Secret Service in the GDR) museum was news to me as I lived some of it. And still there was one exhibit that makes me tear up just typing these words right now: a list of political prisoners who were secretely executed and anonymously cremated - and their ashes mixed with cement to be used for road construction

The museums in Berlin are bigger, maybe flashier. But I take Runde Ecke over Checkpoint Charlie any time. Still, I couldn't imagine not visiting the Pergamon either which is on TBP for well-deserved reason

Posted by Kerry
Tinton Falls, NJ
636 posts

We did a home exchange in a tiny village called "Tuchan" in the Aude region of southern France. No one spoke English. It was completely untouristy. Yet, while in the village we got to see two outdoor concerts. The first night we were there, we heard music and walked over to the school yard and found a cabaret show with topless dancers going on right in the square (my 12 year old son almost passed out from embarrassment!); but the second show was a fabulous concert with singers and dancers performing all kinds of fun music (including a lot of American music). It was the night of their annual wine festival and thus their was lots of cheap wine, a crepe stand, a 20' long candy cart and lots of laser lights & balloons for the kids. It was a magical night for the whole family. The festival brought residents from local villages, but we were the only foreigners. This was a wonderful off the beaten path experience. Doing home exchanges you live in the home of locals and really get the whole cultural experience.

Posted by Lexey
104 posts


I think my off-the-beaten-path is similar to yours, but not for the same reasons (no family connections). I will be visiting Orkney for a week on my trip this summer and then walking in Scotland for about a week and a half along the Great Glen Way and in the Borders :-). I plan to visit Hoy for a day, too. It was great to see a mention in your post of the places I am planning to visit!

To the thread: My reasons for traveling a little off the usual trail is that I am fascinated by prehistory, and many of the remains from the Neolithic, Iron Age, and so on can only be seen outside of cities. Many people are not interested in seeing these places, or have other priorities (I love art museums and architecture too, but I don't care as much for being in the city.) I also love seeing the land of a place I go, and since I live in a dry and landlocked state, I love water too. Most of my best travel memories have involved just being in a place, walking or biking, and experiencing it with all my senses. And I've had fun meeting local people in these places and the other travelers who go to them.

Posted by Arnold
Denver, CO, USA
1024 posts

Interesting question.

I am definitely guilty of using the OTBP phrase. Like most things each of us have our own take as some of the responses show. To me, it is getting to places that are not on the common tourist route that is frequented by US, European and other tourists. It is seeing places that have some tourist draw a few years before the masses arrive.

I just returned last evening from 10 days in Colombia (Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin). Colombia is definitely not on most US tourists list even though the cruise ships are now starting to hit Cartagena. I consider Colombia OTBP even though it is firmly established as part of the Gringo trail through Central and S America.

Like most folks here, to me, some places are more OTBP than others. When moving through the Middle East I considered Syria and Lebanon OTBP but not Israel or Egypt. Similarly, traveling in E Europe last year I found Serbia and Ukraine a different tourist experience than Hungary.

Overall, a good thought provoking question though I am surprised that so many folks consider parts of Western Europe OTBP. I wonder what phrase to use for really far flung destinations such as Mali, Namibia or the Central Asia countries through which the Silk route passes.

Posted by Audrey
341 posts

Enjoyed reading all the responses on this thread (including the Eurovision ones). Thank you. I'm not so concerned any more about going OTBP, as long as I have a good time, encounter the 'local culture', see the places that interest me, learn something new, and come home safe. If anything, OTBP is about finding a place that surprises you and makes you appreciate life and your travels that little bit more.