One of the hardest things for me to do when planning an extended trip is to find the right balance between on and off the beaten path adventures. I’m going to use the definition of on and off the beaten path that I think most overlanders use (people who are driving a rig or riding a motorcycle through one and typically several countries for an extended period of time). An on the beaten path adventure is an adventure that many or even most overlanders pursue when traveling through a specific country. An off the beaten path adventure is an adventure that a minority of overlanders pursue for a variety of reasons including the fact that it is in a location that is more difficult to get to. This definition is slightly different (more off the beaten path) than the definition a backpacker would use since it’s a bit easier to get off the beaten path if you have your own wheels. But of course having your own wheels is not a prerequisite to getting off the beaten path. It just takes a bit more effort.
In general, on extended trips, including overland adventures, we try to spend at least 25% of our time off of the beaten path. On shorter trips, we typically bump that % up to 50%. That doesn’t seem like a lot. But when you factor in the amount of time you will need to spend getting to off the beaten path locations (and even planning how to get to off the beaten path locations), it actually is. In addition, many on the beaten path adventures are awesome. For example, in Belize, we spent almost all of our time on the beaten path. Part of the reason for this is because we were short on time. But Belize also offers awesome on the beaten path adventures including completing the ATM cave tour (and other cave tours), scuba diving on the Belize Barrier Reef (and caves), swimming in cenotes and wildlife (birds, jaguars, scarlet macaws, etc.). It’s hard to believe that these adventures are on the beaten path but with the exception of some jaguar tracking adventures, they are, at least according to the definition above.
In Guatemala, we started our trip on the beaten path, spending 2 weeks exploring Tikal, Lake Petén and Antigua. During these two weeks we did have a few shorter off the beaten path adventures like soaking in the Finca el Paraiso hot springs in eastern Guatemala or mountain biking up Volcán de Agua outside of Antigua. But in general, we were on the beaten path.
Our next adventure is to go to San Pedro La Laguna, a small town inhabited by the Tz’utujil people, to study Spanish. While we’re there we are planning on studying Spanish. This too is on the beaten path, despite the fact that San Pedro is difficult to get to and a place that most overlanders don’t go to. But what we are really looking forward to is spending time in Ixil region in the western highlands of Guatemala. The Ixil region isn’t easy to get to, consists of several small indigenous communities and doesn’t have any established campgrounds (at least not on iOverlander). As a result, the Ixil region is a much better example of an overland expedition.
For me, this mix of Tikal, Antigua, San Pedro La Laguna and the Ixil region is a pretty good mix of on and off the beaten path adventures on a long trip. But I’m interested in your thoughts on the definition and ideal mix of on and off the beaten path adventures!