An interesting New York Times article recently profiled travelers who seek out unusual destinations -- places that most wanderers avoid or ignore, such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and the Sudan. In some locations, travelers listen to bombs exploding, along with listening to tour guides.

Now, that might be a bit extreme, but I think there's merit in exploring the unbeaten path. Robert Frost would agree, having said: "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference."

This also applies to investing, believe it or not. Let me explain.

Leave the herd behind
When we invest, we look for companies that look promising to us. We often end up drawn to companies that we've read a lot of glowing things about. Here's the problem, though: Many others have also read glowing things about the company, and if they also bought shares, then those shares may have been bid up to not-so-attractive levels.

For example, check out the companies below, which I found on our Motley Fool CAPS service.

Company

CAPS rating

1-year return

P/E ratio

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ:GMCR)

**

61%

40

Corinthian Colleges (NASDAQ:COCO)

*

83%

42

InterOil (NYSE:IOC)

*

60%

N/M

InterDigital (NASDAQ:IDCC)

****

41%

46

Data: Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool CAPS. N/M = not meaningful because of earnings loss.

In general, buying into popular companies after they've already risen is simply following the herd. Think about this in the extreme: If everyone bought the same stock, we'd all get the same return, and we'd all be average. And if you buy late, when valuations have become extremely high, then you'll almost certainly underperform those who got in earlier.

For above-average returns, we should look where others aren't looking. We should be contrarians. We can also be contrarian in our temperament. As Warren Buffett has advised: "Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful." In other words, go against the crowds if you want to make money.

Quite contrary
Fortunately, it's not too difficult to be something of a contrary investor. There are even some good mutual funds that will do it for you. Fidelity's Contrafund (FCNTX), for example, has a long-term market-beating record, and top holdings that recently included Coca-Cola, Johnson & Johnson, and MasterCard.

In fact, many, if not most, of the best mutual funds out there are contrarian to a great degree -- especially value-oriented funds. That's because their managers tend to seek out companies whose stocks have been beaten down and are out of favor, expecting them to bounce back.

You can also screen for contrary plays. Here are a few companies that popped up when I screened for large caps with five-star ratings, losses of 20% or more over the past year, and revenue growth rates topping 10% over the past five years:

Company

CAPS rating

1-year return

5-year avg. rev. growth

Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ:ATVI)

*****

(21%)

30%

Vale  (NYSE:RIO)

*****

(54%)

51%

Vimpel-Communications (NYSE:VIP)

*****

(68%)

44%

Data: Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool CAPS.

It's clear that our CAPS members like to find contrary stock plays as well. Rather than gravitating toward what mainstream investors see as the most obvious and popular stocks, the community has given top ratings to many stocks with huge losses recently -- but which CAPS members believe are poised to come back with a vengeance.

So buck the trends, Fool, and find your profits off the beaten path.

Johnson & Johnson is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Coca-Cola is an Inside Value pick. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Activision Blizzard and InterDigital are Stock Advisor selections. Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Activision Blizzard, and Fidelity Contrafund. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.