This year, school bells rang early all through the month of August. And as an empty nester, I didn’t hear a one. Sure, my daughter is in college, but there’s something different about her doing her own thing, and me not having to buy from the infamous school supply list that teachers send home on the first day of school. The stress is gone, and I’m rejoicing.
But there’s also another reason I rejoice in no longer having the normal school routine; I can plan my own travel itinerary for the quiet times of the year instead. No more planning vacations around fall break, spring break or summer vacations. Now I can plan vacations for the times in between fall break, spring break and summer vacations.
Which is great, because I’m not the average travel-kind-of-person anyway. If the latest travel guides recommend a touristy spot, I head the other way.
I’ve known for a long time that I don’t enjoy heavy touristy areas, and I confirmed that once and for all a couple of years ago on a trip to Italy.
When in Italy, you have to take in the most breathtaking sites, which of course added Venice to our itinerary. We arrived by train, grabbed our luggage, and stepped off the platform to make our way through the gates to experience our first breathtaking view of the Grand Canal.
There we fought our way through people, people, and more people, all vying for the same experience. With around 20 million people visiting Venice each year, that meant I was sharing the experience with around 55,000 people within a few square miles from where I stood.
People were everywhere posing for pictures, all oohing and aahing over the scenery.
I however, had trouble breathing and looked around to start planning my escape route. There were simply too many people in too big of a hurry to see all they could in the shortest time possible.
In other words, it was touristy. And I’m not a touristy kind of person.
But I knew that going into it. So I had my escape route in hand.
So with escape route in hand, we quickly hopped onto a water taxi and made our way to the far side of Venice, to a small bed and breakfast where the locals live. And it made all the difference.
If the thought of being a tourist leaves you as terrified as it does me, there are a few things you can do when planning your next trip, to ensure you’ll have an amazing time … and see things your friends won’t see if they visit the same place.
Research The Culture Ahead Of Time
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of big brochures promising lots of sites and action. But when you book tours and trips from people that plan for millions of customers, you’ll likely experience everything with millions of people (or what seems like millions of people anyway). I look for things that take me away from the norm. Look for people and companies that steer away from the masses – Rick Steves does a great job in Europe, Lonely Planet offers great advice for around the world trips. Or try off-the-beaten-path sites like AFAR that give travel advice from individuals; it’s a great way to learn a trick or two. Even a few simple Google searches can quickly point you in the right direction if you know what you are looking for.
Avoid Big Events
If things come with high recommendations, chances are you’ll be overwhelmed by tourists. You can usually spot a tourist trap if entire guidebooks are created exclusively on the subject, and every tour you find visits the location. Don’t rule that city or location out; instead look to another part of town. If a well-known tourist attraction is in one part of the city, discover what is happening in another area that is on a far smaller scale. You can find many opportunities by looking and asking people within the community – college students, expat communities, even local meetup groups can point you towards new experiences without a lot of touristy action. And often at a much smaller price tag. Which means you can save your money for other things that are equally as fun.
Connect With Behind The Scenes People And Guides
Instead of booking an activity direct from a brochure or website that promises you and dozens (or hundreds) of “friends” a great day, get down and personal instead. Ask your hotel for recommendations of personal guides that can show you an area in a smaller group, or even on an individualized basis. Vayable and LikeALocal allow you to use today’s technology in a personalized way when traveling just about anywhere. You can also do Google searches and find more personalized travel services, like Women Traveling that connect up solo women travelers for unique experiences.
Stay Where The Locals Are
The reason bed and breakfast’s became so popular was the idea of a more intimate experience. While they are still great options, you can take it to an even more cozy level. Places like
Airbnb and HomeAway are growing in popularity and allow you to live in residential locations, sometimes with a great host that can clue you in to the ways to experience things as a local.
Remember, this isn’t skipping out on the fun of experiencing a new city, it’s simply a way to see it from a different point of view. And for people like me, it really can make all of the difference.
Read more from Lori Osterberg on her website, Vision of Success