What You Miss By Doing What Everyone Else Does


'Off the Beaten Path', Iceland Fields of Lyngdalsheiði

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:

• Becoming an individual outside of the crowd
• Being able to live life on your terms
Having amazing and unique experiences
Following your own desires
• The freedom to create your own life

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

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  1. You captured my heart with this post. I so want a life off the beaten path–and I love the parallel you made with traveling–I’ve done enough traveling to know that it’s the off-road places that make the best memories. It’s the average people in the place you’ve traveled to that make it great. I’m doing things to get me out of the ordinary, it just takes a while to be able to reposition yourself. Today is just one of those days where I feel like it’s going to be forever before I get to it, though. Thanks for sparking my heart again here.

    • I’m glad you love the post. Some of my fondest memories traveling have been in out of the way places no one go to in order to meet the local people. Just recently I met a local here in Casablanca who I became friends with. He showed me his home which was small and very poor, but it was an eye-opening experience about what his normal everyday life was like. It was just fun to get to know him. Plus, it gave me a great opportunity to practice my French.

  2. My accidental adventures have been some of my favorites. I’ve always been so happy when I broke away from my plans when new opportunities arose.

    My favorite travel story has to be when I was in Denmark. I happened to be in the town center when a large group of Hare Krishnas can into the square. Thanks to a previous experience with the order, I knew that if I followed them, I could probably get a free meal. That is exactly what I did. I had to listen to a service first, but it was in Danish, and I was given a tambourine to play during the songs. Plus the food was the best I had all trip!

    • Yeah, sometimes the best adventures are accidental. That sounds like a fun experience you had with those Hare Krishnas. I didn’t know you could get a free meal with them. As long as the service wasn’t too long, I think it would be worth it. Actually I don’t know if I’ve ever run into Hare Krishnas before.

  3. You are totally speaking my language.
    I have always, since a child, danced to the beat of a different drummer.
    However I got caught up with the life that I was supposed to have and being surrounded by too many people who FEAR listening to your gut and just going with the flow.
    I’ve found that the most fun are when things go awry and you at the mercy of what ever comes your way. My friend and I have always embraced that concept, and aknowledge that some of our best experiences have come when we just went, without expectation.

    Adventure awaits…if you are just open and stop having to plan every moemnt.

    • I like that attitude. I’ve found that planning is great, but you have to let it go and be open to what happens too. Sometimes the most fun is when things don’t go according to plan and you have to make it up as you go.

      I remember a time while traveling through Costa Rica when I wanted to take a bus from a city in the north to Nicaragua. The problem was that there was no direct bus. I would have had to take three just to make it. So I changed plans. I found a driver who was going that way so I paid him to take me. It was fun hanging out with him and I learned a lot about him. It was a bigger adventure than just taking the bus.

  4. Yes, and yes. I’ve got no problem doing what others do either… but I’ve got to select that group that I imitate very carefully.

    As a culture we continue to progress, (hopefully) increasing the life satisfaction of its members with each passing change. I choose to imitate the revolutionaries, folks like you, because you guys are the experimenters – daring to go up the next step and lead from the front.

    • Yeah, it’s good to select the group you follow carefully. You have to make sure what they’re doing is good for you and what you truly want to do. Sometimes that means following your own path and taking the lead.

  5. This is so true and right to the point. We always need to strive to be individuals and do our own thing. Who said the crowd is always right? Following your own dreams and desires is the best thing you can do for yourself. Thanks for sharing!

    • The crowd isn’t always right. Then again, sometimes the crowd is right, but wrong for an individual. It’s a matter of figuring out what’s right for you and where you want things to go. The beaten path isn’t always the best one.

  6. Steve, love the sentiments in this blog posting, I’ve been struggling as a life long student to not compare myself to others, and focus on what’s good for me, my husband and daughter (travel, enough space to enjoy, not too much to have to fill, etc). It’s hard to be a student in my 40’s and have the “big life” trappings. Nice to have you reframe my choices to mean something more. Enjoy Morocco, and love your writing!

    • Marie, I’m glad you love the post and my writing. It’s good to reframe your choices and not compare yourself to others too much. Many times those routes you take that others don’t lead to bigger fulfillment. I’ve found that focusing on what’s good for me and working my way towards that has helped me make better choices. In a way, I make what’s good for me a decision-making tool.

      I’ve been enjoying Morocco too. I’m in Fez right now where I explored the medina (and got lost), but it’s a good place.

  7. Another great post Steve.

    I remember the day I started down the big house in the suburb path. It was when my father died leaving me to take care of my then 14 year old brother. I was living in japan and travelling the world at the time. I was forced to stop my travels and stay with my brother. My first reaction was (i have to go to college). I have to climb the ladder. Unfortunately it never suited me even though i stuck with it for years.

    I tried as hard as i could to swallow the corporate coolaid but it just would not stay down. I feel blessed that i was able to get out by virtueo of a lay off. so many people in this world are stuck in a life that is less than satisfactory..

    Have a happy holiday steve.

    • Hey Annie, I’ve been there in the corporate world trying to make it fit. I thought if I could just find my niche there that things would fall into place. They never did. I’m glad I got out, just like I’m glad you got out. Life’s too short to spend it all day long working somewhere that just doesn’t suit you.

      You have a happy holiday too.


  8. I’m really glad I just completely randomly found this blog. I was messing around searching random things on google and for some reason this caught my eye. I’m also very happy to have found it so early in my life because I will without a doubt be taking a substantial amount of the advice and life lessons and attempting to apply it to my life. I’m in college right now, and I joke with my friends that there’s no way I will EVER make it through four years before disappearing completely to some other country or continent or something. But nonetheless I’m still here. Anyway, I loved this article and will most certainly be trying to live a little more eccentrically because I completely agree with what you’re saying and the ‘normal’ life isn’t really for me either. ANYWAYS….thank you for sharing your experiences, they’re very inspiring and I can’t wait to finally graduate and do something meaningful.

    • Hi Sam, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m glad you love the blog.

      You could always disappear into another country after you graduate. That’s what I did. It wasn’t what everyone else was doing, but I thought it was a great decision. It’s always something you can think about as you embrace the eccentric side of life.

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