My latest trips entirely dedicated to tourism, meaning going to a country to “see stuff”, have left me deeply unsatisfied. Call it the misery of the privileged, being super-spoiled or whatever you like, but the dissatisfaction remains.
I have had the privilege over the years to visit many countries and I consider myself very, very lucky. I grew up in a family that had an airline employee as one of its members and I can admit that I totally benefited from all the advantages that implies. Later in my life the amount of business travel I had to do guaranteed that I would see new places and as a bonus have sufficient reward miles to visit other destinations during my vacation. Yes, I am spoiled.
However as the time goes by I find less and less satisfaction in participating in regular tourism activities. “Tours” repulse me and I can’t remember a tour I’ve been on in the past year that I really enjoyed. Some were fun, some truly aggravating, but I found most to be centralized around consumption in all sorts of ways. “Consuming” the scenery, trying to “consume” the culture by having a not-so-typical experience with locals, visiting places to buy stuff, try stuff and rapidly see the place without truly experiencing it.
Shorty after finishing my Te Araroa hike in 2015, I flew to Vietnam because my parents, husband and sister-in-law had all agreed to meet there with me. I was really looking forward to see them all but only a couple days after arriving I was already completely disillusioned about the trip we had planned, I had no real motivation for this trip where we were planning to travel the country by bus and train and stop in “interesting” places, all picked in our Lonely Planet Guide, where we would be met by other thousands of Western tourists.
Is it because I am spoiled? Is it because I had already been to South-East Asia a couple times? I suspect it’s a mix of these two things, plus the fact that I had just spent five months walking in nature. I still believe that there is interesting touristic activities out there and that trips to visit new places are interesting. Being in touch with new cultures is great to open your mind to new ways of thinking. However, I now feel the desire to take more time to explore new countries I travel to; in fact I strongly believe that the best way to explore a new country is on foot (or bicycle)! Here are five reasons why:
1. Probably less expensive
As an accountant, this has to be my argument #1! Travelling by foot is way more economical than any other modes of transportation. Since you will get to less places that way, you will also probably spend less on attractions. If you are camping, the savings get even better (unless you are in a highly populated/touristic areas where you are obligated to use paid campgrounds – Such as Key West on the Southern end of the Eastern Continental Trail). While visiting Iceland on foot we met tourists that were spending our entire three weeks trip budget including airfare on an off-road vehicle rental for 10 days.
2. See less, Do more
No you probably won’t get to see all the cool spots and the whole country, but you will get to see much more of the places you go through. You will also find interesting things in unexpected places, the type that no travel guide will ever mention, like this totally awesome blackberry spot just around the bridge.
3. Truly off the beaten path
I have probably been to places in New Zealand and South Korea that most of its inhabitants have never seen. I have walked through places that never see any Western tourists except for the odd hiker. Beauty can be found in unexpected places, often far from tall monuments.
4. Meet more people
When you are off the main tourist path, people you encounter will have more time and interest to speak with you. People will want to hear your story and how you ended up where you are.
5. You will find generosity in the most unexpected places and it will renew your faith in humanity.
As cheesy as this may sound, I believe that most people that have traveled off the beaten path will agree with me. Generosity and kindness will come from unexpected places and often when you need it the most (even if you don’t realize it yet). Traveling on foot might very well renew your faith in humanity, no kidding.
So the next time you are planning to visit a new place, consider traveling all or part of it on foot or bicycle. It might be time consuming, but you’ll get to experience the world in a whole new way!