An in-depth guide on how to plan a holiday that’s not basic

by Hayley Tai  /   February 21, 2020

While you may have gone on multiple holidays, you probably haven’t seen it all. So here’s how you plan an unconventional trip

It’s the new year, and you’re up for new travel experiences. You’ve visited one too many popular destinations and landmarks, now what’s next on your itinerary? Ah… here comes the worst part of a holiday – vacation planning.

You’ve exhausted the Google search button, and you’ll still undecided. The thought of signing up for a tour package, travelling in sardine-packed tour buses with a herd of tourists, isn’t quite what you have in mind.

Travel experts tell Her World that there are many things that go into planning for an unconventional trip. They show us how – and where – you can uncover the less travelled paths that’ll give you an all-new experience.

You can spot different species of penguins on several islands
(South Georgia, Ross Sea and the Falkland Islands) in the Antarctic Circle.

Marvel at the natural rock formations in
Dunhuang Geopark in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia.

Hike up the Nahargarh Fort, India, for an aerial view of the city of Jaipur.

Step 1: Research The Places You’ve Never Been To

Don’t let heavily edited Instagram images dictate your journey. Do your research before the trip, and talk to different people who’ve been to these places for their feedback, including locals when you arrive.

Well-known Canadian travel bloggers and husband-and-wife team Dave Bouskill and Debra Corbeil of TheplanetD encourage travellers to keep their options – and minds – open.

“We look for places that we haven’t been to or places that we don’t know about,” Dave says about uncovering new destinations. “Besides online research, we actively talk to guides at the tourist centres and locals we meet along the way once we’re there. This way, we discover the stuff you can’t find easily on the Internet.”

Last year, the couple, who’re in their 40s, booked a ship to embark on their maiden trip around the Antarctic Circle. They spent the 20-day trip on board the Sea Spirit (a cruise ship by Quark Expeditions), sailing from Ushuaia, Argentina to the Lemaire Channel and Gerlache Strait.

A few days after they sailed off from the coast of Ushuaia, they sailed through the Drake Passage, which is known for its treacherous waters.

Debra adds: “Thanks to the research we did, we booked a ship that was steered by a seasoned captain and had state-of-the-art stabilisers. We were flung around for a bit, but in the end, we slept like babies.”

(LEFT) Dine with the locals in Hallstatt, Austria’s most photogenic town.
(RIGHT) Don’t let the vast amount of water fool you. Here in Antarctica, the waters are still (other than the occasional wave) and perfect for kayaking.

Step 2: Experience Culture Through Locals

Travel author Alyshia Ford gets her information from locals. She has been to more than 70 countries, and rarely goes on group tours.

She says: “For the first few days in Peru, I took time out to seek out locals, asking them how to prepare myself for the altitude difference on Machu Picchu.”

Interaction with locals is also the best way to appreciate and understand foreign culture. No one knows this better than Alyshia, who benefited from this cross-cultural exchange. She penned the 2018 book Where Is She?: Travel to Trauma: One Woman’s Journey To Completely Losing Herself, documenting her unconventional two-year stay in Australia.

“It started off as a one-way ticket to Australia,” she writes. “I worked at a sheep station in outback Queensland and rode quad bikes through bushes. I had never done any of those things before.”

By the time it got to the two-year mark, Alyshia’s trip down under was no longer just a spur-of-the-moment vacation. It became a lifestyle that challenged her to do things she’d never done before.

“I worked in Arnhem Land, an aboriginal reserve in the Northern Territory,” she recalls. “I battled bush fires, bathed in crocodile-infested lakes, and learnt how to make damper (a traditional bread) by burying it under fire.”

Her trip to India in 2019 was made more interesting – thanks to the friendly locals she met in Kanchipuram. As she and her friend explored the residential area in the city, a local unexpectedly invited them to join his family for lunch.

Alyshia recalls: “No one spoke English, but we shared the universal language of smiles, and we sat down together and ate the most delicious meal.”

Food is often the common language in a foreign country. Dave and Debra also experienced the same hospitality when desert nomads shared fermented horse milk and cheese with them, as they camped under the stars in Mongolia. “Going off the beaten path actually led us to an experience no tour agency could provide. The nomads treated us like family,” Dave says fondly.

Want to spot a camel herd in the Gobi Desert?
Speak to the nomads you see during your road trip.

Dating back to 700AD, this is the oldest structure at
the Kanchi Kailasanathar Temple in Kanchipuram, India.

Step 3: Be Adventurous

Of course, you don’t have to go out of your way to plan a novel trip. Sometimes, doing a lesser-known activity (in a popular destination) can turn out to be an all-new experience.

For example, if you’re going to Austria, skip the ski resort everyone’s raving about. Instead, slide down the tunnels of the Hallein Salt Mine, and follow that with a boat ride across an underground lake, before embarking on a three-hour hike up the mountains in Hallstatt to take in the breathtaking view, recommends Zelia Leong, founder of Anywhr, a personal travel planning service.

It’s important to zoom in on the kind of activities that interest you, as she explains: “Knowing what you want to get out of your trip helps you to narrow down and strike out unnecessary activities that may end up being overhyped. For us, we get our clients to list down their personal preferences when it comes to travelling.”

Ditch the touristy bus tour and go on foot to discover more tidbits about the place, adds Alyshia. She took a walking tour of Petra, a famous archaeological Unesco site in Jordan’s south-western desert, and found out that a local tribe that once lived there were given an artificial village to live in when Unesco took over the site.

She relates: “It was actually occupied till 1985, much more recently than I had expected for a site that dates back to 300BC.”

How about signing up for a daredevil motoring adventure? Dave and Debra went on a six-week Mongol Rally through the challenging Mongol region, and ended up driving through 15 countries.
The Mongol Rally is a 16,000km drive, tackling the unpredictable roads on mountains, deserts and steppes in a car. There’s no set route, and no guarantee that you’ll make it to the end.

Dave says: “It was driving through very different terrains. Places like Siberia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia ended up wearing the car down. We even broke a shock in the vehicle. When we drove through the Gobi Desert, we saw herds of wild camels treading through the sand. It was simply magnificent!”

A trek up to the Temple of the Sun in Machu Picchu, Peru, is free.

(LEFT) The caves and tombs in Petra, Jordan were hand-hewn by the Nabateans,
an ancient civilisation that once lived here.
(RIGHT) Slide down 42m into the heart of the Hallein Salt Mine in Hallstatt, Austria. There, you’ll find an underground salt lake.

This article was first published in Her World’s February issue.