How to Find the Offbeat When You Travel

Exploring Mt Ranier

Through many years of travel, I’ve seen my share of “big attractions.” I’m talking about the places that one can’t pass up when they visit a destination. Things like the Eiffel Tower, Tower of London, The Emperor’s Palace in Tokyo, and a multitude of other popular sights. You know, top 10 lists of attractions for a country.

While I still seek out important tourist draws, I noticed a few years ago that they usually don’t thrill me as much. Maybe they’re highly commercialized or just too overrun with other people, but I feel like I’ve built up a tolerance to them. It’s a bad drug analogy, but I imagine this is what it must feel like to be hooked on heroin and constantly need a bigger fix.

To satisfy my insatiable cravings for more, I seek out “offbeat” encounters. These are the quirky less traditional aspects of places that are often more fun and enlightening.

Taking a cooking class in Cambodia

Living abroad in remote places (Namibia, a small village in Czech Republic, and to a certain degree Okinawa), I’ve become really good at finding funky local stuff. Friends even marvel how I track down new experiences after living for almost 3 years on a 65 mile island. 

Hiking in San Marcos, California


Dear readers, here are my tips for finding the offbeat.

1. Ask locals how they spend their time.

2. Wander down alleys in unfamiliar parts of town. I promise there’s good stuff waiting!

Unusual view in Singapore

3.  Don’t judge places by the outside. Be willing to go inside and see what they offer. I can’t even tell you how many gems I’ve found this way.

4. Look for restaurants and cafes with funny names like “Pink Dracula” or “Lollipop.” Come on, with a name like that, there’s got to be good eats!

5. Visit Local Farmer’s Markets, festivals, and community events. Often they have unique events going on, sure to draw lots of characters.

Yomitan Fall Festival

6. Follow the line of the people. Look where people are congregating and find out what’s happening.

7. Attend local sporting events, even children’s little league games. It’s fun to see what sportsmanship is like in other countries, and I always love to see what snacks get passed around.

8. Don’t be afraid to randomly try new things you wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Playing mysterious with the curtain at a Japanese izakaya

Are you a fan of the big attractions or the quirky and sometimes bizarre when you travel? How do you get off the beaten track?


18 thoughts on “How to Find the Offbeat When You Travel

  1. I love following the crowds and figuring out what the locals do – such wonderful tips!

    And hahaha, I would have no resistance (bad immune analogy) whatsoever to a restaurant called Pink Dracula!

  2. I like seeing the big attractions if it is for things like the Eiffel tower. However, if it is just a touristy place with nothing really to offer, I’ll avoid it. I’d rather get off the beaten path and see what the country and people are really like. And you’re very right about finding out cool places from the locals. That’s how I found out about free hot springs in Costa Rica.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Steve,
      Free hot springs! That’s what I’m talking about. Getting tips from locals always makes me feel like an insider, and that I am getting a truly unique experience in country, rather than the same hum drum one of everyone else.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention How to Find the Offbeat When You Travel « World Curious Traveler --

    • maryrichardson

      Dear BB,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m a big fan of the small hidden things… it makes me feel like I’ve had a totally different encounter than any other person. Walking on foot is unparalleled when it comes to finding hidden treasure places.

  4. I definitely prefer the offbeat as well…….makes for a much more interesting encounter with the culture. I like to wander down the unbeaten path, the slightly dark alley, or to follow the crowd of locals. Although it doesn’t ALWAYS work out and then I’m either thinking “what EXACTLY is going on here?” or “I need to get out of here ASAP!”

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Claire,
      I’m definitely a fan of the hidden alleys, but in the daytime and with lots of other people around … I’ve been in my share of situations when I think, “What have I done?” but most of the time, it all works out fine.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Rachel,
      Thanks for your comment! You’re right that tourist traps have a sameness everywhere in the world! Sometimes even the exact same cheesy souvenirs… shot glasses, key chains, my goodness!

  5. Mary,

    I like offbeat when I travel. I actually try to dodge the touristy places to hang out where locals do. Many people are nice to share, some are not, then we ask others.

    I like the Mount Rainier pics, I actually grew up part of my life in Washington, so it has special memory for me.


    • maryrichardson

      Dear Preeti,
      It’s true that sometimes locals are not that helpful with recommendations. Most of the time they are, but I’ve had a few occasions when they steered me towards the tourist places because they thought that’s what I wanted! Other times, they are the most amazing sources of ideas. I always like to ask them what they do.

  6. I find that the best way to enjoy a place is when you actually discover it for yourself. I don’t really like going to the major tourist attractions. I do visit them, but like you I find that I become bored of them after spending 4 or 5 minutes in the area. Why? Because I keep hearing about these places and reading about them, and by the time I finally get to see them, there’s nothing left to discover!
    Wandering down alleys is my favorite way to pass time, like the Swedish baker I spoke about in an earlier comment. That’s really the way to discover a place!
    I also find watching people interesting! Just sitting and watching, nothing else. It’s interesting in the way that you really get to experience a place! Once, when I was in Tokyo, I took a break from walking, and sat down under an unknown tree. I heard music behind me, and when I turned around: Traditional folk dance! That has been the most amazing surprise in all of my travels!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Ashley,
      I’m a huge fan of people watching myself, and I love random surprises like dancing or music or even demonstrations!

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