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Riding the buses » Planning your trip, Travel tips » Finding the beaten path

Finding the beaten path

Riding the bus through Afghanistan, 1970sMany people travel inside a protective bubble, herded from place to place group or staying in an all inclusive hotel and never leaving the property. They may think, “It’s comfortable in this bubble and what lies beyond?” Maybe they’re nervous because they don’t speak the local language, don’t know how they’ll get from place to place.

There are many advantages to travelling independently, the first being that your itinerary is yours to shape. You get up when you want, eat where and when you want, visit a museum for 10 minutes or two hours or not at all. If you get bored with a place you move on; if you love it you can extend your stay.

What makes getting out of the bubble so doable is the beaten path. Great destinations attract travellers and along the path most travelled there’s usually a local infrastructure to support your needs. This generally means clean and comfortable hotels, restaurants where you can buy a safe salad and enjoy a beer (and sometimes a glass of wine), local excursion companies to take you to hard-to-reach sites, and Internet cafes so you can keep in touch with those at home. You’re rarely alone for fellow travellers from around the world are on the same path. In most popular destinations you’ll find locals who speak some English. Some travellers actually go off the beaten path because they’re feeling a little too comfortable and want to have a more ‘native’ experience.

It’s well worth the effort to get outside the bubble. Years ago, I came upon mostly white skinned tourists getting off a shiny bus in Varanasi, a city on the banks of the sacred Ganges River and one of the holiest places in India. The tourists stopped only long enough to take photos of pilgrims who were ragged and without limbs; then they were gone. Years later I watched what seemed to be the same Western tourists getting off a similar bus at the Amber Fort in Rajasthan, India. This time they took photos of each other riding elephants up the trail to the fort. That kind of travel can best be described as a “windshield view” of a county. The real India was a few kilometers down the road in the city of Jaipur, which is a rather chaotic place.

When you get out of the bubble the unexpected can happen. Like the bus trip I took through Afghanistan many years ago when a little girl took a liking to me, leaving her seat (and her father) to bring me gifts: first gum, then nuts, dried fruit and bread, and finally fresh fruit. She ignored everyone else on the bus but me, perhaps because I was the first Western woman she’d ever seen. Years later when Afghanistan was in our nightly news, I often thought of that little girl and her hospitality.

Similarly, I was moved when the owner of a simple restaurant in eastern Turkey told us that we were his guests and took us into his kitchen to choose our meal from one of the simmering pots. Or my driver in India who waded up to his shoulders in the Ganges River to collect the clearest holy water for me to take home.

All good reasons to get out of the bubble.

By Sylvia Fanjoy

© Riding the buses 2010

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