I prefer the places at the edge of the map: the small towns and sparse coastlines where you're surprised to find pieces of everyday life. A grocery store becomes a novelty; every home is a window into a recognizable but strikingly different version of existence. And the best part is that you don’t need a transcontinental flight or a week-long overland trip to find yourself out on the fringes.
Getting to the edge of the map can be difficult though, and there are rarely answers to all of your questions: transportation, food, etc. And sure, the element of surprise can turn these trips into adventures, but sometimes lacking key information can spoil your time there.
So, I put a few tips together, based on my trips to Hope Town (a settlement in The Abacos, Bahamas). Follow this advice to ensure your off-the-beaten-path adventure has the right foundation:
Choosing a location
Even in the most touristy places, you can escape the tourists. The Bahamas is the perfect example. Sitting atop the Caribbean like a bland haircut, most travelers’ eyes wander elsewhere. And most people who do pay attention to this chain of islands are usually only interested in Spring Break, resorts, and cruise ships. But, in the overlooked corners of the map, there are always forgotten towns, hard-to-reach spots, and untold stories. How do you find them? Start by taking a closer look at the map, and you’ll find places like Hope Town.
Before you arrive, though, do yourself a favor and pack light. If you can’t wear it on your back, your bag is going to be cumbersome. Even if it usually qualifies as a carry-on, it will be an inconvenience when you need to stow it on the tiny plane that will take you somewhere like the Bahamas. When you arrive, you’ll have to leave your clunky bag into a rundown cab at the airport or lug it onto the dock for your ferry. Then, get ready to carry it from the ferry dock to your accommodations. And don’t think the wheels on your new suitcase are up for that walk, which, in Hope Town, can be a mile or so on potholed roads and coral paths.
Research this beforehand! Past rental availabilities, most people don’t think to look up road rules or customs.
For Hope Town, I can give you the rundown. It’s one of the bigger settlements in the Abacos, the chain of islands that make up the northernmost portion of the Bahamas. Still, it’s small. As you walk off the ferry dock in town, you’ll notice mostly golf carts on the road. Keep an eye out because, while they don’t go fast, they do drive on the left side of the road. Occasionally, the locals will drive by in a Nissan (that looks entirely out of place on potholed roads lined with palm trees), but more frequently, they’ll whiz by you in a beat up pickup, headed to work. Make sure to wave hello to everyone you pass, and keep an eye out for a golf cart with an empty back seat. Hitchhiking is a regular part of life here. Be ready to return the favor if you’re in the driver’s seat.
Be prepared to eat local. And be prepared to pay more than you’re expecting for anything not grown locally. On an Island like Hope Town, this is A LOT of things.
In Hope Town, the grocery stores are small, in order to keep them cool in the tropical sun. Scattered around the island, each serves a different section of the population. Their plywood shelves hold the basics, like beans and rice and root vegetables, milk and eggs and bread, as well as a few luxuries. Time your visits just after the grocery boat arrives each week, and you could be lucky enough to find cauliflower, almond milk, and veggie burgers. Prices are high since it all comes to the island on a weekly grocery boat. So, if you’re looking to keep a tight budget, skip things like milk and cereal and opt for oatmeal.
If you plan on eating out, there are a number of restaurants that serve the same few dishes at varying levels of quality. You can never go wrong with a fish sandwich or conch fritters, a local shellfish delicacy. Conversely, you will probably be disappointed by the red meat options. But no matter which restaurant you choose, the best meal in Hope Town is the one you caught yourself that morning.
Cash is always a consideration when venturing beyond the reach of recognizable banks. Will I have enough cash? Where can I use an ATM? Do they take American Express? Short answer: just bring cash to be safe. The further away you go from big cities, the fewer ATMs.
In Hope Town, you’re in luck. The town has an ATM. You can use it, with everyone else, from 10:00am until 2:00pm, every Tuesday... That’s it. If you want to pay in cash, don’t worry about exchanging it. American dollars are as welcome as their Bahamian counterparts. But spend all your Bahamian cash before you leave because it’s not exchangeable back in the States. Credit is also an option. The only place that doesn’t accept cards is Munchies, a little ice cream shop in town. So if you bring your VISA (no American Express) and enough cash for a coconut cone, you’ll be set.