Off the Beaten Path

Kyle Engels

One of my most memorable travel experiences was my trip overseas to Germany with some friends a few years back. We visited Dresden, Berlin, and Leipzig, and even managed to sneak over to Prague near the end of our journey. All of the museums, tours, and landscapes were incredible, but what I remember most about those trips are the small, crazy things my friends and I found along the way. Cafés with dishes we ordered without any knowledge of what they were, a hidden monument in the middle of a park, and stumbling into random shops having to rely on our shoddy German to communicate. These were just a few of our experiences. These detours may not have been as significant as the scheduled destinations shown to us by our guides, but they’ve helped me to continue to appreciate the trip all the same. Itineraries are important to any trip, but I’m grateful that the one we followed on ours was so free flowing. Despite being a senior in high school, our teachers gave us the freedom to go wherever we pleased, as long as we met back together in a few hours. I feel like many young people in particular are trained from school field trips to never explore and stay on the scheduled path. When it comes to traveling overseas, I’ve heard from many friends that this mindset had unfortunately even extended into their trips. Thus, I was very surprised that we were given so much freedom. At the time, it seemed crazy to let a bunch of random American high schoolers run amuck in a foreign country with no supervision, but now I see just how valuable that freedom was. We wouldn’t have found all the small spots without it.

I found that it was the little things off the beaten path in Germany that immersed me in the culture, not the common spots that were created for tourists like us. For example, many restaurants and food courts have the “American” options like KFC or McDonald’s (which attracted many of my classmates, unfortunately). Thankfully, I managed to avoid those places. My friends and I often found our detours by getting lost – almost on purpose – which was very scary at first. However, this practice paid off in dividends, since it helped us find the authentic culture we were looking for. We also went to several smaller villages beside the large cities like Berlin, which helped us pursue this exploration further. There were still touristy gift shops and the like, but the environment of these smaller towns felt much more authentic than the hubs in big cities. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to visit these cities again all the same. But I think that if anyone is venturing overseas, they should make it a priority to get off the beaten path to some less-traveled destinations.

These small detours have become a part of my lifestyle, even on campuses like UW. Although the university may not be as exotic (or warm) as some other vacation locales, I still try my best to maintain this explorative mindset. During my freshmen year, I tried to find all of the weird and obscure places on campus, with an emphasis on being able to study there after finding them. The multitude of campus libraries were fun to explore in particular, and I recommend it if you’re able to gain access to them. Overall, it’s still fun to recapture some of that feeling of discovery, even if it isn’t in a century-old church. As I’ve been quarantining, these small trips around town haven’t been nearly as common or interesting, but even just doing chores around the city has been good for me in the long run mentally. Staying cooped up in my apartment isn’t something I want to make a habit of, and I want to continue to keep discovering (in a safe way of course). I hope that as the weeks chug on, everyone can find some solace in those little detours in their daily lives.