There’s nothing worse than being excited about an attraction that you’re going to visit while traveling only to arrive and see hundreds of other tourists crawling all over the place you wanted to go. Or being super jazzed about a restaurant and showing up only to see a ton of other tourists and a menu with a bunch of garish pictures on it and know that you’ve been totally tricked.
We’re here to help you avoid this. We’ve found several hacks that have allowed us to avoid the hordes of tourists and have experiences that are unique and remarkably crowd-free.
The isle of Patmos in Greece. Never heard of it? Neither have most mainstream tourists.
Here are our best pieces of advice for avoiding tourist traps and having authentic experiences while traveling the world:
- Go places that are difficult to get to. While in the Greek Islands, we purposefully chose locations that required multiple ferries to get to, knowing that this would eliminate most of the mainstream tourist crowd. We picked the islands of Patmos and Agathonisi, and we were not disappointed. As a result, the 2 weeks we spent in Greece were some of the most relaxing and stress-free weeks of our trip around the world – and we didn’t have to compromise on beauty or sites.
- Follow the locals. This is the best way to find the out-of-the-way spots and the most authentic experiences. The tricky thing here is that you can’t really ask the locals where you should go because all too often they will send you to their cousin’s spot where they get a commission or they will send you to the “safe” tourist option because they don’t want you to be disappointed. Observe where the locals go, hang out, and eat and then tag along. Once you’re there, strike up a conversation
- Ask the ex-pats. It’s hard to ask the locals themselves where to go (per point 1), but ex-pats are likely to provide great recs that help you avoid tourists. If you don’t know any personally, look around on the internet for “An American in x” type blogs – these can be very useful for getting great recs and avoiding tourist traps. For example, there’s the great Gringo In Buenos Aires blog or this top 15 list of expat blogs.
- Avoid tour buses. Nothing spoils your visit to beautiful and interesting sites like the arrival of 60 mouth-breathing tourists in a loud tour group. Multiply this by a parking lot of buses and your day is basically ruined. If you see a hoard of buses – come back later or not at all.
One of our favorite travel hacks:
Get access to the entire Lonely Planet catalogue via Amazon Kindle Unlimited. We read over 30 guidebooks on our trip around the world for about $30.
- Do the research ahead of time. At this point, many places worth visiting have reviews for them on TripAdvisor or a similar source. These reviews will give you a sense for a) the type of person who goes to these places and b) what they think about them and the level of crowding/tourists. You have no excuse for not being read up on the place that you’re planning on visiting. If most of the people writing reviews seem to be the package tour crowd, don’t go. If it’s a lot of those types of people saying that it’s crowded, definitely don’t go…
- Go early or go late. Even places that are “tourist traps” can be awesome if you get there early enough to beat the crowds . Most tour groups run between 11am and 4pm, leaving a large window of time for you to get a jump on the large groups. You’ll rarely see a tour group up at sunrise to go do an epic activity – take advantage of this.
The biggest caveat to all of this is that some “tourist traps” are worth it. You wouldn’t visit San Francisco without checking out Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge – and you shouldn’t. You wouldn’t travel to a country like New Zealand or Cuba without hitting the highlights either.
Weigh the pain of having to experience something with a large horde of tourists against the uniqueness/epicness of the experience you’re getting involved in. Sometimes it’s worth it!
What are your favorite tips and tricks for avoiding tourist traps? Let us know in the comments!