Is the term off the beaten path offensive or derogatory? The discussion is an interesting one and definitely something a traveller should be aware of!

I want to discuss something that I was prompted to think more deeply into thanks to something that happened on Instagram. I posted a story about how two fellow travellers and content creators (Eva Zu Beck and Against the Compass) had inspired me to add some ‘random’ and ‘off the beaten path’ destinations to my bucket list. The ones I mentioned were specifically due to content I had seen recently that had inspired me – Iraqi Kurdistan, Pakistan, Iran, Oman, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.

This was then picked up by an account who shared my stories with their followers. They also told me they were ‘concerned with [my] language’ and that I was ‘reinforcing marginalisation and notions of cultural superiority’. After their sharing of my stories, I started to get a LOT of messages. Many of these were rather abusive and hateful (including one person calling me a ‘racist pig’ and saying my ‘language is disgusting’).

However, it did also encourage some civil discussion with some people, who were polite enough to explain why they thought my use of the phrases ‘random’ and ‘off the beaten path’ was damaging. I can understand why people found my phrasing offensive when I called their countries ‘random’ – to be honest, I would find it a tiny bit insulting if someone said my country/city was a ‘random’ place to go (although I live in a very small town in Hampshire which has no reason for people to visit… so maybe calling it a random place to visit wouldn’t be particularly incorrect).

Since much of the ‘discussion’ was a lot of people shouting their opinions and not taking the time to actually listen to WHY people hold the opinions they do, I wanted to research it more in depth and try to understand the reasoning behind all of this and whether calling places ‘off the beaten path’ is actually harmful, as well as to how it impacts both locals and tourists alike.

What does ‘off the beaten path’ mean?

I’ll start with a simple definition. Off the beaten path (or, in some case, off the beaten track) is a place ‘not known or popular with many people’ (Cambridge Dictionary), ‘far away from the places that people usually visit and hard to get to’ (Macmillan Dictionary) and ‘in or into an isolated place’ (Oxford Dictionaries).

When I used the phrase in my Instagram story, I was using it in order to describe places in terms of being less visited by tourists as well as being underrated by the majority of people, for example as to how beautiful, welcoming, safe or of interest they are.

You will find articles written by major outlets such as:

In these articles, places are described as less crowded, ‘authentic’, ‘under-the-radar’, ‘off-the-grid’ or ‘often… unnoticed’. Reading some of these articles, as well as an article by Oneika Raymond about why the term ‘off the beaten path’ annoys her, I can understand why some people find the phrase problematic.

A lot of these ‘off the beaten path’ places are so-called because they aren’t visited by white, Western travellers. The term is often unfortunately used in a way that belittles places ‘on’ the beaten path and bemoans people who travel to these popular and touristy places. Some people (and yes, the majority do tend to be white Europeans/North Americans) use the phrase in a snobbish or pretentious manner – I recently travelled to the Dominican Republic and one of my fellow travellers told me about a woman he’d met in his hostel who looked down on people back home since they ‘hadn’t got lost in the Amazon’ and were instead settling down to buy a house, get married or have children.

Going ‘off the beaten path’ doesn’t make you a better traveller or make your travels necessarily more valuable – in some cases, it does mean that you get more of a local experience rather than the ‘packaged for tourists’ one. Some people search out off the beaten path destinations (me included) because they don’t want to be around tourists or people from their own country, or even because they just want to truly connect with local people. Travellers who do this aren’t necessarily trying to be ‘better’ than people who go to, say, Paris or Santorini, they are just looking for a different experience.

Many people consider the beautiful country of Mongolia to be 'off the beaten path'.


Can ‘off the beaten path’ have negative connotations?

In my experience, generally not. People usually use the terms in a complimentary fashion and it’s often prefaced or suffixed with ‘places you must visit’ or ‘destinations to add to your bucket list’. I, personally, have never seen it used about a place in a derogatory fashion but it tends to be used in order to ‘exoticise’ a place.

One of the main issues of the term seems to be that it creates a divide between ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’ and ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. One influential person who spoke a lot on the topic was Edward Said, a Palestinian American who was a professor of literature at Columbia University and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. I won’t go too in-depth into his book (otherwise this article will be excessively long), but I will leave some resources in case you’re interested in learning more.

Orientalism is the study of how the West often falsely depicts the East.


Edward Said and Orientalism

Okay, so a quick introduction to Edward Said and the concept of ‘Orientalism’.

