5 great reasons to get off the beaten path
There’s something to be said for the tourist track — the sights are certifiably impressive, the info is all online and the reviews are plentiful. Everyone you show your vacation pictures to will ooh and aah and say things like “I’ve always wanted to visit Paris!” and “The Colosseum certainly is spectacular, isn’t it?”
But, while tourism giants like Paris and Rome are fantastic destinations that you should definitely visit at least once, we believe a little detour off the beaten path every now and then is good for the soul. The thrill of finding yourself somewhere completely new and unfamiliar is one of the best parts of traveling, and nowhere could be more unfamiliar than the forgotten nooks and crannies of the world.
You won’t find these places plastered all over the internet, but that’s really the best thing about them — they are true hidden gems, under the radar and unspoiled. For travelers looking to slow down and discover more, a trip to one of these lesser-known locations might be the perfect unconventional escape.
Sark, Channel Islands
A far-flung corner of the British Isles, the tiny island of Sark is a delightful anachronism. While it’s only a 50-minute boat ride from neighboring Guernsey, the island feels like a step backward in time. Vehicles are banned here (minus a handful of tractors), and you won’t find any streetlights lining the rustic roads. The absence of light pollution makes Sark a fantastic spot to do some stargazing — on a clear night, the Milky Way can be seen twinkling overhead against the velvety darkness.
Visitors to Sark will be captivated by its dramatic cliffs and wooded hills, high above the crashing waves below. Be sure to visit La Coupée, the causeway that connects Big and Little Sark — the narrow, winding ridge towers 262 feet above the sea and offers brave wanderers a fantastic view.
Green Lake, Austria
For much of the year, Austria’s Grüner See (“Green Lake”) is a pretty little basin with a pond at the foot of the Hochschwab Mountains. Come springtime, however, the mountain snows melt and water streams into the valley, transforming it into a crystalline lake 40 feet deep. The icy water is so clear that the grass and foliage submerged underneath are totally visible, coloring the lake’s surface a gorgeous emerald green.
For divers, Grüner See is an underwater paradise, allowing you to float past park benches, bridges and pathways. Unfortunately, the growing crowds of divers eager to explore Austria’s otherworldly lake has led local tourism authorities to ban diving and swimming in Grüner See in an effort to conserve and protect it. Not to worry, though — travelers hoping for a glimpse of this fleeting geological wonder will still be able to witness its magic from the shore.
Haiku Stairs, Hawaii
This one’s for the adrenaline junkies! If climbing thousands of narrow steel stairs through mist and wind to stand on top of a 3,000-foot-high ridge sounds like a good time to you, then the Haiku Stairs of Oahu, Hawaii, need to be on your bucket list.
Also known as the “Stairway to Heaven,” the Haiku Stairs are notoriously tricky — and potentially dangerous — to scale. It is officially a “closed trail,” which means that it’s technically illegal to climb the stairs, but the mind-blowing views offered to any brave hiker who reaches the top are hard to resist. Few things can compare to the sight of Oahu’s lush green mountains spread out against the glittering backdrop of the ocean.
The fate of these World War II-era stairs is currently uncertain, with some locals calling for them to be torn down. As such, ascending the Stairway to Heaven is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that may soon disappear for good.
Alter do Chão, Brazil
The tiny village of Alter do Chão lies in the middle of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, but it has a lot more to offer than just jungle vibes. During the dry season, the sand spit known as Ilha do Amor (“Island of Love”) emerges from the clear waters of the Rio Tabajós, ringed with white sand beaches as pretty as any in the Caribbean.
Alter do Chão is arguably one of the best places in the world to unplug and relax. The little beach town has a lazy, bohemian feel to it that pulls you in, forcing you to slow your pace to match it. Visitors can loll on silvery beaches by day and sway to melodic Carimbó music by night. Time spent on Ilha do Amor is made all-the-more precious by the fact that it’s short-lived — the enchanting beaches appear for only six months of the year before sinking below the gentle waters once more.
Ulleungdo, South Korea
Far from the flashing lights and thumping nightclubs of Seoul, the island of Ulleungdo juts proudly out of the sea, 75 miles off South Korea’s eastern coast. The crown of a long-dead volcano, Ulleungdo is a breathtaking blend of jagged cliffs, green valleys and primeval forests, with towering peaks that offer some of the best views in the country.
Ulleungdo is primarily a fishing community, so the seafood served here is top-notch. Make sure to sample dishes with squid and pumpkin — the island is known for both. The only way to reach Ulleungdo is via ferry, which means tourists here are few and far between. If you’re looking for spectacular natural beauty and off-road adventure, this is definitely the place for you.
If any of these wanderlust-worthy destinations have you itching to hop on a plane RIGHT NOW, then you, friend, are one of us: a dreamer and a renegade in search of wild horizons.
We believe travel is about more than just lounging around five-star resorts and prettying up your Instagram. You know we love a poolside bar and a palette-perfect Insta feed as much as the next person, but that’s only a fraction of the equation. Travel at its core is about digging deeper, getting out of your comfort zone and expanding your perspective; visiting places so different from where you grew up that you might as well be on another planet; making meaningful connections and lasting memories wherever you go; sharing the adventure with people you care about.
There’s a whole wide world out there, and every last inch of it is worth exploring. If your credo is “do more, see more, be more,” then welcome to the tribe. We’ll see you at the next horizon.