“Do not go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I can’t recall the first time someone asked me why I was so enamored with unconventional travel destinations, but I can tell you that it was a very long time ago. I never had an answer until now.

A silhouette of a woman walking down a narrow roadGrowing up, I was enthralled by stories of great adventurers and expeditions. I admired the strength and fortitude I saw exemplified by characters in these narratives, whether fictional or not. They took my imagination to exotic places both near and far, giving me a taste of what such an adventure might be like. And it was those same adrenaline-pumping tales of discovery that prompted me to venture off on my own travels.

I’ve always seen the spirit of adventure as involving varying levels of difficulty. I feel that situations that require flexibility, problem solving, and an open mind are paramount to successfully overcoming the unforeseen (but inevitable) obstacles that tend to arise while traveling. To clarify, the types of instances I am referring to are feats such as navigating a foreign language, traveling solo, or choosing a homestay over a more comfortable hotel or resort in an unfamiliar land.

When I embark on my own journeys, I thought, I need them to involve difficulty.

The thing I’ve learned to look forward to most while traveling is the opportunity to compare my expectations about the world with its realities. By committing to venturing off the beaten path and being open to whatever situations might arise, I am always confident that I will learn exponentially more about the world and how accurate (or flawed) my expectations of it were than I would if I were to take an easier route. Ultimately, it was upon making these realizations that my preference for taking the road less traveled was born.

The sun sets over a field
People walk single-file through a field

Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, to take the road less traveled is almost always congruous with embarking on a path full of resistance — and so it may seem odd that I always found this approach preferable. I can’t fault that opinion. After all, shouldn’t travel be relaxing and made to be as easy as possible? Why go through any undue stress if not absolutely necessary? I’ve been asked these questions more times than I can count, but my answer is always the same.

By exploring more uncommon destinations, I put myself in a position to experience discovery in its truest and rawest form. Specifically seeking out remote areas or lesser-known countries is how I am able to ensure the type of exploration I’ve always craved and seen epitomized in the stories of my childhood. In not knowing the language, or having no expectations of the communities I’ll be among, I’m promised a most thrilling trip. Whenever I begin dreaming up my next adventure, I always consider how stimulating it will be. Will I be able to try out new cuisines? Will I be able to practice a new language? Will I witness new sites, smells, and landscapes? These are the types of questions that run through my mind as I research a new travel destination. I search for new ways to learn about and experience life.

A woman and child hold up their hands in greeting
Photo by Zach Fackrell

Today, seven years after my first trip abroad, I have been to the African continent four times — an eventuality I almost never thought I’d achieve. I’ve also visited Europe, Asia, and Oceania, but of course, I have so much more to see. I think much of what I’ve learned in visiting these places is that we cannot know the boundaries of our abilities and the limits of our strengths until we’ve tested them intentionally and rigorously.

I prefer to take the road less traveled because it has allowed me to grow in ways I don’t believe I could have in more conventional locations. Countries in which you aren’t required to abandon your comfort zone are still wonderful destinations to explore, but, in my experience, I have simply found more joy in the alternative — even if that means biting off more than I can chew. I choose to take this path because it allows me to think deeply and specifically about our shared humanity, our differences, and, most strikingly, our similarities.

A overgrown path through the woods heads towards a clearing

At the end of the day, I feel that in taking the road less traveled, I am chasing a feeling of gratitude and the unmistakable thrill that accompanies any form of adventure. I am chasing what it is to truly see and feel something for the first time. I’m chasing what it means to be free.

Header image by Zach Fackrell