How To Find Your Next Travel Destination—Without Google
I’m a sucker for unassuming places. Maybe it was because growing up my parents preferred road trips as our way of travel, even when this meant spending more than 20 hours in the car with four children—and a dog.
My siblings and I were privileged enough to see a lot of the western United States during our younger years. Not the big cities and tourist attractions, but the in-between places, the bygone towns situated smack dab in the middle of nowhere. It was almost as if they magically appeared, revealing themselves only to travelers with wide enough eyes.
We were also a family who camped. We drove the Pacific coastline in search of spots to park our RV—secluded beaches and no-name towns. In the mountains, we pitched our tent for six wherever the dirt would have us.
I was raised on the principle that magic happens in the small towns, and it’s made me an advocate for uncharted adventures.
My father, the social character of the bunch, loved to befriend the locals. He’d chat with the gas station attendant for an hour and converse with our waiter at the roadside diner. Always eager to listen, Dad treasured their recommendations—what to see, where to stay, what road to turn down next. Never once did he use a smartphone for directions.
This is how I came to love the unsung places, the ones lost in between marked destinations. I was raised on the principle that magic happens in the small towns, and it’s made me an advocate for uncharted adventures. Even in the age of geotags and Siri, it’s still possible to find secluded gems for a few days of rest and relaxation, and it’s with this spirit that I’m thrilled to share a few tips for discovering them.
Start By Setting Your Intentions
The first step in planning your trip is to set your intentions. Here are a few helpful questions to ask yourself:
1. Why am I going on this trip? And what needs am I trying to meet? Whether you are traveling for vacation, to get away and rest, or to reconnect with a loved one, hone in on your reasons for travel.
2. How far do I want to travel? And by what means? Decide the distance you’re willing to go for this getaway. Then decide how you plan on getting there.
3. What is my budget? An obvious but necessary question: How much are you able to spend? Finalizing your travel budget will help narrow down your options.
4. What kinds of amenities am I after? Do you want a small-town vibe but modern amenities? A luxury resort that’s off the beaten path? Or are you planning to camp and go completely off-grid into the wild? Answering these questions will give you a better idea of what you’re looking for in a destination.
Ask For Referrals
When my husband and I traveled to Belize shortly after college, we decided we wouldn’t plan our trip; rather, we’d show up and ask the locals for recommendations. That’s how we found ourselves riding an old school bus down a dirt road along the coast and taking the advice of a fellow traveler to visit a small beach village. We spent more than a week kayaking coves, riding borrowed beach cruisers through palm canopies, and making friends with the owner of the town’s only coffee shop, which was in a treehouse.
Stumbling upon these kinds of places rarely happens. If it weren’t for our conversation on the bus, we most likely would have never visited that town. So talk to people, listen to their stories. Ask the next stranger you meet about the places they’ve been, and see if they have any recommendations. You never know where their advice may lead you.
Get Creative With Your Online Search
While I’d love for everyone to experience the magic of discovering a place by referral, the internet is also at our disposal. Rather than using Google or TikTok to search for escape destinations though, there are a few ways you can get creative with your online hunt.
If you’ve circled in on an area you’d like to visit, but are trying to find a place with specific amenities (picturesque views, cozy B&Bs, vegan dining options), Instagram is an excellent resource for research. Simply use geotags to scroll photos of specific locations, taking note of the businesses and places people are tagging in their photos.
As an example, I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Taos, New Mexico lately, and a short scroll through Instagram led me to this eco-lodge with a goji berry farm. It looks like the perfect place for some rest, writing, and farm-fresh foods.
You may find a serene lake that is only a short hike from a small town you’ve never heard of. Or maybe you’ll discover a wellness B&B that doesn’t have a website. Keep in mind, many small-town businesses have little to no online presence. This is why in-person referrals and social media photos can be incredibly helpful for finding these offline gems.
Lesser-Known Search Engines
Design Hotels is a worldwide search engine for independent resorts and B&Bs. I love this search engine for boutique accommodations in known and lesser-known cities alike. If you live in Europe, Secret Places is also fantastic for discovering authentic accommodations in both capital cities and small villages. If you’d rather camp and want a low-key weekend in the mountains, browse HipCamp for cozy cabins, glamping options, and secluded tent sites.
You can also work backwards to discover small towns for quiet escapes. I’ll often fall in love with a boutique hotel or hear about an unspoiled camp spot, but I’ll know nothing about the area or location. A quick search online will help me determine the distance, scenery, and whether or not that particular area is what I’m looking for in my next getaway.
Once There, Follow Your Senses
We’re a generation attached to our phones. We use them for everything—for connection, for entertainment, for directions, for food recommendations. To truly immerse yourself into the setting, try and minimize your phone usage once you’ve arrived at your destination. Rather than asking Siri where to go for dinner, ask the hotel staff or your tent neighbor. Talk to people. Feel the earth beneath your feet and allow your senses to guide you during your time away. Not only is this an empowering act, but it often leads us to places we would have never discovered.
Kayti Christian is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.