There I was, huddled around a crackling campfire along with a bunch of random strangers in sub-zero temperatures exchanging life stories that seem to grow more bizarre and more inconceivable with each person.
As the tenth droned on about his life, my attention waned, and a yawn escaped me (it was midnight, don’t judge me). My eyes wandered up to the kaleidoscope of stars that blanketed the night sky, and with my teeth clattering in the winter cold, it was a beautiful experience it was bloody freezing cold.
In all seriousness, camping in the middle of a forest in the Rocky Mountains during the heart of winter is not your typical tourist experience. You shun the warmth and comfort of a hotel room to rough it out in the wilderness, so to speak. The idea of camping in the woods during winter may sound magical to some, and I know of friends who would leap immediately at an opportunity like that.
On the flip side, that unknown and insecurity can quite often be a dark abyss that some are not willing to venture towards. And for the most part, it’s understandable, especially for many who have a finite number of leaves per year – it’s a precious commodity indeed – every holiday has to be the very best that you can afford.
There is comfort in following the footsteps of others, a sense of security knowing that travellers before have certified the experience as safe and fun. We all want to contribute our own memories to the millions of photos of Kyoto’s orange gates on Instagram, however similar. Regardless whether you’re heading to the beloved cities of Bangkok, Tokyo, and Seoul or the lesser-explored far-flung plains of New Zealand and Laos, you are forking out your hard-earned cash for the experience, so it’d better be worth it.
Many don’t think much of their travels, often as a mere escape and respite from the weariness of the day-to-day. There’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, it’s what drives many of us to slog at our day jobs.
But recent trends have shown that more articles are popping up that present and recommend alternative destinations (here and here) as your next choice of travels. Despite all of the assurances and conveniences that come with heading to well-travelled, popular destinations, the off-the-beaten-path is always marketed as being somehow more fulfilling and rewarding.
Perhaps in a society where everything is rather ordered and homogenised, breaking out of the mould is what becomes thrilling for us. We have been attuned to the idea that travelling to new places or a simple turn into a right alley instead of the left is supposed to make all the difference in the world.
But does it really?
“The road less travelled” has taken a life of its own, developing into something far bigger than probably what the poet Robert Frost could have ever imagined when he first wrote the phrase in his poem, “The Road Not Taken”, in 1916.
Its context has been wildly thrown out the window, evolving into a cultural impetus or marketing slogan for many over the century, cementing an idea that “mainstream” destinations and experiences are somehow limited if you want to get the most out of your travels.
With my relatively meagre travel and life experience, I am in no form or way an authoritative voice on “the road less travelled”, and to be honest I don’t necessarily buy into the idea that “mainstream” destinations are any less fulfilling – it just boils down to what you want out of your travels.
What I do know, is how my decisions or choices in taking the less “mainstream” paths, if you will, have changed my experiences.
During my brief travels to New York, I chose my Airbnb to be in the Bronx, far away from the glitz and glam of Manhattan. It was a quieter neighbourhood, albeit a little scarier given the infamous reputation that the Bronx had built up for a large part of the twentieth century. Being a relatively poorer borough of New York, the atmosphere was worlds apart from the chic Manhattan.
Taking the subway and seeing the inner boroughs and neighbourhoods whizz by, you could see and feel the affluence increasing as you neared Times Square.
Squeezing with the many Americans getting ready for the workday, truth be told, made a part of me feel like a New Yorker just for that short 20-minute train ride, witnessing and experiencing an edginess to the city you don’t usually see as a tourist in the Big Apple.
I even remember an altercation (if you can call it that) with a fellow commuter who was pissed that my bag kept bumping into him in the subway. The cabin was packed to the brim, what did he expect me to do, keep my bag in a pocket dimension? I wanted to tell him to shove it with his white privilege, but he was bigger than I was, so I did what every self-respecting Asian would do, quietly place my bag on the ground and shuffle it in between my legs.
There are no doubt merits in choosing the path not taken, lessons to be learned, and unknown places to explore. Yet, we can equally find happiness and fulfilment in going and doing the things that everyone else around us have done. Do not underestimate the gratification that comes with a sense of belonging to a larger community.
So, as my eyes pulled back from the kaleidoscope of stars above, scanning through the faces of the 15-odd people in front of me all huddled around the campfire, I’m glad I took the road less travelled.