Said was born in Palestine in 1935 to Palestinian parents. His father served in the US Army, meaning that Said was a US citizen. His childhood was spent between Cairo and Jerusalem and had many issues with alienation in school, as well as a lack of ‘certain identity’ due to being a “Palestinian going to school in Egypt, with an English first name, an American passport” and “not feeling at home in … Arabic, my native language, [or] English, my school language”.

A lot of his schooling was in British colonial schools – for example, he talks about his school in Alexandria in one of his works. He talks about how none of the students natively spoke English but if they were heard speaking their own language, they would be punished. This reminded me of many other instances where people have been punished for speaking their own language – Aboriginal children in Australia, Welsh children during the 18th-20th centuries, Native American children and many others. The term for this is ‘linguistic imperialism‘, although it doesn’t only encompass English but also languages like Afrikaans in South Africa, Spanish in South America (e.g. punishing people for using languages like Quechua), Japanese (over indigenous languages Ainu and Ryukyuan) and Arabic over indigenous languages in North Africa.

Said published his book Orientalism in 1978, which was a criticism of the romanticisation of the Oriental/Arab world, the presumption of Western superiority and the inaccurate representation of Eastern cultures. Orientalism is a cultural critique and considered the foundation of the field of post-colonial studies or the ‘academic study of the cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism’.

Edward Said's book 'Orientalism' is the main basis of post-colonial studies.


An explanation of Orientalism

So, what exactly is orientalism? And how does it relate to the discussion of ‘off the beaten path’?

Orientalism (overall) is the term used by art historians and scholars to refer to the ‘imitation or depiction of… Eastern cultures‘. Usually, these depictions are by writers/artists from the West and offer a stereotyped view of the Eastern world.

‘Oriental’ is a bit of a confusing word as some people interpret it to mean Eastern Asia and predominantly China and Japan, while throughout history different areas of the world have been considered ‘the Orient’ (moving from Israel and the Levant in Biblical times, to the Middle East in Roman times, and to the Far East in modern times). In essence, ‘the Orient’ has travelled further eastwards as Western explorers have traversed further towards the Pacific.

Some people use Orientalism to predominantly refer to Arabo-Islamic geography while others use it to encompass everywhere not considered ‘Western’ (i.e. all of Africa and Asia).

Orientalism as per Edward Said’s book is the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture” (Said, 1978). Said refers to Orientalism as the false representation as well as the romanticisation and exotification of Asia and the Middle East and believed that it served as justification for European and North American colonisation of these regions. Said also writes that it fabricates a view of these cultures as ‘static and underdeveloped’ in comparison to Western society as ‘rational, developed, and superior’.

Critics of Orientalism include historian Bernard Lewis, who claims that Said ignores many ‘genuine contributions to the study of Eastern cultures’, such as the French and English pursuing the study of Islam in the 16th and 17th centuries (before they had any control or possibility of control in the Middle East), or scholarly interest and research by the Italians, Germans and Dutch that had no connection to their colonialism.

Orientalism is in reference to false depictions of regions such as the Middle East and South East Asia.


How are Orientalism and the phrase ‘off the beaten path’ connected?

So, back to the ‘main’ topic, the phrase ‘off the beaten path’. How is it connected to the concept of orientalism?

Looking into this in more depth, the problem arises when the phrase ‘off the beaten path’ is used to romanticise and exotify countries and cultures. Instead of appreciating a country for its culture, history, architecture, people and so on, a country is relegated to being ‘far-flung’ or even ‘unusual or unconventional’.

Many countries are viewed as 'off the beaten path' because they seem far-flung or unusual.

One commenter on Instagram said that using a term like ‘off the beaten path’ treats countries like “fast fashion” and has connotations of them being “unconventional, undeveloped, mysterious, dangerous [or] unorthodox”.

For example, some countries typically seen in ‘off the beaten path’ articles include Oman, Mongolia and Bhutan. Others often included are small island nations such as Kiribati, St Helena, Réunion and Christmas Island. I did a quick Google search for ‘off the beaten path destinations 2019’ and articles appeared suggesting:

  • Botswana
  • Cuba
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Rwanda
  • Transnistria
  • Guyana
  • Tunisia
  • Sudan
  • Antarctica
  • Pakistan
  • Oman
  • Uzbekistan
  • Tajikistan
  • Armenia
  • Afghanistan
  • Socotra (Yemen)
  • Vanuatu
  • Tonga
  • Timor-Leste
  • Senegal

Aside from articles with sections specifying ‘off the beaten path in Europe’, the majority of the places mentioned were generally in Africa, Asia and the South Pacific. Many places seem to be considered ‘off the beaten path’ not just because they are less visited by tourists but because they are one or more of the following:

  1. Hard to get to
  2. Expensive to get to
  3. Complicated to get to (Socotra, I’m looking at you – Yemen is currently one of the most difficult countries to visit due to the ongoing civil war)
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Uzbekistan is often called 'off the beaten path' since it isn't yet popular with many Western tourists.


