So, it’s official. We have hit the winter slump. Those post-Christmas months; which always bring pledges to give up alcohol and burgers and force us to spend hour upon hour sweating in the humidity of the library. It casts us into the shadow of dark nights and mornings; which are no longer illuminated by Christmas lights.
There is only one possible way to stave off the winter blues: for me at least, brew a superb cup of Earl Grey, get the map out and start planning where the summer months will take me. I like to go off-piste; as there is nothing more exciting than heading off the beaten track. Here are three reasons why I think you should do the same:
1) It’s a guaranteed adventure
Albania is not a country with the best reputation; but after checking it out on the FCO website I learnt that our grim perception of this country was out of touch with the safe and beautiful reality. My friend and I arrived on a bus from Macedonia and as we wound our way through the mountains into the capital city, it quickly became apparent that we were entering somewhere quite unique. Shut off from the rest of the world for decades by the communist regime, the current culture in Albania has been cultivated without a huge influence from the rest of modern Europe. This has made the country something of a cultural island. During our weeks in Albania, we spent several days exploring Tirana before travelling south to Berat, the city of a thousand windows (where the wine tasting is excellent) and then making our way up to the peaks and lakes of the Accursed Mountains in the north. Everything we saw felt like we were breaking new ground: these weren’t iconic views that I had seen a million times on social media; but places that I was glimpsing with fresh eyes. This made the journey feel like an exploration and proved that going to places off the beaten track is the key to true adventure.
2) Keep the cost down!
By going to places that aren’t obvious tourist destinations, you’ll avoid getting ripped off by typical tourist pricing. Think about alternative destinations, even within a popular country and you’ll find yourself paying closer attention to local prices rather than spending triple the amount for the same experience. Albania was incredibly cheap; because it’s not yet a tourist hot spot, meaning that we were able to be freer with money and support the local economy, rather than having to hold our purse strings tight (I mean, my purse definitely doesn’t have strings; but you catch my drift). Contrastingly, when we moved up into Montenegro prices sky rocketed; because of its popularity with tourists, making us more inclined to share a cake, instead of tucking into one each and only stay a few nights before moving on. So, if you’re planning a trip on a tight budget it’s a good idea to think about places that are off the beaten track; as your money will last much longer and, thus, you’ll be able to eat more cake! Just do the research first to make sure your edgy destination is what you’re looking for and is a safe place to go (hit the FCO website for all the infomation you could possibly need).
3) You’ll see a place which isn’t completely changed by the tourist trade
I’m sure there are still incredible parts of Thailand; but in recent years it seems to have become an alternative to Zante and Malia and so doesn’t really appeal to me anymore. It is my theory that, as people who want to travel, it is better that we spread ourselves thinly across different countries and regions, rather than clustering in one place. By doing so, we can do what we love and help support other economies – without having an impact so overwhelming and concentrated that we leave the place unrecognisable from its former, beautiful self. Therefore, I feel that we should think outside the box, seek adventure in places that all our friends haven’t previously sought adventure in and try to travel to places that aren’t already saturated by tourists. This will give us an experience of what a place is really like, unspoilt by the common conventions of the tourist trade and allow the culture of that country to continue to flourish. In countries that are off the beaten, tourist things often aren’t geared up for travellers which makes it more exciting; but, also, means that it’s especially important to research the local laws and customs on the FCO website.
Go to https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice to do your research on any country that you’re thinking of travelling to. Once you’ve planned your route, it’s a good idea to leave your itinerary with family or friends and to check in with them on a regular basis so they know what is going on. Also, make sure you have the phone numbers of the British Embassies in the countries you will be hitting, in case you do run into trouble and need some help. Finally, there’s also plenty of advice to be found on travel insurance and how to make sure you pick a policy that covers everything you want to do here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/foreign-travel-insurance.
Keep safe, happy and enjoy heading off the beaten track!