Get off the beaten path and into better vacations
One of the best ways to have a more impactful vacation is by traveling deeper — beyond the top 10s and bucket lists. You might want to see the main sites (they’re probably why you decided to go there in the first place), but there is more to that place that its photogenic monuments. Many of us fall prey to “hit-and-run, selfie-stick tourism” to quote Jonathan Tourtellot, CEO of Destination Stewardship Center and former editor for National Geographic Traveler. “These travelers are not having a deep travel experience or getting the most out of travel,” he said in a recent webinar on overtourism. These bucket-list trips are not worth the money, are not authentic, and won’t leave a lasting impact on you.
Get the most out of your vacation by adding some deep travel experiences to your itinerary. These will really connect you with the place, its people, and what makes it unlike anywhere else in the world.
I learned this lesson firsthand when I was traveling to Peru a few years ago. My sights were set on Machu Picchu — the country’s most instafamous landmark. I wanted to see the place I have been seeing in posts for years, and I couldn’t wait to take my own epic selfie there (yes, guilty as charged!). After a day of traveling through congested tourist towns and crowded buses we finally made it to Machu Picchu.
The high-altitude ruin was incredible — and incredibly crowded. There were so many tourists there that it degraded the monument and took away from the experience.
Machu Picchu isn’t the only place to learn about the Incans. The nearby Sacred Valley has many other Inca monuments and archeological sites, and they’re practically empty! People don’t often stay in Cusco and the valley long enough to visit these lesser-known spots. We went to a few of these sites and learned about architecture, traditions and innovations. Plus, the route takes you through small Quechuan villages with vibrant markets and delicious, affordable local food. We tried chicharrón from a stand on the side of the road and chatted with some of the residents.
I drank purple corn juice from the street market and saw more types and colors of potatoes than I ever knew existed. Potatoes are very important in Inca culture and in the region. We saw one very bumpy potato called pusi qachun waqachi, which translates to “make the daughter-in-law cry.” Mothers gave these potatoes to their future daughters-in-law, who needed to peel them to prove they were fit for marriage. If the bride took off too much flesh while peeling the potato, she wouldn’t be allowed to marry her son. Absorbing these stories and local experiences made my trip to Peru so much richer. I am still friends with the Peruvians I met on my trip, I LOVE Peruvian food, and I cook with Peruvian spices. I will always feel connected to Peru.
Traveling deeper helps you get to the essence of that place; something you wouldn’t be able to do if you just went to the tourist restaurants and Instagram hotspots. It is more than just a place where you can take a picture. It is an immersive experience that changes you forever.
Traveling to these hidden gems also spreads out the economic impact of your trip. Cusco and Machu Picchu usually receive the majority of the tourists, which means that those areas receive the most money from visitors who shop, stay, play and eat there. The surrounding areas like the Sacred Valley can be impacted by tourism but are not earning as much money. By traveling to the villages in the Sacred Valley and spending money on fruit, art, snacks and juice we supported the rural populations of the Sacred Valley who were struggling to make a living and maintain their way of life. The income from the entrance fees we paid to see the other sites helps support maintenance and preservation to keep the cultural heritage alive. We benefited by having a more authentic Peruvian experience without the hassle and headache of the crowds, and the local communities made money selling us their foods and wares.