Photo by Rameesha QaziJune 1, 2021
The road less taken
Why veering off the beaten path should be on everyone’s travel itinerary
By Rameesha Qazi
The winding alleyways of downtown Amman smell like spices. The sharp za'atar—a blend of oregano and thyme—with the toasty nuttiness of sesame seeds and freshly baked naan wafting out of mismatched homes and shops. Waves of heat radiate off of the pavement while the dusty air blows through the streets, rippling through the colourful fabric stores.
Amman is easily one of the quietest cities I have ever been to, the silence only broken by calls to prayer and rumbling gasoline trucks making rounds in residential areas.
In startling contrast is Petra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site also located in Jordan. The vast visual collision of the Ancient East and Hellenistic architecture carved into rocks buried in the desert mountains tells the story of a civilization hidden by time. The four-hour hike up narrow staircases to the monastery was a tough adventure for someone who has led a mostly inactive lifestyle, but being able to stand at the top and take in one of the wonders of the world is something that I will always remember.
I urge all travellers to never miss an opportunity to see the wonders of the world—because they are just that, wonders.
I have had the privilege of travelling to many places, both on and off the proverbial “beaten path.” While I have loved every single trip I have taken, the ones that fall off the well-known routes have been the most rewarding and valuable. Whether it’s watching the magnificent beach sunsets on the Smiling Coast of Africa or admiring the breathtakingly powerful architecture in Aachen, Germany, my adventures around the globe have shown me the value in finding places that are often overlooked.
I hate to do this—but do you remember when COVID started? When all these major tourist hot spots turned into ghost towns being photographed by locals to show the world what these places really look like without the hordes of people around? Well, imagine your whole trip being like that. Being able to really take in what you are seeing and experiencing and making memories no one else will. You might even get a couple of photos no one else has!
In my experience, it is important to know what you are looking for when going on a trip. Are you looking for adventure or relaxation? Hands-on planning or the whole trip planned for you? Personally, I like planning trips myself so that I can make sure I am seeing all the sights I want to see, taking time to rest when I would like to and — most importantly — making sure my money goes as far as possible in terms of places to stay, what to eat and activities to do.
Travelling to less popular places also means you will have more privacy without masses of people milling around like there are in famous or trendy vacation spots. This allows you to develop a more intimate and authentic appreciation for the people, the culture and the food of wherever you are. I remember one night when I was getting dinner with a friend in Jordan (traveller’s tip: you can get fresh falafel wraps for $1 on street corners) and the cook had noticed that we were regulars at his stall. He asked us if we wanted to learn how to make falafels right then and there, and of course we did.
You will learn how to truly become spontaneous and adaptable. There is no better way to learn these skills than when there are regular (sometimes daylong) power outages, no food delivery apps, cell service is non-existent and you have not had dinner yet — yes, I’m speaking from experience here. On one such night of my travels, I managed to (very slowly) cook an egg over a candle.
My favourite benefit, above all else, is that you will help the local community prosper. By showing up and engaging with different businesses, you are helping people provide for their families and their communities. If you take the time to travel slowly, you can learn about the place you are in, instead of just seeing it. I make sure that I shop at local artisans and businesses led by women or other marginalized communities wherever I travel, and I know it goes a long way for them because I take the time to talk to the shop owners and hear about their lives.
I understand why people do not want to stray from the beaten path — hours on back roads, unpopulated areas as far as the eye can see and no cell service make for some dangerous situations in our imagination (thanks, Hollywood) — but these are some of the best memories you will be able to collect and cherish. If you do your research and take the steps you would on any trip to keep yourself safe, travelling to less known places does not have to be something scary or just for the bravest of souls.
For these trips, there is also a lot you can do to feel prepared and safe. For example, you can download maps on your phone to use offline, let people know where you will be going and when you expect to be back in cell range, and do research beforehand to ensure you’re properly prepared. Learn about the culture—what to wear, appropriate behaviour and cultural awareness — and what the political landscape is like so you have a better understanding of the place.
Travelling is a privilege that has been on hold for a while, but once you’re able to, follow the road less travelled for some extraordinary experiences. I will never forget the landscape of Amman: breathtaking and unlike any other place, the hills and valleys sit so well together that you can have a snack on a rooftop restaurant and see the whole city at the same time. The houses and shops that dot the skyline are mixed into the street art and the colourful fabric native to the region. The street food, which is cheap and delicious, is great fuel to drive your sense of adventure as you take in the sights of this magical city.
Wander and stumble into something different the next time you go out into the world and explore a new place — I promise you will not regret it.