Off the beaten path travel is increasingly difficult to find as time marches on. Mass tourism is impacting everything from our favorite cities to the seas that surround them. All the while locals and the environment are often an afterthought. This series, Trailblazers, checks in with writers, photographers, filmmakers, activists and environmentalists who are passionate about off the beaten path travel.
Megan Mullan: Half This World Away
Megan Mullan and is one half of the traveling duo behind Half This World Away. Originally from Scotland, she’s been traveling and living overseas since 2011, most of the time with her husband in tow.
She had her first taste of travel when she moved to Madrid to teach English and spent one year in living in the Spanish capital. Since then, she’s lived in New Zealand and the Czech Republic all the while traveling throughout Europe, Southeast Asia, and Africa.
Without A Path Off the beaten path travel seems to be increasingly popular. What are your impressions?
Megan Mullan For me, off the beaten path travel is the most rewarding and satisfying way to travel, so it doesn’t surprise me that more and more people are putting down the guidebooks and discovering places on their own. More often than not, I end up disappointed with the hyped up destinations or landmarks, yet I adore the feeling of stumbling across somewhere; a place, a viewpoint, a little-known town, that feels like mine. Even if it’s only for a moment or two.
WAP Staying with a Vietnamese hill tribe seems to be pretty off the beaten path. Tell us about that.
MM My husband and I fell completely in love with Vietnam on our first trip there nearly five years ago, and even today it still remains one of our favorite countries we’ve ever visited. We wanted to delve a little deeper into this beautiful contrast of a country and felt that staying with locals was the most authentic way to do this. We hiked through the rice terraces of Northern Sapa for around a day and then stayed with a Vietnamese Hilltribe who showed us their way of life. We cooked with them in a tiny kitchen over an open fire, ate with them, and slept in their home.
Although they didn’t speak any English (nor do we speak Vietnamese) it was amazing the way we were able to communicate together. The people we met were completely self-sustainable; the community grow their own food, raise livestock, make their own clothing, and even brew their own alcohol!
WAP How did staying with this family compare to other aspects of traveling Vietnam. Presumably, you stayed at more traditional hotels?
MM Staying with this family was a completely unique experience and we really got a glimpse of what a hand-to-mouth life was like and how thousands of people live throughout Vietnam as well as the rest of the world. It was a very authentic experience and probably one most people don’t get to have. Of course, we stayed in hotels and hostels whilst traveling the rest of the country, but our time in Northern Sapa was probably the most rewarding and memorable.
WAP What’s been the biggest surprise you’ve experienced since you started traveling?
MM The kindness of people. We’ve been to some incredibly remote and poor nations, yet so many locals have gone out their way to help us. Even though we didn’t speak the same language and we looked different, we’ve had complete strangers give us lifts when we’ve been stranded or walk us to our hotel when we’ve been lost, for no other reason than simply to help. That is probably what I love most about travel, the ability to connect with different people from all walks of life.
WAP Do you have a favorite off the beaten path travel destination?
MM There are some incredible places I’ve visited in Northern Scotland, tucked away in the highlands where you can easily go days without seeing another person. We visited a beach on the West Coast of Scotland where you can only drive so far and then need to walk for 90 minutes along a dirt track and eventually the path turns and you’re faced with these huge sand dunes, rugged cliffs, and roaring waves. That was pretty incredible. It was so unexpected that you almost forgot you were still in Scotland. It’s quite ironic that despite traveling all over the world, what I have been looking for was on my doorstep the whole time.
WAP How can the travel industry both preserve off the beaten path travel destinations and help those areas that have been negatively impacted by mass tourism?
MM This is a tricky one and something I’ve struggled to find the answer to. On the one hand, I love finding off the beaten path destinations and writing about them and sharing them with my readers. I love to promote undiscovered places, however, that means these places won’t stay very undiscovered for very long. I think its all about sustainable tourism; and ensuring the local authorities have the correct tools to preserve and control tourism.
This year, for example, the Peruvian government have brought in much-needed sanctions to Machu Picchu, and whilst this may be slightly less convenient for travelers, it is a much-needed step in the right direction to preserve Machu Picchu for the generations to come.
WAP Could you offer a tip for readers who want to find off the beaten path travel destinations and travel responsibly?
MM Don’t plan, ditch the guidebook, jump in the car and just go. It doesn’t matter if you get lost or if you have nowhere in particular to be. Some of the most spectacular places we’ve visited have happened by accident. And when you do find these hidden gems, then buy from local vendors and eat in family-run restaurants. Give back to the community and stay away from the corporations and chain hotels.
WAP On a happier note, what’re you most looking forward to in your work and travels?
MM In January we are visiting our sixth continent with a four-month trip planned around South America. This is a region we have always wanted to visit and finally 2018 is the year.