Interest-Led Travel: Stepping Off the Mainstream Path

by ChristinaPilkington on August 17, 2011 · 2 comments

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It seems like when I talk with different people about their travel plans I usually get some variation of the same answer: Disneyworld, camping, or to a beach resort. Now, there’s definitely nothing wrong with any of those places. Although we wouldn’t choose Disneyworld as a vacation destination, we love the beach and would spend a lot of time there if we could.

It’s just that the families I talk to seem to do the same things all the time. I realize vacation time can be limited and because of the stress of school and working at jobs you don’t love or that require long hours, many people just want to do the same familiar things. 

But travel can be an incredible time to open yourself up to a whole new way of seeing the world. If you feel stuck in the same rut, mixing up your travel plans can become a way to break away from those schedules and have an adventure. It can let you expand your current interests and open up new opportunities and interests in ways that you’ll never get if you always stay close to home or always visit the same types of places.

Of course, homeschooling/unschooling families can get out and travel much more than those tied to a school schedule. If that’s your situation, don’t let that opportunity go to waste.  You don’t need a lot of money, or even to go that far from home if you don’t want to. It’s all about allowing yourself to be present in the moment and open to new experiences.

Here are 10 ways to step off the mainstream travel path and let your interests and curiosity guide you to new, exciting adventures.

 1) Make a list of each family member’s interests.   What types of activities does each member of your family like to do? Maybe it’s climbing, painting, fishing, building, or biking. Or maybe you have more obscure interests like fairies, buying old letters, sword fighting or collecting different leaves. Take advantage of being in a new and different place to explore your interests further.

2) Research volunteer opportunities.   There are volunteer opportunities wherever you travel, both far and near. Even if it’s just for a day, volunteering will take you away from the main tourist paths and let you into the heart of the new city or country you’re visiting. Check out local soup kitchens, nature centers, non-profit organizations, or local chapters of places you volunteer with back home. You’ll go beyond the usual learning opportunities you get when visiting museums or touring a new city; it will change your perspective on the way others live and open your eyes to needs in other parts of your country or the world.

3) Go somewhere outside your comfort zone.   Do you usually visit the beach?  Why not backpack instead in the mountains. Do you usually hang out in a big city when you go on vacation?  Try going to a small, rural area.  If you’re headed into a new environment, it’s best to include things that are already familiar to you. If you love artwork and are headed to a small, rural village, seek out local artists or find ways to create your art.  If you love to hang out in nature and you’re visiting a big city for the first time, find those pockets of nature in the city. Stretch yourself, but let your interests guide you.

4) Look for activities that are connected to the place you’re visiting. To really experience a place, you’ve got to find out its own unique culture. Before leaving on your trip, do research about local fairs and festivals & special holidays or observances.  Fairs and festivals are great ways to try out new, local foods, hear the music of the region, and mix with the locals.

5) Find ways to share your gifts and talents with others in the places you visit. We all have a unique reason for being in this world, so find a way in your travels to share your gifts with others. If you love to take pictures, take pictures of things you know you friends and family love.  Print them out when you get home, put them in a nice frame and give them away.   If you play music, see if there’s a way you can get together with other musicians on your travels.

6) Do something outside your comfort zone.  Research the local newspapers and activity guides to see what’s taking place in the city, state, or country you’ll be visiting. Since you’re already in an adventurous mood, why not stretch yourself and do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do?  Try a cooking class, or race car. Ride a zip line or tour a factory.

7) Live like a local. Eat at local restaurants in sections of town away from the tourist track. Go to a play or musical performance at a local college instead of a popular theater. Think small instead of big. It’s great to go to the popular landmarks and visit the usual tourist spots, but don’t give up the opportunity to experience your travels in new and different ways. You’ll find there’s many different ways to experience a place. 

8) Get a local’s perspective.  The mainstream way of thinking is to hire a tour guide to take you to the usual tourist attractions. Or it’s to go on a large bus tour that dishes out the same information to hundreds of people a day. Why not make contacts with people through travel websites or home school exchange sites and have them suggest places to visit based on your own unique interests? See if you can get together with a pen pal from that city or another homeschooling family and have them give you the type of tour you can’t get when you’re packed together with fifty other people.

9) Visit your own city or town in a new way.   You don’t have to travel very far to experience a place in a new way. Get out a map and really look at all the places and things to do within fifteen miles of your house.  Plan to go to stores you’ve never been to, woods you’ve never hiked and cultural institutions you’ve never visited.  Visit your neighboring towns’ websites or browse through the yellow pages and find things that look interesting to you that you’ve never done before.

10) Go on a spontaneous trip. Get up early in the morning, pack up a basketful of food, and just head out in the car, or bike or train.  Really look around you and take everything in, using all your senses.  Then stop every so often at places that catch your attention.  Fight back the initial urge to keep on going just because the place or activity is new and you’ve never experienced it before.  Let yourself and family be adventurous.  Do this often and you’ll expand your interests in ways you’d never thought possible.


Next Wednesday I’ll share some resources you can use when planning your interest-led travel off the mainstream path.

 Photo Credit: Mr. T in DC

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  • Anonymous

    Hey Christina! I agree that travel is a fantastic way to expose our learners to new places and views. And I love that you highlight stepping outside our comfort zones. Whenever we take a serious trip (meaning like one/two weeks), we NEVER stay in hotels. We always arrange to rent a house from a local ( is a good one). I have had the richest experiences in local markets and mingling with local folks that way. Plus I get to try all the local goodies! And my family gets maximum together time cooking and eating together! Thanks for an inspiring post!~~Kelleigh

    • Anonymous


      We love VRBO, too. Actually I was going to include that resource in a post next week. We were able to rent a house on the beach in Grand Cayman for $800 a week. You literally stepped out the back door and were walking in sand. We went to local places for food, and small, local restaurants, too. This past March we stayed in a suburb outside San Diego at a two bedroom home, about one hundred feet from a lake. We were able to take a pontoon boat out on the lake whenever we wanted to. It was only $725 per week, too. You can get places much, much cheaper than that if you need to. We love having our own kitchen and shopping for our own food in town.

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