Off the Beaten Path

Have you ever heard of Lithuania? It would probably take you a minute to point to its exact location on a map. My recent trip home (Lithuania) brought that thought to my mind. How often do we rush to touristy, over-advertised spots and miss out on true gems? There are the places like Paris, New York, and London that we all dream to see, but this girl...I like to get off the beaten path and find my own paradise.

There are specific benefits to traveling to lesser known places. First and foremost, you will not have to fight the crowds of tourists. I have discovered that popular tourist destinations turn you into sheep, herding you in the same direction that everyone is going, without a chance to quietly enjoy the long-awaited views. Avoiding overly touristy locations also means wasting less of your precious vacation time waiting in lines. Next, there is the commercialization of the touristy places. That part bothers me because I enjoy supporting small businesses.

Born and raised in Lithuania, I feel it is the prettiest little country there is (although, living in America for the other half of my life has given me a real appreciation for its beauty as well). Located in the geographical center of Europe, this tiny country has so much to offer. 

Exploring downtown Vilnius (the capital of the country) will take you centuries back. Just an afternoon in the capital will give you an education in history of architecture, as you’ll become familiar with every type of architectural style known throughout the centuries. 

And then there are the churches. Impeccably detailed, they will lift your spirit just by being there, and the antique organ music is absolutely magical.

There is another unique attraction in Lithuania; the best way I can describe it is “rural tourism.” It is a favorite experience in Lithuania that allows you to live briefly like those from centuries past. You stay in century-old cabins set up in an authentic style, which allows you to step back in time, complete with food, music, lifestyle, and history lessons from that era. Authentic villages are recreated along with windmills, dirt floor cabins, and unique Lithuanian food. (Experiencing food is a trip in itself. I could write a book about the amazing bread, pastries, and other treats for your palette.) 

Just a little way down the road (everything is very close in this tiny country), you will come across beautiful, several century-old castles or fortresses that will transport you to long lost times as you step across the drawbridge.

For true wanderers, just a few-hour drive can take you to Lithuania’s just as fantastic neighbor, Latvia. There you can try your luck at finding amber thrown out of the Baltic Seashore shared with Lithuania. Riga is a beautiful capital city worth stopping in, as well as, a host of local attractions.

We were introduced to a lovely nature park called Tervete. It is an incredible concept of a large forest turned into a family outing place. This vast space is filled with magical towns where gnomes live and work in their tiny mines and underground tunnels (also suited for little ones to explore) as well as, impeccably detailed miniature fairy places. There are days worth of exploring for the whole family, unlimited food for the imagination, as well as obstacle courses to wear out busy little ones.

The world is full of these hidden jewels. Although I have always been fond of exploring lesser known places, we took an unplanned detour to Croatia and Montenegro this summer that took my breath away. I would quickly put these places on the top of the bucket list, yet many people have never even heard of them. These small countries are saturated with breathtaking views, history, lovely Mediterranean beaches, and equally charming residents. Strolling down the cobblestone streets weaving through fortresses will feed your soul. As a family of travelers, our favorite part is a nice mix of history (for older explorers), and beaches just a short stroll down the road from downtown. Once again, since tourists are just discovering these places, you will be able to enjoy spending more time exploring and less time standing in line. 

You really don't have to travel across the world to discover off-the-beaten-path destinations. You can easily get off the trail right here in Montana’s backyard and find ample, untouched experiences. 

about the author...Akvilina Rieger was born in Lithuania. A scholarship to MSU-Bozeman unexpectedly brought her to Montana where she created her family with husband Paul and daughters Sofia and Savannah. An explorer at heart, she is a little bit obsessed with showing the world to her family and everyone around her.

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s October 2018 issue.

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