What are the parameters of ‘off the beaten path’?

What makes a place ‘off the beaten path’? I was thinking about this earlier and as I mentioned above, it is predominantly places that are hard to get to, expensive to get to or complicated to get to. But are these places truly off the beaten path for everyone? Are they only not visited by Europeans and/or North Americans? Or do these places predominantly only get domestic visitors? Or are they simply rarely visited by anyone at all?

To figure this out, I decided to take a few of the places that crop up often (as well as some of the places I mentioned) and do a deep dive into their tourism numbers. Finding the data on tourism numbers wasn’t always the simplest, especially when it came to finding out numbers of domestic vs. international tourists and where exactly these tourists were from.

PS: It turns out it’s really hard to find data on where we DON’T go compared to where we DO go.

What defines off the beaten path? What are the parameters of this phrase?


Which countries do British tourists not visit?

I started with some research into where British tourists (so other versions of me, in essence) don’t visit – less than 0.1% of British adults have visited North Korea, Sudan, Chad, Gabon, Nauru, Yemen, Ivory Coast, Papua New Guinea, Niger, Benin, Armenia, Guyana, Burkina Faso, Samoa, Tonga, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and El Salvador. Less than 0.2% of British adults have visited countries including Iraq, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Moldova, Mongolia and Senegal.

Less than 1% have visited countries such as Fiji, Chile (which surprised me), Bangladesh, Ghana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, the Philippines, Pakistan, Nepal and – in Europe – Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia and Albania.

Source: HostelWorld’s ‘Meet the World’ Report, 2015. Disclaimer: I could not find data on whether visits to family are excluded (although this seems likely as otherwise, I would have expected the percentage to be higher on countries like Lithuania and Pakistan due to British citizens with heritage/family from these countries). 

Less than 0.1% of British tourists travel to countries like Sudan, Yemen, Chad and the DRC.


Exploring international tourism data

If we look at overall tourism data, we can see that the regions receiving the fewest tourists are Africa and the Middle East (UNWTO, 2017). While Europe gets 51% of global tourists, Africa and the Middle East only get 5% and 4% respectively.

The least visited areas of each region are as follows:

  • Europe – Northern Europe (only 6% of the overall 51%)
  • Asia and the Pacific – Oceania (only 1% of the overall 24%)
  • Americas – Central America (only 1% of the overall 16%)
  • Africa – almost evenly split between Northern Africa (2%) and Subsaharan Africa (3%)

Increased growth in tourist numbers has been shown in destinations around the world including India, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Colombia, Uruguay, Tunisia, Kenya, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Réunion, Bahrain, Jordan, Palestine and Lebanon.

Even the UNWTO doesn’t have reliable (or any) data on inbound tourism to some countries so it is difficult to find data for these, such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Senegal, Somalia, Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Gabon, Botswana, French Guiana, Haiti, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. This is occasionally due to some countries simply having very few tourists to report due to major events like civil wars (e.g. Yemen), or not having any tourists (e.g. Libya, which stopped issuing tourist visas in 2015 – also due to a major civil war).

Many countries simply get fewer visitors because they are war torn or otherwise dangerous to travel to.


International tourism in ‘off the beaten path’ places

Let’s take a look at Iraqi Kurdistan, Pakistan, Oman, Tuvalu, Ethiopia, Iran, Mongolia and Bhutan.

According to the UNWTO, these countries received the following numbers of international tourists:

Oman: 2.3 million (2016, 2017 numbers not available – from other sources 3.3 million in 2017)

Tuvalu: 2,000 (2017)

Ethiopia: 871,000 (2016, 2017 not available – from other sources 934,000 in 2017)

Iran: 4.9 million (2017)

Mongolia: 469,000 (2017)

Bhutan: 255,000 (2017)

Pakistan and Iraqi Kurdistan (or Iraq overall) did not have numbers for inbound tourism in the UNWTO report so I sourced them from other publications.

