I went to Puerto Vallarta for spring break when I was in college. It’s a gorgeous, bustling city on Mexico’s west coast. I wanted to see everything.
I enjoyed my time rummaging through the shops and strolling along the beach in the sun with my family. The locals were extremely friendly. But we didn’t get to see the less touristy area of the city. We were only there for a week. I promised myself on the next visit I would make a point to become more acquainted with Puerto Vallarta.
And that mentality stayed with me throughout my twenties. To put it in the simplest terms, it’s fun to mix things up a bit.
You can’t expect too much of yourself while traveling—it’s a delight to relax and be where you are, without worrying about how much you’re doing.
But are you looking for a different take on travel? If so, here are some activities I highly recommend.
When I went to India I wanted to make the trip different. So, I volunteered with Rainbow Voluntours as a teacher assistant for impoverished children living in the slums of Kerala. The volunteering package also included yoga instruction. In my off-time I visited Munnar tea plantations, got an Ayurveda massage, and enjoyed the local food and shopping. Volunteering of this type connects you directly to local culture and makes for an extremely rewarding experience.
Hunt for Treasure
At first I was a little skeptical about this one. But the thing about treasure hunting is you have to take your time and investigate the land. And there’s a Treasure Hunter’s Code of Ethics. This code requires you to treat the land with utmost respect.
When I went to Lincoln City on the Oregon Coast, I didn’t find any actual treasure; but I developed an intimate relationship with the beaches.
In your quest to find buried treasure caches, you’ll do extensive research on a place’s history and geography. You’ll learn about the mineral content of the soil. Much like an archaeologist, you’ll zone in on a site and get a chronological perspective of what has changed. Most importantly, you’ll step outside of the norm as you use the local resources (such as the library and historical archives) to delve into an unusual activity.
Ecotourism is the term for travel that specifically aims to support the environments of the countries and ecosystems tourism affects. It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the lifeblood of a destination.
With ecotourism, instead of visiting a place and trying to get what you can out of it—some good photos, some thrilling experiences—you’re visiting with the express purpose of giving back. This is one of the most spectacular experiences I’ve ever had.
For my trip, I went diving with the East Africa Whale Shark Trust! The trust seeks to preserve the Whale Shark population. I did have to get my diving certification beforehand, but boy was it worth it. These people care a great deal about the Whale Shark, and I came away with a similar sense of care. Next time, I plan on volunteering.
This is a true way to get back to the land. WWOOF stands for Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms. I WWOOFed at the SunRun Centre just north of Toronto, Canada. The people at Russet House Farm were extremely friendly, and they let me work for a month, which is all my schedule allowed.
Basically, with WWOOF you pay the cost of travel to one of the many host farms all over the world. Then, they provide food and accommodations as you dig deep into local organic farming, learning about the process and the people. Yes you’ll be working on the farm. But you’ll rediscover the value of simple things, and you’ll get to know the locale in a more personal, richer way than you ever would by merely touring the sites.
Go Off the Path
First, a caveat. Many tourism-heavy sites do not want you to go off the path. It disrupts the ecosystem.
I grew up about an hour away from Montana’s Glacier National Park. On a return visit an old friend told me about a Glacier site where there were no restrictions on going off the path.
The Heaven’s Peak Lookout is a sight seldom seen. It stands 3600 feet above the nearest trail, affording a view of the jagged Rocky Mountains, and a perspective of an old world devoid of convenience. The hike there is not necessarily easy, but it’s exhilarating.
Heaven’s Peak is a fire lookout with a history spanning all the way back to 1945. Here, you learn about true seclusion, beauty, and conservation. This is a good place to sit and meditate on the scenery.