Not included in this poem (which is commonly featured on college dorm walls and hipster tattoos) is the part where taking the road less travelled is... to put it eloquently, a big, fat disappointment.
Sure, everyone loves to visit places unknown.... but what if you waste time in some confirmed, really great places in the process? Well, that is the risk you take when you stray onto the road less travelled.
Just one week ago I thought I would be spending today, October 8th, 2016, exploring the temples of Angor Wat...
..but, instead, I woke up at 8am in Banlung, Cambodia, with a completely different goal for the day: swim in a volcanic crater lake.
A few days ago, when it became clear that I would be spending more than one week in Cambodia, I decided to celebrate by going somewhere a teeny bit off the backpacker’s typical route... so I set my sights east on Banlung.
Now, I didn't discover Banlung... the hotels and english menus here prove that. However, there were only 2 other white people on my bus, and all of the sights I visited were... eerily deserted. So, while I wouldn't chalk this up to being the path never travelled, I think we can at least call it the path less travelled.....speaking for backpackers.
For most backpackers heading through Cambodia, there are 2-3 main stops: Siem Reap/Angor Wat (duh), Phnom Penh, and somewhere on the coast. Considering there are enough things to do in those areas to last an entire trip, it makes sense that most backpackers hit these stops and continue on.
In Vietnam, I went to backpacker stop after backpacker stop, and with a few exceptions, I was repeatedly disappointed. I kept thinking, "maybe this place will be better," and then, "okay, maybe this one."
The issues were with my expectations. When you are on the path more travelled, you create fantasies of what you are going to see
What I have learned is that the road less travelled isn't about the amazing surprises that may lay at the end. It is about the process of finding out, for yourself, what is there.
When you take the path more travelled.... you don't get that. You already know what is going to be there.
By visiting Banlung I wanted to know what northeast Cambodia is like... but even more than that, I wanted to know if the typical backpacking route is "typical" for a reason. Is it the path more travelled better? Or, does it really pay to stray onto Robert Frost's ever so eloquent, path less travelled?
Well.... there is no answer to that.
Here is the trick I have learned: drop those pretenses. Don't go to a spot off the beaten path to find something unique to show off. That is what causes disappointment.
Go because you want to have a place that is yours.
It is hard to know what a place without much publicity is going to be like. It is also hard to gauge the beauty of a place that hasn't been validated by other people.
My little trip to northeast Cambodia is costing me time. This is time I could have easily spent in cities that everyone could confirm were special...
...but then they wouldn't be mine.
If you're feeling bogged down by other people and expectations, I encourage you to find a place and visit with no expectations. Open up the guidebook to a random page. Take a look at the map.
In this world of immediate gratification and being able to google image search any location, it will make all the difference.