My wheels spun forlornly as I looked again at the pulsating blue dot on my phone, this simply could not be right. I gunned the engine and made it forwards another couple of metres, brambles scraping the sides of the shiny new hire car. My travel companion looked at me like I was nuts.
“Look, Google maps says it’s this way, I’m sure it’ll open up in a minute, we knew the roads in Albania weren’t going to be great”
I pushed forwards, the lane giving way to an open space, I whooped in delight; surely this was salvation.
We bumped over potholes and down a steep slope to come face to face with an impenetrable barrier. A vast hedge leapt up from the earth, blocking our way. Proceeding was impossible.
I began a 100-point turn and managed to turn the car to face the now extremely churned up slope. With a wing and a prayer, I charged the car to the top, nearly making it on the first attempt. Half an hour later, after much pushing, some digging, a lot of swearing and the sourcing of wooden planks to move forwards inch by painful inch, I had us back on a small track leading past isolated rural dwellings. The sun slanted over the fields, a golden hue hanging gently in the air. We were back on the back-roads, which were still small but at least they were actually roads… It appeared that I had, before, somehow taken us down a donkey track. I stopped the car. We both needed five minutes to chill out.
An old lady approached my car with an armful of oranges, she spoke no English and I no Albanian but she jabbered away at me happily whilst passing orange after orange through the car window. She had an impressive supply of hidden oranges within her tattered suit jacket; a classy lady, slightly out of place in the rural hills of this admittedly poor country. She was swiftly joined by a small crowd of aged villagers, a very jolly spirit swigging gentleman amongst them. He poured me a glass of the sickly smelling spirit, the local rajka, and invited us inside. We turned off the engine and got to know our new friends.
This is what travelling should be all about; stepping off the beaten path and having real human interactions with people who want to exchange ideas, cultural beliefs and, all too often, strong spirits!
I have been lucky enough to travel all over the world over the last seven years. Right now, I am on a two, maybe three, year adventure from the UK to Papua New Guinea without the use of flights. During all of my adventures, I have met wonderful people who have welcomed me into their homes and friendship circles. No more has this been true than in some of the world’s more ‘dangerous’ and less frequented countries.
From the bombed out cities of Palestine to the steaming jungles of Venezuela, it is always the countries which receive the fewest visitors who are the most keen to ensure you have a great time. The locals often have not seen foreigners in months or even years and are grateful for the opportunity to show off their legendary hospitality and to learn about the outside world. I have been a cause of great amusement for small gaggles of children from the frigid mountains of India to the scorched plains of the Sahara desert.
Luckily, these countries are often some of the cheapest places to go on adventures; whether you are hacking through the jungles of Myanmar or driving a car around the Balkans, you can stretch your money extremely far as there just isn’t that many other tourists around. Which brings me to my next point…
The next time you consider going on a trip abroad, why not pull up Google maps (just don’t totally trust them for directions!) and have a look at those countries you perhaps know less about…
Rather than Thailand, go for Indonesia.
Rather than Greece, check out Montenegro.
Rather than Brazil, check out Venezuela.
It is the people in the world’s poorest countries who often want to share the most with you. It is those who have the least who give the most. There is a lesson to be learnt here, multiple lessons in fact and only by hitting the road and committing to discovering new cultures, new vibes and new people, can you discover the value of truly getting off the beaten path.
Right now, it is an exciting time to be a traveller – the world is opening up, distances are becoming smaller and countries are becoming more accessible, so break the mold, avoid package holidays and instead, see what can be learnt by stepping off the beaten path. Oh, and if you are a fan of insane driving and orange-related-shenanigans, get yourself out to Albania; it is one of the cheapest countries, and hands-down my favourite in all of Europe Try it out for yourself; you will be blown away by the generosity of those you meet whilst getting away from the tourist traps.
Peace, love and happy trails.
Related Article: What it means to be a digital nomad.
Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is currently preparing to hitchhike from England to Papua New Guinea, a journey which will take over 18 months. Will blogs over at The Broke Backpacker about his adventures in some of the world’s least visited countries, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.