Pakistan: 1.2 million (2017, data from PTDC)

Iraqi Kurdistan: 2.1 million (2017, includes domestic tourists) and data from other years suggests that around 20% of tourists to Kurdistan are international; therefore approximately 400,000 – 450,000 are likely international)

We view some countries as 'off the beaten path' even though they get millions of tourists.

Some of these destinations have millions of tourists and can therefore not be referred to as ‘not touristy’. How do they compare to other destinations around the world that we don’t consider ‘off the beaten path’? Firstly, let’s choose destinations with similar populations as some of these countries.

  • Pakistan (197 million)
  • Ethiopia (105 million)
  • Iran (81.16 million)
  • Kurdistan (5.75 million)
  • Oman (4.63 million)
  • Mongolia (3.07 million)
  • Bhutan (807,610)
  • Tuvalu (11,192)

Countries with similar sized populations include:

  • Brazil (209 million), other similar sized countries include Indonesia and Nigeria
  • Philippines (104.9 million), also Japan and Egypt
  • Germany (82.79 million), also Vietnam and Turkey
  • Singapore (5.61 million), also Denmark and Nicaragua
  • New Zealand (4.79 million), also Palestine and Ireland
  • Puerto Rico (3.3 million), also Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia and Uruguay
  • Cyprus (854,802), also Fiji and Comoros
  • Anguilla (14,909), also the Cook Islands

So, how do similar sized countries compare in terms of tourist numbers?

  • Pakistan (1.2 million tourists) vs. Brazil (6.58 million) / Indonesia (12.94 million) / Nigeria (1.88 million)
  • Ethiopia (871,000) vs. Philippines (6.62 million) / Japan (28.69 million) / Egypt (8.15 million)
  • Iran (4.86 million) vs. Germany (37.45 million) / Vietnam (12.92 million) / Turkey (37.60 million)
  • Kurdistan (420,000) vs. Singapore (13.91 million) / Denmark (10.78 million) / Nicaragua (1.78 million)
  • Oman (2.3 million) vs. New Zealand (3.55 million) / Palestine (503,000) / Ireland (10.38 million)
  • Mongolia (469,000) vs. Puerto Rico (3.79 million) / Bosnia (922,000) / Georgia (3.47 million) / Uruguay (3.67 million)
  • Bhutan (255,000) vs. Cyprus (3.65 million) / Fiji (843,000) / Comoros (28,000)
  • Tuvalu (2,000) vs. Anguilla (68,000) / Cook Islands (161,000)

Some of the destinations commonly considered ‘off the beaten path’ do indeed have lower numbers of international tourists – in particular, Ethiopia, Kurdistan, Mongolia, Bhutan (even though Comoros does have even fewer tourists) and Tuvalu. Even other destinations listed above are often considered ‘off the beaten path’ in many articles, such as Bosnia, Georgia, Palestine and Anguilla.

So, why do many of us consider destinations like Pakistan, Oman and Iran so ‘off the beaten path’ if they get millions of tourists each year?

Some destinations are only considered off the beaten path since they aren't popular currently with Western tourists.


Iran Tourism Deep Dive

I looked into where the majority of international tourists to destinations like Iran come from to understand why a country with more than 4 million international tourists in a year is considered ‘off the beaten path’ for most people.

According to the Financial Tribune, 1.92 million tourists to Iran came from Iraq, amounting to almost 50% of the number. The next largest group is from Azerbaijan, with more than 900,000 Azerbaijani tourists visiting Iran in the year 2017. Before we even see any countries from Europe, North America or Australasia on the list we find 557,579 Afghan tourists, 483,302 Turkish tourists and 159,728 Pakistani tourists.

(Additionally for added context – Iran has road border crossings with Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Azerbaijan. Turkey is also connected to Iran by rail.)

This means that from countries outside of the Middle East and Central Asia there are only around 1 million tourists. Excluding the countries with road border crossings with Iran, only around 750,000 tourists travel to Iran from further afield.

One of the main ‘issues’ with Iran for travellers from the UK, Canada and the USA is that we are unable to visit Iran independently. As a British citizen, for example, you cannot even get a visa for Iran without having a sponsor in Iran or being part of an organised tour (e.g. with G Adventures). This makes travel to Iran for 430 million people less accessible and convenient than simply being able to book a flight, a hotel and do the rest yourself – organised tours tend to be more expensive (e.g. a 2-week tour of Iran with G Adventures comes at a cost of £2,100, 10 days with Intrepid Travel for £1,800 – these tours generally don’t include flights, all meals or tips) making them not as available to travellers on a budget.

