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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.