Take your next vacation off the beaten track

looking at a map
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It's a wide world out there. Broaden your horizons to escape the crowds – and keep the locals happier.

Traveling in a horde of other tourists isn't fun. Well, maybe some people like it because it feels safe, but I hate the sensation of being surrounded by other visitors, all of whom are yakking away in harsh-sounding English, when all I want is to hear the seductive sound of a foreign language.

Nor do I like the feeling of being unwelcome in a city that's overrun by tourists. That's why I won't be visiting Venice or Barcelona any time in the foreseeable future. Where I'm not wanted, I will not go – out of respect to the people who call it their permanent home.

So, what's a world traveler left to do? Plenty, it turns out. For some odd reason we tend to zero in on specific destinations as being prime goals – think Paris, Amsterdam, Rome, Machu Picchu, Everest, Bali, Santorini – without considering the thousands of other options that exist. While they may not be as famous, they are probably more fun to visit because they're not swamped in crowds of tourists. You'll spend less time in lineups and less money on expensive entry tickets. These more unusual destinations offer an experience that's closer to the local lifestyle than when an entire local economy is built around attracting and pleasing visitors.

Getting off the beaten track is my new focus when it comes to travel – not that I've been doing much of lately, with young children at home and a job to maintain. But this is important for everyone to think about, particularly in light of the recent anti-tourism protests in Europe. Taking the pressure off famous destinations by going to lesser known ones benefits everyone. Take the following suggestions into consideration when planning your next trip.

1. Where do the locals go on vacation?

When I lived in Sardinia years ago, I always found it interesting that the only tourists on the island were mainland Italians and Germans, who came not only to enjoy the island's stunning beauty, but to escape the armies of American tourists who showed up in their major cities every summer. Ask around; do some research. The people who live in a country are going to know where the best vacation destinations are.

2. Always travel in the off-season.

You won't catch me dead in Europe in summertime, not if I'm travelling on my own dollar. From a financial perspective, it's senseless paying sky-high rates for accommodation, transportation, food, and entry fees, while fighting crowds and heat. Better not to go and wait until you can make it happen in another season. My favorite time to travel is when the weather's depressing at home, between November and April. Even if it's grey elsewhere, it's going to be less grey and frigid than Canada!

3. Stay put for a few weeks (at least).

The multi-city Euro tour tradition is passé. Pick a spot and stay there. Get to know it without time constraints. Make some friends. Shop for food. Go back to places you liked. Study the language. Show respect for a destination by creating a connection with it.

4. Don't fly.

Instead of hopping from airport to airport, choose a different form of transportation, like bus or train, and allow that route to dictate your stops along the way. You'll discover new little places you never would have noticed. I have wonderful memories of a day spent in Villach, Austria, while traveling by bus from Croatia to Italy years ago. I never would have known about Villach if I hadn't taken that bus. Check out Rome to Rio, a fun website that gives you all sorts of ways to get from point A to point B.

5. What can you do nearby?

Sometimes the best adventures can be found close to home. I'm not talking about a staycation, but looking within your own province or state for national parks, wilderness escapes, famous landmarks, funky cities, great restaurants, and more. Vacation is a mentality more than a location; you can find it anywhere.

I am not trying to promote inter-continental vacations here, since I think more people should be staying home and finding less carbon-intensive ways of amusing themselves, but if you do find yourself picking a place to go, here are some experts' ideas for off-the-beaten-track switches (some via Travel+Leisure and Washington Post).

Sardinia instead of Malta
Salvador instead of Rio de Janeiro
Ljubljana instead of Dubrovnik
Bologna instead of Milan
Namibia instead of South Africa
Bucharest instead of Prague
Baffin Island instead of Iceland
East Timor instead of Bali
Georgia instead of Germany
Choquequeirao instead of Machu Picchu
Algeria instead of Morocco

Take your next vacation off the beaten track
It's a wide world out there. Broaden your horizons to escape the crowds – and keep the locals happier.

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