January is a time of making lists and New Year’s resolutions. While the new gym trainers might lie discarded on the floor, and the shiny smoothie blender still in the box, there is something wonderful about the shared desire to accomplish a new goal or perspective. In the spirit of adventure and risk-taking, the new year is the perfect time to take stock of new places to travel.
This doesn’t mean that I am pointing the finger at people who choose to revisit the same places. There is nothing wrong with pleasing the kids with an annual trip to their favourite holiday resort. I have many fond childhood memories of returning to the Blue Lagoon in Malta. Yet after several consecutive summers, we swapped the sandals and sunny shores for new experiences.
Holidaying in a new country offers wonderful opportunities with less permanent regrets
There are countless benefits of visiting lesser-travelled places, not least for getting out of your own comfort zone. From work to bold haircuts, there are many risks associated with stepping into the unknown. Holidaying in a new country offers wonderful opportunities with less permanent regrets. If you happen to come across the holiday from hell, at least there is a good story to tell at the end.
However, it is far more likely that you’ll experience a good time rather than a bad time. It is not surprising that obscure travel destinations are home to a treasure trove of unique experiences. Ranked third least-visited country in Europe, Moldova welcomes approximately 133,000 tourists annually. At the crossroads of Ottoman, Romanian and Russian rule, this historic country is brimming with culture and budget-friendly prices.
If you are seeking an authentic African experience, look no further than Lalibela in Ethiopia. Take in the rock-hewn churches and carved frescoes. Steam your own meat at the local food places. For a deeper retreat into the wilderness, exchange the crowds for rugged landscapes and nomadic lifestyles in Mongolia. Sandwiched between China and Russia, visitors can board the Trans-Siberian railway for a one-way ticket to Tibetan monasteries, soaring valleys and hot spring parks.
Travelling to lesser-known destinations means that there is no guilt-ridden obligation to pose next to national monuments built to restore the egos of world leaders. Is it worth waiting hours in line to catch a glimpse at whichever half of the Mona Lisa isn’t obscured by the back of someone’s head? Should we pay exorbitant prices to take a picture next to France’s most famous phallic symbol? Often our time would be better served (and indeed saved) by travelling off the beaten track.
Sometimes, it is okay to avoid the high-profile destinations, dense crowds and tourist shops that line them
There is a sense of freedom in roaming beyond the limits of package holiday itineraries and resorts. My mum always planned our holidays mindful that it is better to explore a place through your own interests. Sometimes, it is okay to avoid the high-profile destinations, dense crowds and tourist shops that line them. Instead of splurging on Paris, it might be more interesting to wander the cobbled streets to the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi. Or you could visit the 14th century Palais de Papes in Avignon, home to one of the greatest controversies in Catholic history.
Like going to your favourite restaurant or hair salon, there is comfort in tracing well-worn steps. Yet one of the marvels of planes, trains and modern travel is that it has never been cheaper or easier to visit places you have never heard of before. Whether you are seeking to avoid tourist traps, engage in new cultures or educate your friends about some far-flung corner of the world, make 2019 the year you take the road less travelled.