Yesterday’s post about Disney Sea got me thinking about the old ticket system they used to have at the Disney parks. Long before the current all-inclusive entry pass, Disney offered a booklet with tickets labeled A, B, C, D, and E. An “A” ticket might get you a ride on something tame like a Main Street street car or the King Arthur carrousel. A step up from that was the “B” ticket, gaining your access to the Dumbo or Mad Tea Party rides. Still higher was the “C” ticket, allowing you entry to something substantial like the Autopia Cars or the Jungle River Boat. Near the top of the pecking order was the “D” ticket, good for the Tom Sawyer Island Rafts, the Indian War Canoes, or the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train. These were all fine. But smart visitors hoarded their precious “E” tickets, knowing that only those precious “E’s” got you onto the “big ticket” rides, ie. Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion and the Matterhorn. In short, up until 1982, Disneyland was completely gamified, with an extra weight placed on the most-famous, high-ticket attractions.

Most travel itineraries do exactly the same thing! If going to Europe, for example, you’ll likely opt for “E” ticket locations such as London, Paris and Rome. For a first trip to the States, you’re apt to visit New York, Los Angeles and maybe Los Vegas. And if you’re going to Thailand, your agenda will no doubt be centered around the big 3 cities: Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket. I think this is all a big mistake! Imagine what it might be like, going to the Disneyland of yore and only doing “A” and “B” ticket attractions. That’s the approach my partner, Donica, and I take during our visit together to Thailand: slowing down, getting off the beaten track, and avoiding tourists. And that’s how we end up in the delightfully non-descript Northern Thai cities of Nan and Phrae.

To be clear, there is nothing “famous” to see in either of these two small towns. There is no Space Mountain – and that’s the whole point! In Nan, a city of ~20,000 people, we have coffee in a remarkably-lively market. We stay in a huge room with marble floors for less than $20/night. One morning, we stumble upon a large group of people doing Zumba aerobics in a plaza by the river. Needless to say, Donica jumps in and joins the dance crowd – because yes, she’s “got the moves” and also, well, that’s just Donica being Donica. 😊

In Phrae, population ~15,000, we’re delighted to discover the best pad thai vendor in the country (in our opinion), cooking up giant woks of delicious noodles. We stumble upon a delightful night market. The proprietor of our hotel, a jolly/pushy Thai woman of indiscriminate age who we call Mama San, invites us to dinner at an amazing fish restaurant so we can chat with her homesick, American exchange student, Rebecca. And of course, there is the infamous bike ride to the Tiger Temple (Wow Place #78).

Do I regret us missing Thailand’s “E” ticket attractions like Chiang Mai in the north and the tropical beaches in the south? Not really. After all, we can always come back! For this trip, our first to the country, we revel in the subtle charms of the “A, B, and C” locales, and it’s glorious. I can’t wait to take a similar approach on our next trip to the Mouse. “E” tickets –phooey!

(The culprit of many a travel itinerary is FOMO – fear of missing out. “What if the the big-ticket locations are as good as everyone says!” In my experience the “E” ticket attractions are famous for a reason – they ARE fantastic. But they’re also crowded with other visitors, and the local merchants and vendors tend to be a bit jaded by the whole tourism experience. How might your life be different if you let your FOMO go and allowed yourself to venture off the beaten track, enjoying, subtler, more-authentic experiences. To paraphrase, take the road less traveled; it’ll make all the difference.)