All right, you have your list of places that you absolutely must see at some point in your life. But what happens when those destinations on your bucket list are also in everyone else’s file of can’t miss locations? Should you simply not go for fear of being swept away in the throngs of people? Or can you still go and see those places on your list, even with the omnipresent tourists?
In the interest of giving you an honest and complete picture, I’m going to give you an answer that you may not like. The truth is, it depends. No travel advisor can make that call for you, but we can provide some insightful tips for navigating crowded world wonders and cities, if you know that you can’t bear to miss out on those places. Without further ado, here are my top tips for traveling to bucket list destinations.
Examine your expectations
First and foremost, take a hard look at what you’re expecting from your travels. One of the reasons that unplanned things can be so wonderful is that you came in without expectations and you had the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised.
However, this idea can work in the opposite way too. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to visit Cinque Terre. Those gorgeous pictures of uncrowded beaches and colorful houses lining the hillside have gotten to you in a way that nothing else has. If you go in thinking that you’ll have the beach all to yourself, that it will be tranquil and quiet, and that the food along the shore will be the best you’ve ever had, that’s a recipe for disappointment. If you go during peak season, you’re more likely to find overcrowded swimming/lounging areas, noise throughout the day, and overpriced restaurants on the coast catering to tourists rather than locals.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit Cinque Terre, but you should adjust your expectations based on the time of year you want to go and the location in general. You’re much more likely to be satisfied or even delighted if you have realistic expectations and can see the place for what it is rather than what a photographer has photoshopped it to be.
Learn to time things right
Okay, you’ve decided you’re going to Amsterdam. Now plan when and how. Timing can make a huge difference in your experience of popular tourist destinations. Have you considered going during the off season and avoiding major holidays? That alone will substantially cut back on the crowds.
Once you’re actually in or at the place you dreamed of being, plan your day to beat the crowds. If your location is a popular cruise ship port, start your day before the ships dock and head back out after they return to the sea.
For some things, you may not really be able to choose optimal times to beat the crowds. For example, museums and other businesses have set hours; you aren’t going to find relief by getting in line when they open, because other people will have had the same idea.
With that said, there’s a bit of a hidden second option. Most attractions have options for private small group tours; some will even take place before or after opening hours for the general public, so you get the chance to ask questions and take your time without the press of people around you.
Find someone who knows the location well
Locals know best. If you want the best tips for circumventing crowds or avoiding them altogether, ask someone who lives there permanently and for whom dodging tourists is second nature. Local experts can offer insights you won’t find in a guidebook and they truly can take your experience from just okay, to fantastic.
It takes time to find these people though; you can’t go up to any permanent resident and ask them for the best places to go, because they might not be prepared to give an answer. Think about it this way, you may have lived in your current city for ten years, but do you know all the ins and outs? Are you really passionate about your city’s history and culture? It takes a special kind of person to guide others around their home in a way that appeals to their audience.
Having a list of these kinds of people throughout the world is one of the advantages of working with a travel advisor who is part of a larger travel network. Advisors may not have personally met all of these guides and service providers, but our network has and has already vetted them for quality.
Exclusivity in a popular place comes with a price
At Life’s Journey Travel, we like to focus on the experience rather than the price; luxury travel does not necessarily mean expensive travel. However, if you’re planning to travel to a very popular tourist destination and you want to have some peace and quiet or an exclusive experience, that will often come with an increased price tag.
It comes down to the law of supply and demand. There are only so many spots in that ecotour to see the silverback gorillas in Rwanda, and there are more people who want to go than there are spots available. It’s important to note that tour providers aren’t always limiting the space for profit reasons; often when nature is involved, they limit the spaces to preserve the integrity of the site’s natural resources. Regardless, small groups, privacy, and sustainable practices usually come with a higher price that allows the provider to continue offering these exclusive opportunities in a way that does not overburden nature and ensures everyone is being paid fairly.
So, if you want to visit Japan when it is overflowing with cherry blossoms, if you want to see the Eiffel Tower in the spring, if you want to lounge on the beaches of the Amalfi Coast in the summer, you can. Just be realistic with your expectations and connect with someone who can help you have the best experience possible from start to finish.
Do you have tricks for avoiding crowds in some of the world’s most popular places? Leave them below! For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact me.
Author: Debra Harris
As founder of Life’s Journey Travel, I’m deeply passionate about creating custom travel experiences that allow my clients to truly savor the journey.