I strongly believe there is no country in the world that doesn’t have some sort of system through which it rips off tourists. As a globetrotter, I came to realize there are two rookie mistakes people make when going abroad: first, they are not well versed about their destination, and second, they remain uninformed by choosing to explore without having a plan. When I say you need a plan, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be on a rigid schedule that will make your stay too stiff and punctual. It means you may want to be savvy and set the basic outline of what you want to see and experience, and then try to make your trip wallet-friendly. Here’s how you can avoid crowds and avoid being an easy target for tourist scams by getting beyond tourist traps.
When considering food options, try off-the-beaten places. The true spirit of a city can be felt in local restaurants, not in the international eateries or the five-star luxury places. Do your research: search the web, consult forums and travel blogs. During my trip to Monteverde in Costa Rica, I used to eat at sodas, local family restaurants. That is where I experienced true Costa Rican cuisine: it was affordable, tasty, and I got a chance to meet amazing, warmhearted people.
Finding Good Accommodation
So, you’re convinced you’ve made the right choice by staying at a large place in the far suburbs of the city. But, do you really need so much space? Weigh the pros and cons and I’m sure you will realize it is better to stay in a modest accommodation in the heart of the city where the magic happens. Of course, sometimes it’s just too expensive to do so. For example, in New York, you can’t really expect to find an affordable place to stay in the center of Manhattan, but Brooklyn or Chelsea make good options. Choose hostels instead of hotels: they are much cheaper and give you an opportunity to meet new people. I stayed at Williamsburg Hostel in Brooklyn: it is a very small place (I think it had a total of six beds), which made me feel like was simply crashing at my friend’s house. Airbnb and Couchsurfing are good options, too.
Popular landmarks, museums, and galleries are always crowded with tourists. It often happens that what you expect isn’t what you get and you’re left disappointed. When I was in Paris, I chose to reprioritize and pay attention to independent galleries, instead of rushing to see artwork that’s crowded with tourists. But, even though seeing Mona Lisa in the Louvre may be a tourist cliché, I didn’t want to miss it. Here’s how you can get the best from your visit: book your tickets online and avoid waiting in line; arrange your visit during the evening and avoid Mondays as they are often crowded; enter Louvre through the Port the Lions entrance – a very few people use it.
Make sure you study through the transportation options (e.g. taxis, buses, trams, bicycles, etc.) and get to know the city’s price ranges. When I was in Krakow I learned taxis were a bit pricey, so I used trams instead. Krakow has a big and well-connected tram network that turned out to be more convenient and faster during rush hours. Tickets are time limited and usually, a 20-minute ticket is enough for any ride and it costs around 2.80 zl (approximately $.50). Wherever you go, beware of the broken-meter taxi scams.
Souvenirs and Activities
Buying souvenirs in the city center is always the most expensive option because of the tourist crowds. Explore the local markets or shops on the periphery. As for activities, try free tours, but do be cautious. When I was in Venice, I took a “free” tour to Murano Island in order to visit a glass factory. In the end, it turned out there was no return trip included! However, most of the free walking tours I experienced were great and usually made of small tourist groups.
If you want a fulfilling traveling experience, consider booking your trip when it’s not the peak of the season. Get early-bird fares and fixed travel rates. There are a bunch of great deals online, I always use Travel Pay. Whatever your choice may be, a little planning ahead can mean the difference between having an awesome travel time on the budget and standing on your tiptoes in a crowd, while trying to get a glance of that famous Picasso.