Iran is not off the beaten path, rather it just has millions of visitors from other countries in the Middle East and isn't always easy for western tourists to visit.

So, how many European and American tourists do travel to Iran? Is the lower number of tourists from Europe and North America the reason why we perceive it as off the beaten path? Since, clearly, the destination is not considered ‘off the beaten path’ by most people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

In 2017, 29,000 German tourists visited Iran (the largest number of tourists from a European country) as well as tourists from France, the Netherlands, Italy, Russia, the UK, Sweden, Austria, Spain and Switzerland (with 4,000 tourists to Iran).

If we go back to my earlier mention of countries with visits by less than 1% of Britons, Iran is a country visited by less than 0.5% of British tourists. Only 0.35% of German citizens visit Iran and just over 0.4% of French citizens. When we step back and look at these numbers, we can see why Iran may be seen as ‘off the beaten path’ by most Europeans.

The architecture in Iran is some of the most spectacular in the world

Only around 2,000 American citizens visited Iran in 2018 (after the travel ban of 2017 was lifted) and I couldn’t find data for how many Canadians visited (in any year). However, this means that less than 0.05% of American tourists visited Iran in 2018 (as well as the years 2017 and 2016).

All this number crunching (if you hadn’t noticed, I like numbers) goes to show that it’s very much to do with perception, whether we consider somewhere ‘off the beaten path’ or not. Someone mentioned to me that the term ‘off the beaten path’ is often used with a lot of Eurocentric/North American bias and it is definitely true – Iran is not a place that can be considered ‘not touristy’ or ‘less visited’ or even ‘underrated’. Someone from Iraq (5% of the population have visited), Azerbaijan (9%) or Afghanistan (1.4%) wouldn’t consider Iran ‘off the beaten path’ at all (additionally taking into account the percentage of the population who can afford international travel in comparison to nations such as the UK, Germany and the USA).

Iran has some of the most incredible architecture in the world. Don't miss a visit to Iran.


How our perception affects the definition

Do we only consider them off the beaten path because they are off OUR beaten path? Do we simply ‘otherise’ a place by calling it ‘off the beaten path’?

Some countries may well be ‘off the main tourist path’ – some due to events that impact the possibility of tourism (e.g. Libya and Yemen, due to civil war) and others due to their sheer remoteness/difficulty to get to (e.g. Nauru or Tuvalu).

Nauru, for example, is only 21 square kilometres and doesn’t have much in the way of tourist infrastructure – additionally, a visa takes 6-12 weeks to get and the only airline that flies there is the national carrier, flying from Australia (only 4 times a week) as well as five other Pacific islands. The cost of flying to Nauru from Brisbane is at least 650 Australian dollars each way – not the most affordable trip!

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Tuvalu also fits the bill of ‘off the tourist path’ due to the fact it’s the most inaccessible country in the world. The only flights to Tuvalu are to the island of Funafuti (the capital) from Fiji on Tuesdays and Thursdays – the return trip costs over €500 and has been classed as one of the ‘most unreliable flight services in the world’, with flights occasionally arriving about a week after they were scheduled.

Many of the world's smallest island nations are considered off the beaten path because they are difficult or expensive to get to.

Just like Iran, Oman is considered ‘off the beaten path’ yet still had more than 2 million visitors in 2017. So why do we consider it so? Well, 48% of Oman’s 2.3 million tourists come from other GCC countries (Gulf Cooperation Council, which encompasses Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), as well as large numbers of tourists from India and Pakistan. In 2014, only 19% of international tourists to Oman were from Europe and reports show this has remained the same over the past few years (around 430,000 European tourists). Tourists from other regions (North and South America, Australasia and Africa) made up only 12% of Oman’s international tourists.

In short, it is really our Eurocentric (or Western) perception that these places are ‘off the beaten path’. In reality, these countries are as ‘off the beaten path’ as Peru (4 million tourists in 2017), New Zealand (3.5 million), Latvia (1.9 million) and even Iceland (2.2 million). We simply don’t perceive these countries as being ‘off the beaten path’ since they are relatively common for white, Western travellers to visit. We see our peers visit these places and therefore don’t see them as being ‘off the beaten path’.

We don't consider Peru off the beaten path, yet it has a similar number of international tourists as Georgia and Iran. Why is this?


