There’s a natural tendency to stick to the middle ground and do what everyone around you is doing. It’s like something is pulling you in line with everyone else. I can certainly see why that happens. Everyone likes to feel like they belong so if you do what everyone else is doing, you won’t feel excluded as an outsider.
But some of the best things I’ve done for myself happened because I decided to do things others weren’t. In fact, I think you could miss out on some really great experiences by doing what everyone else does.
Off the Beaten Path in Vietnam
One of my favorite traveling experiences happened several years ago in Dalat in Vietnam. I paid a local to drive me across town on the back of his motorbike to my hostel. Along the way, it started to rain.
In broken French, he told me he was pulling over so we wouldn’t get too wet. We took refuge in a hole in the wall restaurant. It’s the kind that only locals know about – no obvious signs above the door to even indicate a restaurant was there.
There were about five people in the restaurant. And each one of them stopped and stared at me when I walked in. From what I could tell, I must have been the first foreigner to ever set foot there. I was slightly intimidated, but sat down and ordered a coke.
About an hour later, the rain finally stopped. In that time, I got to talk to everyone in the restaurant. They all wanted to meet this foreigner who walked into their little eatery. Even the owner and his wife came out to say hello. I think I learned more about local life in that one stop than I learned the rest of my time in Dalat.
It was truly an amazing experience. And I would never have gone in if it didn’t just happen to rain at that moment.
Doing What Everyone Else Does
It’s funny to think that one of my favorite travel memories comes from a place you’d never find in a guide book. No tourist would ever go in there. It’s so far off the beaten path that I’m not sure the restaurant even had a name.
And that’s the key point here: it’s off the beaten path.
When I think of “off the beaten path”, I think of it as more than a travel term. You can do a lot of things in life that are off the beaten path and don’t involve travel.
Every day you have a choice to get off the trodden path and forge your own. You can follow what everyone else is doing or you can go against it and do something completely different.
If you don’t, you might miss:
Not Following What Others Do
This experience in Vietnam gave me an insight into what it means to do things other people wouldn’t do. Sometimes you need to get away from the crowd. It’s good to explore all the options you have instead of just accepting what everyone else is doing.
Think of the typical American dream. Buy a big house in the suburbs with the white picket fence. Pay for it by working your way up the corporate ladder in an office job. This is what it seems most people, more or less, are working their way towards.
For the longest time I thought there was something wrong with me because I shunned this lifestyle. I don’t like suburbia nor am I the kind of person who thrives in an office job. It occurred to me that I had to either change who I was or change my idea of a good life.
So I made a change. I took my life off the beaten path.
Instead of buying a huge house in the suburbs and filling it up with possessions, I save up money to travel and buy experiences. I decided against climbing the corporate ladder to get a teaching license allowing me to live anywhere in the world.
Now I’m not suggesting that doing what everyone else is doing is always wrong. I won’t hesitate to go down the trodden path if it’s what I truly want to do. In fact, two highlights of my trip to London and Paris last year were seeing the Louvre and the Tower of London: two really touristy sites.
There’s nothing wrong with living in suburbia surrounded by a bunch of possessions. It’s just not for me.
What’s wrong is when you do what everyone else is doing without fully considering your other options. You might find an alternative way to live that is more fulfilling and exciting.
Just imagine a traveler passing by that restaurant in Vietnam and never taking the time to walk in to see what it was all about. They’d never know the wonderful experience waiting for them there. The same goes for many other opportunities you might be missing out on. It’s good to get off the beaten path once in a while – both in travel and in life.
photo credit: WanderingtheWorld