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How Not to Act Like a Tourist…When You Are One

There seems to be a dilemma with the modern day tourist. How does one see a place for the first time without being too touristy?  Travel is becoming more widespread and commonplace than it was in the past due to advanced technology and travel methods making it easier to get from point A to point B. With hoards of people gathering around popular attractions, how can you see what you want to while not getting caught up in the tourist traps? Well, to be honest, it’s a tricky question. Typically, it is some of the “touristy” attractions that draw us to a destination in the first place.

I ran into this predicament recently in Venice, a place I had been dreaming about going for years. There were throngs of people everywhere I turned and I found myself trying to balance seeing popular places like St. Mark’s and Doge’s Palace without getting caught up in the crowds, which turned out to be nearly impossible.

Many people have shunned away from popular destinations, turning instead to less crowded (and just as charming) off the beaten path destinations. And while that is an alternative for many, what if a popular destination is somewhere you still want to see?

Here are some suggestions for making the most out of a popular travel spot:

1.    Try to visit during the off-season / shoulder season.

The off-season and shoulder seasons bring smaller crowds and allow for a more intimate visit. Attractions are less crowded, which allows you to make the most of your time by spending less time in line and more time exploring.

Example: My trip with my family to Italy in November still had beautiful weather, but with far less people. 

Beautiful San Gimignano less crowded in the off-season

Beautiful San Gimignano less crowded during shoulder season

2.    Determine which “touristy” attractions are worth seeing and which can be skipped.

Let’s face it – each destination has touristy attractions, especially cities; however, some of the attractions are popular because they truly are a reason to visit the city. The key is determining which will bring value to your trip and which you are visiting because you feel obliged to.  Make your own itinerary.  Stop feeling like you need to “check boxes” when you are in a city. We are all guilty of it. Prioritize what is important to your trip and make it happen. Let the rest fall into place.

Example: The Rialto Bridge was too crowded and touristy for my liking. I preferred to explore the quieter, less touristy bridges and canals throughout Venice. 

I preferred this bridge in Venice to the crowded and touristy Rialto Bridge

I preferred this bridge in Venice to the crowded and touristy Rialto Bridge

3.    Go off the beaten path.

Since the touristy attractions draw many people to a destination, many tourists never take the opportunity to explore outside the main plaza, the guidebook recommendations or the “must-see” places. From my experience, getting off the beaten path has uncovered some hidden gems and opened my eyes to that second layer of a destination. Explore, explore, explore! The best finds are typically when you do not have an agenda.

Example: My mom and I walked for hours throughout the Garden District in New Orleans and then went past the Garden District to keep exploring the perimeter of the city. It was so peaceful and provided a beautiful architectural tour. 

A gorgeous find on our walk outside downtown New Orleans

A gorgeous find on our walk outside downtown New Orleans

4.    Build extra time into your itinerary to absorb the culture.

One of my favorite parts about traveling is absorbing the culture. This occurs by trying the local food, getting off the beaten path to see the true pulse of the city (see above) and meeting the local people. What I have found in the past is that if I build in just one extra day than I was originally planning, the extra time can be spent not ticking boxes of tourist attractions, but absorbing the culture. One extra day is incredibly helpful in breaking the fast pace of a tourist and seeing the destination more like a local.

Example: In Budapest, Max and I took our tour guide up on her offer to get lunch with her after. She took us to her favorite local place, translated the Hungarian menu for us and showed us a side of Budapest we never would have seen if we were rushing off to the next place on our list. 

The best recommendation in Budapest, courtesy of a local

The best recommendation in Budapest, courtesy of a local

5.    Have self awareness

While it is tempting to stop directly in your tracks, whip out your map and cause a traffic jam behind you, this is not logical.  Many tourists spend their time taking in the sights around them, either craning their neck up or focused down at a map or guidebook. Have self awareness when you travel, look around, get your bearings, pay attention. It makes it much easier for you to blend in.

What not to do...

What not to do…

Tourism is not going away anytime soon. With increased travel around the world, destinations will continue to get more popular and unfortunately, more crowded. Hopefully these tips will help you attain a more authentic experience in that (popular) destination.

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15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great tips, Bridget! I’m giggling at your #5 “what not to do” !

    January 12, 2014
    • Thank you! Haha it is hard to believe, but we saw a lot of people stop dead in their tracks and throw their iPad in front of everyone’s view!

      January 12, 2014
  2. With this blog you really took attention to the points that I never thought about, you provides good information in your post, let me tell you, very interesting information your are having in your post, this is what I am looking for. Thanks a lot!

    January 16, 2014
  3. Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren #

    Great tips, thanks for sharing! I especially love 4-5 and try my best to follow them while traveling.

    Happy travels 🙂

    January 16, 2014
    • Thanks, Lauren! Building extra time into my itinerary has been one of my big focuses lately! The relaxed pace helps prevent me from being a frenzied tourist!

      January 16, 2014
  4. Great tips! I always try to go off the beaten path and explore the places unknown to ordinary tourists and holiday makers, but my camera and local map always tell I’m a tourist :-P.

    January 17, 2014
    • Thanks, Agness! I know it’s hard to balance the art of seeing a new place and being a tourist. The camera always gives me away too!

      January 18, 2014
  5. These are all excellent tips! I totally agree that it’s hard to find a balance between seeing a place like a local and not missing top destinations. I usually try to avoid forming an itinerary based off a big guide book – unless I’m traveling through a more remote destination and want to meet other tourists, in which case I go where Lonely Planet tells me to!

    January 19, 2014
  6. All great tips! The time of day you visit can often be helpful. I’ve found that arriving early at a popular destination or walking around a city after the tour buses have left is helpful.

    January 29, 2014
    • Thanks, Karen! That is another great tip as well! Using those timing strategies allow you to feel like you have the city to yourself. Thanks for sharing!

      January 29, 2014
  7. This is great! I think that it also helps to look for experiences rather than snapshots 🙂

    March 5, 2014
    • That is such a good point! It is such a struggle for tourists to put the camera away (myself included) and focus on the moment at hand instead of capturing it for later.

      March 5, 2014
  8. HannahontheMap #

    I think #5 is also really important, be self aware! Screaming loudly in your native language and pulling out a huge map from your fanny-pack will make you look like a tourist, and there’s some places where that’s not a good idea. However, it seems to be that I find these people in the most touristy parts of the city 🙂 great tips!

    May 14, 2014
    • Thanks, Hannah! It is so true you definitely see this behavior in the more touristy parts of the city. Getting off the beaten track helps lessen it a little, but I find it so prevalent in big cities!

      May 15, 2014

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