There is something, call it romantic, definitely a sense of adventure about taking your travels to off the beaten paths. I have to admit, sticking to a travel guide every now and then is nice, it lays out your plans for you and sometimes you need the decision making done for you. But more often than not, the tried and true doesn't make for good stories and you start feeling like a part of a big herd.
Living in the 21st century, it seems like all the things that were supposed to have been done....have been done. I am pointing to the romance of travel from the yesteryear's, the kind you see glorified in old black/white photos with burly men in round spectacles riding elephants with a native tribesmen leading them through thick bushes to a hunt. Or, the Lawrence of Arabia's riding through the desert on a horse or a camel at night on a secret mission and camping underneath the stars. I also imagine the Silk Road caravans on their months long journey traversing mountain passes, being chased by hungry wolves, thugs, crossing deserts, and skirting death on the Pamir Mountains or making secret deals with the spice dealers in towns such as Marrakesh, Kashgar, Siwa, Kabul, or Tunis.
For us, some of the best moments were off the beaten path, where we probably were the only foreigners in town, the locals appreciated our presence and thus were warm and hospitable, and we could wander in awe at having arrived at such a place after enduring some hard rides. Central Asia is a good contender for off the beaten travels as it is isolated, difficult to get to and around, and mired in mystery and romance from its association with the Silk Road, former relationship with the Soviet Union, and its years of turmoil due both to its geographic proximity and political landscape.
We were able to make it out to a few off the beaten paths such as pretty much all of Central Asia, parts of Nepal, Egypt, Laos, Indonesia, and a few others. The memories that these places such are so much more vivid because they weren't diluted by tourist traps or the latest place to be according to a travel magazine or a brochure. The fact that we came out to these places without following any set path or having in mind any special place to see, is what really stood out. I remember getting a handful of mulberries from a guard posted in Tajikistan near the border with Afghanistan and thought what a delight, as originally we were thinking passport and visa hassles from the authorities; Instead our exchange was one of friendliness and mutual curiosity.
Also, in SW Turkey near the border with Iraq and Syria in the town of Mardin, we couldn't find cheap accommodations, so after hours of searching, just decided to go it alone and ask a local family if they could host us, which incredibly they did. These and other encounters are hard to come by when everyone is vying for tourist dollars and towns are propped up on tourist money, so it was welcoming to be in such towns where you could be appreciated for your uniqueness and sometimes your bravado for having come to such a place. We had a few encounters where people were surprised that we were Americans, since we're brown, most automatically think we're Indians but once they learned of our backgrounds, that just made us even more special and I think for some a sense of pride to host "important" people. It's humbling to know there are parts of the world where people care who you are based on your background and traits.
Best to sum it up as that when we weren't looking, that's when we found what we were looking for.......