Adventurer and vagabond. Writer and explorer. Master of the handstand push-up, crusader for cheap escapades and avid hitchhiker. Borrower of bread and liberator of free soaps. In constant need of a haircut and with a faint aroma of goat, Will has been on the road since he was 19 and has only briefly entered the office world, vowing never to return. He blogs over at The Broke Backpacker , you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter or, if your feeling really friendly, track him down on the road (he’s currently in Colombia) for a beer or two!
1) What hidden gems have you discovered upon your travels which you would share with a total newbie to this particular region?
Whilst backpacking in Central America, I heard about a hostel, well, more of a hippy commune actually, high up in the jungle clad hills of Minke in Southern Colombia. As I got closer to Colombia, I heard about it again. Nobody seemed to be entirely sure where it was but travellers had heard of it from other travellers, it wasn’t in any guidebook and I could find hardly any information at all about it online. Slowly, sleepily, I made my way to Northern Colombia and headed up into the mountains, along a truly terrible road, to find Casa Elemento, a backpacker retreat constantly hidden in clouds. I spent nearly a week here, hanging out, enjoying the biggest hammock in the world and getting wood from the jungle for the nightly bonfire, it was a very relaxed scene and I have been raving about it to everybody I meet ever since!
2) Any places you would recommend that visitors may not find in a guidebook?
Many backpackers have heard of Petra and pretty much every guidebook for the Middle East covers it in depth but what most people don’t know is that, through the magic of couchsurfing, it is actually possible to spend a few nights staying in a bedouin cave. I cave surfed for over a week in Jordan, staying with my friendly host, Ghassab, a rastafrian Bedouin, and sleeping on top of the cave under the stars. I can honestly say that in nearly six years of travel, it was one of the best experiences I have ever had!
3) What is your favorite place you have visited and why is it your favorite that’s not considered off the beaten path. For example, Paris would not be considered off the beaten path but you stumbled upon something hidden there that you weren’t expecting to find, whether it was a walking trail or place where the locals hang out?
In Bucharest I spent a couple of days wandering around the city, seeing all the normal sites. One evening, I made friends with a couple of local guys who insisted on taking me out drinking. They took me down a flight of stairs and into a huge converted bomb shelter which was now the local’s favourite place to have a cheeky pint. There was no backpackers around whatsoever, it was all locals who were most amused with my terrible Hungarian. I got absolutely wasted, so much so that I’m pretty sure I couldn’t find it again even if I tried!
4) Can you share some local haunts you have found in your travels that the locals themselves have shared with you?
Whilst trekking in Nepal, I stopped in a tiny settlement for a refreshing glass of Seabuckthorn juice, a tiny Nepalese man approached me and in halting english said he had something to show me. I followed him for perhaps half an hour, along a winding cliffside trail overlooking a stunning river. Every time I asked him where we were going he simply smiled and bade me follow him. Eventually, we turned a corner and came across a bubbling hot spring overlooking a vibrant vista of icy peaks and alpine meadows. There was already an elderly lady and her three grandchildren happily splashing around but I quickly joined them, they were absolutely fascinated and delighted to see a backpacker so far from the trail.
5) Now that you have seen some of these ‘off the beaten path’s and hidden gems, would you consider trying to find more of these places when traveling or would you stick to the usual tourist places to visit? For example, many people visit Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and Rome for the Coliseum but there is more to these places than what we have seen.
To be honest, I tend to avoid touristy places anyway; they are usually expensive and are always so crowded that I would far rather just head out into the countryside to see what I can find. In India for example, the Taj Mahal is on everybody’s list and yeah, sure I went and checked it out, it was beautiful but so busy with local and foreign tourists I really didn’t enjoy the experience; I far preferred staying in the free boarding houses available at the Golden Temple, wandering the banks of the River Ganges in Varanasi and taking in the rock-cut temples of Hampi; these spots are also popular but they are much larger sites, there is a lot more to see and you don’t feel like you have to compete with people to get ‘your slot’ in the best photography spot. Most of my best travel memories have involved exploring tiny ruins, temples or archaeological sites that aren’t even in guidebooks, in a way I prefer to know nothing about the site I am exploring, then I can imagine the history of the place myself, I have a fairly vivid imagination!
If you enjoyed this article, please show Will some love on Facebook!