So what are the problems with the term?

We discussed (much) earlier in this article about how the phrase can have negative connotations. Now we have covered a lot more of the topic in major depth, we can see where the problems with the term arise from.

Of course, I am in NO WAY saying that calling somewhere ‘off the beaten path’ is being racist (like I was accused of) or derogatory. But after all this research I have come to the conclusion that calling a place ‘off the beaten path’ is not necessarily a beneficial term. I do believe that the majority of people use the word in a positive and complimentary manner – most people call a country ‘off the beaten path’ since they believe the country deserves more tourism than it is currently receiving, whether due to the beautiful landscapes, impressive architecture, interesting history or unique culture.

Some people do approach the phrase ‘off the beaten path’ in a very snobbish and elitist manner, which I do find problematic. Too many treat the concept of ‘off the beaten path’ as a way to prove they are a ‘better traveller’ than people who, say, only visit the more popular and touristy places. I have the same problem with the whole ‘tourist vs. traveller’ discussion (don’t get me started). There is no medal for going to a country less visited – you may well be able to get a more ‘local’ experience since there will be less tourists and often less tourism infrastructure but it doesn’t make your travels any more ‘authentic’ or ‘worthwhile’ than anyone else’s.

There is a difference between 'off the beaten path' and 'not visited by Western tourists'. Are we using the term off the beaten path in an ignorant manner?


What phrases can we use instead?

Do we even need to use it…?

Firstly, we don’t necessarily even need to use the phrase. Countries like Iran (4.8 million tourists), Georgia (3.4 million), Azerbaijan (2.4 million), Algeria (2.4 million), Oman (2.3 million), Côte d’Ivoire (1.8 million), El Salvador (1.5 million) and even Ethiopia (900,000) are hardly lacking in tourists.

They can perhaps be better referred to as countries with not many European or North American tourists, but not ‘off the beaten path’ in any way. There is nevertheless no harm in highlighting the incredible places to visit in these countries that many Western tourists may not be aware of – a potentially better way of discussing these places would be as ‘places you never thought of visiting’ or ‘countries you should vacation to that you haven’t considered before’.

Okay, it’s maybe not as succinct or catchy as ‘off the beaten path’ but it’s definitely more accurate if you are writing for a Western audience (also, Ethiopia should definitely be on your list – it is a seriously amazing place with an incredible history).

Iran is a destination you never thought of visiting - that definitely sounds better than off the beaten path and is more accurate.


Alternative phraseology

There are many nations that are essentially off the beaten path to the majority of people – not just Westerners. Some countries, like Tuvalu and Nauru, are hard to travel to due to lack of global connectivity as well as the high cost of getting there. Many people probably don’t even know they exist, unless they are from other countries in Oceania or have a distinct interest in the Pacific Islands or – like me – just have a strange obsession with knowing about as many countries as possible, as well as their capitals (Funafuti and Nauru doesn’t actually have one, which is a completely different fun fact).

So yes, Tuvalu and Nauru are indeed ‘off the beaten path’, mostly since the paths to get there don’t exist very often (hello two flights a week) and are incredibly expensive to, well, beat.

Island nations are some of the least visited countries in the world because they are often remote and difficult to get to

Other countries with very few international tourists include Comoros (28,000 in 2017), Mali (193,000), Palestine (503,000), Suriname (278,000), St Vincent and Grenadines (76,000), Belize (427,000), Montserrat (8,000), Dominica (79,000), Anguilla (68,000), Bhutan (355,000), Niue (10,000), Brunei (259,000), San Marino (78,000), Moldova (145,000), Liechtenstein (79,000) and São Tomé & Principe (13,000).

Less than 500,000 international tourists in 2017: Palestine (well, almost), Suriname, Belize, Bhutan, Brunei

Less than 200,000 international tourists: Moldova, Mali

Less than 100,000: Dominica, Anguilla, Comoros, Liechtenstein, San Marino, St Vincent and Grenadines

Less than 20,000: São Tomé & Principe, Niue, Montserrat

Enjoy a local experience around the world and find friends in the local kittens.

Here’s a cute kitten in Palestine to make up for all the numbers you’ve had to read.

Once again, many of these countries with few tourists are small island nations that are both difficult and expensive to get to by the majority of people (São Tomé & Principe, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Niue, Comoros, Montserrat, Dominica and Anguilla) while others are difficult to get to due to terrorism and other danger (e.g. Mali). Some are not the most accessible to everyone due to cost and visa requirements (e.g. Bhutan, where everyone except citizens of Bangladesh, India and the Maldives requires a visa and all tourists must travel with an organised tour).

