11 Tips for Travelling off the Beaten Path on your Gap Year

Travel is all about exploring, discovery, adventure and new experiences. But if you want something more meaningful and personal than the well-worn path thousands have taken before you, you’ll have to think differently…


1. Throw away the guide book

First things first, make your ‘to-do’ list different to everyone else’s. You may even choose to avoid the ‘must-see’ attractions – carve out your own experience and enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

Turn left when everyone is turning right and you’ll meet locals and not just other tourists. If you open your eyes to what lies beyond the guide books, you will gain a far deeper appreciation of another way of life and the journey is uniquely your own and only you will have those memories etched in your mind forever.

“Turn left when everyone else is turning right.”

#Seetheworlddifferently, Africa & Asia Venture (AV)


2. Stay

This is huge.

Don’t just visit for a few days. Stay as long as you can. Make friends, learn to cook local dishes, eat where the locals eat, practice the language, research the customs and wear local dress – not for the novelty, but out of respect and a sense of belonging and affinity with your community. Really try to put yourself in their shoes and embrace their set of beliefs and traditions.


3. Get Involved

Find a purpose.

Offer your skills, time, energy… anything you can. The key is to offer something that will allow you to engage with the local community and make a positive impact.

Getting involved and being present in this way will give you instant recognition in your community and you will add value to their lives in a way a tourist passing through could never hope to achieve.


Get involved - how to get off the beaten track on your gap year - teach cricket in Darjeeling


4. Go Rural

Big cities may be exciting and offer you a buzz of adrenaline, but they aren’t the best place to experience life as a local. The availability of western food, familiar languages and the thousands of other travelers mean it’s virtually impossible to truly integrate into the local culture.

Locals living in cities also tend to be less interested in connecting with foreigners – you’re just another face in the crowd – whereas you may be a novelty in a less-touristy area and people will be more inclined to engage and interact.


5. Unplug

We know. You want to Instagram every moment to capture all of your amazing experiences. But don’t.

Enjoy the moment for what it is, not for the number of likes or for the travel envy of your friends. When you look up from your screen, you will see more, appreciate more, engage more and experience far more. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

“The new travel is meaningful, impactful, and with real cultural exchange…

(and) the Millennial generation will lead the way.”

Taking a Stand in Favor of Meaningful Travel, GoOverseas


6. Avoid hotels

You’ll just meet more tourists.

Instead, try homestays or rentals where you can be integrated into the local way of life. Learn to cook the local food. Shop at the local markets.

You’ll also be contributing to the local economy – supporting small businesses and individuals. This style of travel is ultimately more sustainable and beneficial to the community.


Live like a local on your gap year - local food shop


7. Travel with like-minded people

Find people who want the same sort of travel experience as you – to get off the beaten track, to try new things, get out of their comfort zone, make a difference and be willing to be spontaneous. You need to find those who aren’t afraid to let go of a plan and are willing to accept invitations and take every opportunity to engage with another community.

If you’re the type of person who wants an immersive, cultural experience, but the people you are with want to spend every night clubbing and every day sleeping off their hangover by the hotel pool, you’ll both be disappointed.


8. Be Curious

Dive in and don’t be afraid to ask questions and uncover the quirks of life in your chosen country. What may seem like a routine occurrence in someone else’s day to day life may be fascinating for you and it works both ways; they’ll be eager to hear about your daily life too.


“Live in our own cities like tourists, and travel the globe like we are locals.” 

Gina Lyons, Huffington Post


9. Choose people over places

Travel is rarely just about location. Just as important are the people you meet.

Whilst new places can be exciting in and of themselves, more often than not it’s the human connections and true friendships that make for the lasting memories. Those bonds you create will stay with you for a lifetime.


How to travel off the beaten path on your gap year - India


10. Be ready to be challenged

It’s easy to lounge by the pool in a beautiful hotel and it may be restful holiday but you won’t come home any different. It’s a week or two of escapism but won’t have been challenged.

Twenty-somethingtravel.com suggests there are 4 stages of living abroad: Honeymoon, frustration, understanding and acclimation. This type of travel will certainly have its ups and downs but more than anything, being immersed in a different culture will challenge you in ways you won’t expect. You’ll gain a different perspective on life.


11. Enjoy the small things

Something as simple as having to explain a phrase you use regularly can make you reflect on something routine in a new light. It’ll also bring back fond memories every time it crops up for years to come.


Immersive travel is all about spending time in a community and getting to know the people and the culture whilst making a positive impact. It’s a different way to experience the world.

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