AT AFAR, WE BELIEVE IN getting off the beaten path and beneath the surface of a place.

Does that mean avoiding the biggest tourist sites? I don’t think so.

I just returned from Petra, Jordan, which has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and I’m so glad I visited. The country’s tourism numbers are down, for no reason other than general misconceptions about travel to the Middle East, so it wasn’t as crowded as you might expect. It was safe. And it was remarkable.

From trips to other classic sites (the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Great Wall of China), I’ve learned that crowds aren’t that hard to escape. Sure, you have to fight your way past vendors selling trinkets and people attempting to snap the perfect selfie, but if you go a little beyond, you can find moments of calm.

In Petra, most everyone converges on the Treasury. But there are miles of trails and many other ruins to explore. I walked just a mile to the Monastery, another spectacular monument carved into the rock, and practically had the place to myself. The Great Wall spans hundreds of miles. Why go to the same small stretch that everyone else does? And yes, the Taj Mahal is beautiful at sunrise or sunset, but if you stick around after the tour buses move on, or even just step out of the stream of people filing through, you’ll really sense its serene beauty. At any of these places, it doesn’t take much effort to find a different vantage point where you can breathe, relax, and truly appreciate them.

There are good reasons we call them Wonders of the World. It would be a shame to deny yourself the experience of visiting them merely because they’re popular. The key is to expand your vision beyond the snapshot you’ve seen in every postcard and to create your own perspective. 

Good travels.