So, what about the other countries that are simply less visited by tourists? For example, San Marino, Suriname, Liechtenstein, Palestine, Belize and Brunei have way fewer tourists than the majority of countries. Some are simply extremely small, although small countries don’t necessarily have fewer tourists – for example, the Vatican City with its population of 800 gets over 6 million annual visitors.

Mongolia is often referred to as an off the beaten path destination and included in many lists.

Suriname, Brunei, Belize, Moldova and Palestine are not incredibly small (Palestine has a population of 4.8 million, Moldova of 3.55 million, while the rest have a population of between 300,000 and 600,000 – not exactly large countries but also not the smallest). So, can we call these countries ‘off the beaten path’ with their tourist numbers of 503,000 (Palestine), 278,000 (Suriname), 427,000 (Belize), 259,000 (Brunei) and 145,000 (Moldova)? In my personal opinion, yes. These countries are fairly off the beaten path for the majority of travellers.

However, the term ‘off the beaten path’ is severely overused. Additionally, it is used too often in a very elitist manner so… maybe we should try and use alternative phrases, even if a country would appear to be ‘off the beaten path’. Belize is a beautiful country – not ‘off the beaten path’ but a country with ‘fewer tourists’ or ‘underrated’ by many people as a destination. How about Moldova? Definitely ‘overlooked’ by many as a country to visit.

While the majority of people will never use the phrase ‘off the beaten path’ in a negative manner and most people wouldn’t use it in an elitist fashion, some people do and this has caused offence to people in some countries – they don’t see their country as ‘unusual’ and they don’t want you to make this assumption either. I obviously can’t speak on behalf of people but from what I have seen and read, the offence generally seems to come from the fact their country is made to seem ‘other’ or in some way ‘less’ than other destinations around the world.

Palestine only gets 500,000 international tourists so can be considered off the beaten path for the majority of travellers.


In conclusion, we should take some time to stop and consider how our phrasing may affect others. There is no need to walk on eggshells – some of the abuse I received made me paranoid about saying things that could possibly insult SOMEONE. This should never happen to anyone at all and I feel that if you are in no way malicious in your meaning, you should not be made to feel like a bad person from how you phrased something.

There are many ways to facilitate a discussion and the best way is to point out – politely – how you feel that someone has caused offence. Most people don’t phrase things to offend but rather don’t necessarily know the effect their words may have had.

Don't miss visiting some incredible places around the world because they are considered less touristy than others.

In the future, I would hope that people try and find alternative words instead of ‘off the beaten path’ to describe places they feel don’t have the tourist numbers or interest that they deserve. If you do see someone using the term in a snobbish or elitist manner, point out a better way they could phrase things (visiting certain countries should NOT be considered some kind of badge of honour – you should visit somewhere because you truly want to go there, not just to tick it off some list).

Additionally, if you read an article where they refer to somewhere with millions of annual tourists that just happens to be less popular with Western tourists, politely mention that these aren’t ‘off the beaten path’ for many people around the globe.

And, finally, don’t feel that you have to police your language constantly in order to avoid offending people. As a travel blogger, no one should ever feel like they can’t go to a country or talk about a place because they feel like they are constantly walking on eggshells and trying not to say anything that would possibly offend someone

Is off the beaten path a term we should be using? Is this an appropriate term to use?

What do you think about the entire ‘off the beaten path’ discussion? Let me know in the comments!



All images in this article were sourced from Unsplash.

Sources regarding Orientalism included Arab Stereotypes, Mikael Hörnqvist and The Guardian.

Data sources included the UNWTO Tourism Highlights (2018 Edition), World Population Review and many other individual sources linked throughout the article.


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The phrase off the beaten path is used commonly in travel articles. But is the term ignorant or derogatory? This deep dive into the countries we consider off the beaten path analyses whether it is a misinformed term at all. #offthebeatenpath #iran #traveling


  • May 9, 2019

    This post is so well written. Really interesting, I had never even considered the term could be derogatory! Thanks for sharing! Stumbled across your blog on Instagram and have been low-key stalking since haha! I’m from Southampton too and entering the world of blogging, so it’s inspiring to see how your blog has grown! Also, love the hometown insta-highlight – best shopping centre!


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