Yes, I know I am technically a tourist when traveling, as much as I hate that word and being called one. However, sometimes when traveling I like to get away from the tourists and crowds and just relax. Here have been some of my favorite destinations thus far in my travels to do this:
While it would be difficult to find a city in Switzerland that wasn’t serene, Gimmelwald holds a special place in my heart. It offers the beauty of the Swiss Alps, and also provides peace, quiet, and a feeling of isolation. While Interlaken is great for adventure sports and wild parties, Gimmelwald could be known as it’s silent twin. There are no stores in Gimmelwald, although the few hostels and guesthouses in the area can provide food and drinks. Better yet, you can head over to Erica’s, also know as the “egg and cheese lady,” and purchase some staples. She’ll take you into her cheese hut to taste aged cheeses and dried sausage, and you can watch her collect eggs from her chicken coop. There are no cars, either, just mountains, fields, livestock, and the most crisp, refreshing air you will ever breath.
Coming from bustling Amsterdam, arriving into Bacharach in Germany was like entering another universe. It featured everything a small, charming village should have, like cobblestone streets, family-run shops and eateries sitting close together, and friendly locals. And of course, there was no mall or big stores in sight, and barely any cars on the road.
Gimmelwald has many unique features, as well. First of all, there were beautiful half-timbered buildings that reminded me of intricate gingerbread houses, many of which housed mom-and-pop restaurants serving authentic German cuisine for an inexpensive price. Moreover, the region is know for its wine production, and you’ll be able to hike through vineyards, take a wine tour, or stop into a local “weinstube” (wine room) for a tasting. The most popular weinstube is Altes Haus. Built in 1368, it’s the oldest building in Bacharach and an important landmark. However, if I had to choose one reason I loved Bacharach so much for getting away from the crowds, I’d say it’s the possibility of immersing yourself in lush forest and rolling hills while sitting right on the Rhine River. The peaceful ambiance and diverse scenery really allows you to lose yourself.
While most people head over to the popular Chiang Mai, I actually took a teaching placement in Chiang Rai, Thailand. I got to teach English to hilltribe children, and the experience was one I will never forget. My accommodation was a bunkhouse in a small Thai community, with streams, bridges, and trees littering the property. I enjoyed going for walks in the morning and seeing practically no signs of life, aside for chickens, elephants, and the occasional shop keeper. Tiny markets could be found at some points, and if you walked far enough you could reach the minority village of the Ahkas, who lived near thick forest and neatly terraced landscape. I actually got to do a homestay with an Ahka family, and the experience really gets you away from civilization and helps you to clear your mind from worries. It also opens your eyes to the realities of the world, and shows how happy people who live extremely simply can be.
Butterfly Valley in China is a bit hard to get to, as they don’t have a website and it’s not in civilization. However, if you can find this off-the-beaten path place, you will be rewarded. It’s actually a guesthouse –although I believe people call the area Butterfly Valley, as well — in Hua Shan, Ning Ming County. The accommodation is run by a friendly family who will cook for you, play Mahjong with you, and invite you to join in family Kareoke nights. The daughters speak English, although the elders in the clan do not, so you may want to bring a language book or learn a few key phrases. It was great helping the young girls practice their English while they took us on nature hikes and brought us to the local minority village. Aside for my two friends and I, I didn’t spot any tourists, and barely any locals for that matter, as the destination is really “in the middle of nowhere.”
Just hearing the name “Ping’an” gets my body tingling with excitement. I can’t even believe it’s a real place, it’s that amazing. From where the bus drops you off upon arrival, you must hike up this rock quarry formation to get to the accommodation area; however, the views from the top are well-worth the effort. In fact, I had no problem sitting in my room all day, gazing out the window at the perfectly terraced hillsides and distant mountains. This is also a great starting point for hiking the Longji Rice Terraces, and I would recommend hiring a guide and porter and having them take you to the village of Dazhai. In Ping’an, and also on the hike, it is so easy to just lose yourself in the rare beauty of the landscape. Also, I barely saw any tourists in my guesthouse or on the hike.
Despite many peoples’ perceptions of Africa, it is not always easy to get away from the crowds in Ghana. While you may not find many tourists there, most of the cities people want to go to are bustling and chaotic. This is why I highly recommend heading over to the Volta Region and staying in a small village called Wli-Afegame. Located 25 minutes outside of HoHoe, Wli-Afegame will immerse you in peace, quiet, and nature. I stayed at the Wli Water Heights Hotel, and loved enjoying a delicious breakfast each morning while staring out at the early morning fog as it rose above the mountains and nearby waterfalls. Don’t be surprised if you don’t see any tourists here, and there really isn’t much of a town either. You won’t even notice, though, as you hike the falls, trek through forests, visit the serene Volta Lake, and feed monkeys in the jungle at the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary.
When I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia, I tried to travel on the weekends and during breaks as much as possible. While nobody I knew had any interest in visiting Kangaroo Island in South Australia, I couldn’t wait. I mean, the name alone sounded so exciting. An island of kangaroos? In reality, the destination was so much more than that. You will get to see seals lazing around in their natural habitat at Seal Bay, the most unique rock formations at Remarkable Rocks, and gorgeous ocean views from Admiral’s Arch–you can even see Antarctica in the distance. Along with exceptional experiences in nature, various farms are located around the island, giving you the chance to see honey being produced and taste delicious honey products, visit a eucalyptus distillery, watch the milking process on a goat farm and sample yogurt, cheese, and milk, or simply interact with wildlife.