For seasoned travellers the thrill of the unknown is one of the most exciting parts of heading off on an overseas trip; from the wilds of Madagascar to solitude of the Macedonian islands. With cultures to immerse in, cuisines to sample and unchartered territory to explore it seems a crime to stick religiously to our guides books, and miss the very treasures that could give us the truest taste of a country.
So for those who are prepared to veer away from the tourist trail, and become more than a little familiar with a compass, here’s how to experience a country as you never have before.
Stay with the locals
Who knows a country better than the people who live there? Very few I imagine. So why not tap into this knowledge and stay with the locals. If you are on a tight budget, why not try surfing someone’s couch? There are plenty of couch surfing websites that can connect you to travellers around the world. In return for a night on the couch or even a spare room if you are lucky, all you need to do is be a polite guest and bring along a small token from your home country for your hosts to enjoy – though this requirement isn’t essential.
Hosts are normally more than happy to show you around the local sights, from night markets offering a dizzying array of street food to back street bars playing the best live music in town. You’ll then walk away from your visit knowing the country or area like the back of your hand, and your stay will have become much more than just a holiday.
If you are feeling braver still then a village homestay with a local family may be just the ticket. However, if you are expecting creature comforts and continental breakfast then you may be disappointed by this option. But for those who are happy to rough it a bit and love the idea of being woken up by sun streaming through the window of a hut, or even a cockerel crowing, then this will definitely be a stay to remember.
Tour companies around the world offer homestay options and instead of you having to wave your arms about frantically to communicate with your homestay hosts, in lieu of a few words in the local language, an experienced guide will normally accompany you on your trip.
Go wild camping
For true nature lovers nothing beats camping in the great outdoors, and for those who really want to feel that they are getting away from it away all – wild camping will definitely transport you to a time that land forgot. Imagine opening up your tent to be greeted by fields of bluebells or expanses of forest, before settling down for the night to a meal of freshly caught fish cooked on an open fire.
Well all this and more can be had by spending a few nights in a wild camp site. However, while pitching up your tent wherever the moods strikes you is permitted in some countries, such as Sweden and Scotland, it’s important to check with the tourist office as to the regulations in the area you are staying in.
As a plan B you could also scour the internet, or ask friend’s recommendations for the best official remote campsites they have been to.
Explore the surrounding areas
While your first instinct when going on holiday may be to make a beeline for the country’s capital city or popular beach resort, you may be missing out exciting areas that just happen not to have fallen under the tourist radar. As an example, while travellers normally put the words safari and Serengeti in the same sentence – there are a total of 14 national parks to explore in Tanzania. And while many have heard of the Croatia cities of Zadar and Split, few will have explored Croatia’s Istria region home to thriving seaside towns such as Pula.
Spend a few minutes looking at your map, virtual or otherwise, and you never know what you might uncover.
While having a fixed itinerary is all good and well, leaving a little more room in your schedule for an unexpected stop off or to follow a hot tip off from fellow travellers means you won’t miss out on locations that have yet to succumb to the tourist masses.
If you have an InterRail pass, why not peer out of the window on your journey and spend a night or two in any of the stops on the route that have captured your imagination?
You never know, the tales from your unplanned stop could provide the fodder you need for that travel novel you’ve always meant to write but never got around to.