Other tourists. They are that element of travel we sometimes forget to think about until we find ourselves surrounded. No matter where you go in the world (but especially at must-see places) it is difficult to avoid buses full of people as eager as you are to get that one picture or souvenir. Some are great and I have met many interesting people on the road. Then there are the others. You all know who I am talking about. Dealing with them can be frustrating, to say the least. Like it or not, tourists are a part of travel (a not-so-fun part of travel).
Tips and tricks for other tourists
In an effort to help, I have complied a list of tips for dealing with them before they ruin your vacation.
Tip #1: take care of yourself
First things first, you have to take care of yourself. If you are tired and hungry, you are not going to be in any kind of shape to deal with irritable people and you will probably become one yourself. It is important, whenever possible, to get enough sleep. Also, remember to eat or pack snacks. Being hangry is the worst! Some light stretching, yoga or even a little meditation will go a long ways to calming your mind and preparing you for unpleasant interactions with tourists…or any other travel mishap.
Also, make sure to be the kind of tourist you like to encounter. Be aware of your surroundings. Do not step in front of people or moving vehicles. Respect the local customs. Be polite and say thank you—in the native language. Hopefully, your example will wear off. But even if it does not, at least you are not contributing to a problem or stereotype.
Tip #2: avoid peak times
An easy trick to avoiding other tourists is to go when they are not there. We are big fans of off-season travel and we have heaps of examples where this has worked well for us. But even in the height of travel season, you can schedule things to your advantage. First thing in the morning is a great time to hit up beaches and hiking trails. Near closing time is also a good idea.
A little trick I learned working at Disney World: about an hour before the park closes is the best time to ride the big rides (especially if there is a parade or fireworks show). They almost never have a wait, even in the summer, and as long as you are in line before the park closes, they will let you on the ride. I once managed to ride Space Mountain three times in a row without waiting in line simply because it was almost closing time and no one was around.
Tip #3: choose tours wisely
Sometimes it works best to avoid tours altogether. If you can go it on your own, you will be better able to set your own schedule and avoid the crowds. However, we understand that avoiding tours is not always possible or even the best option. When choosing a tour group, try to find a small one that caters to your situation (e.g. no children, family friendly, 65+, etc.). And make sure you look at reviews.
On the other hand, a tour might be the best option for actually avoiding large crowds. Paying a little more for a VIP experience often guarantees a more intimate setting. While visiting Indonesia, R talked us into doing a sunrise tour of Borobudur (the largest Buddhist temple in Indonesia). The tour was expensive by Indonesian standards and we had to wake up at the very unpleasant hour of 4 a.m. to catch a less-than-impressive sunrise (par for the course on that trip).
Those were the cons. However, the pros far outweighed them. The tour consisted of about 50 people and once the sun came up, we were free to explore the temple to our hearts’ content before the hordes of other people showed up. We took all sorts of wonderful pictures without a bunch of strangers in them and visited the mostly-empty museum. As we walked out, we could see hundreds of people filing in. It made me very glad we had paid the extra money. Plus, our tour included breakfast with a view of the temple and a Batik souvenir scarf.
Tip #4: work on your patience
Be patient. If you are trying to experience something and a big tour bus pulls up, maybe now is a good time to take a break. Tour buses are typically on a tight schedule so all they really have time for is a quick picture. If you sit back and relax, maybe get something to eat, they will probably be back on the road before you know it and you’ll be back to enjoying your experience.
Case in point: C, R and I were relaxing on a bench in Riga, admiring the old buildings surrounding us and enjoying the sunshine, when suddenly, we were swarmed by selfie-stick waving tourists. There were so many of them! Luckily, we were not trying to get anywhere so we just sat back and people watched. After 10 or 15 minutes, they moved on and we had our views back. We are still not sure how many pictures we accidentally photo bombed, but it made for an interesting experience.
Tip #5: get off the beaten path
It never hurts to stretch your legs and if you get off the beaten path a ways, you may find yourself all alone—or at least with dramatically reduced numbers.
While visiting Yellowstone National Park earlier this year, not surprisingly, we ran into a lot of tourists. We went early in the season hoping to miss the big crowds, but so did a lot of other people. Oh well. We made do and when it came to visiting Old Faithful, we did two things right:
- First, we went about an hour before closing. There were still people around, but not nearly as many as we saw at lesser-known stops earlier in the day.
- Second, we took a walk and got off the boardwalk and paved trails. It was not a long or hard walk, but it was enough to discourage most people apparently. By the time we arrived at the overlook, we got to see Old Faithful blow with just a handful of friends instead of the line of people surrounding the perimeter of the geyser. We got a unique view and room to breathe. It was lovely.
Tip #6: laugh
Make up a game. Or just try laughing. A little humor goes a long way and if you can find a way to laugh at your situation, you will be much happier—as will your travel companion(s).
On our recent trip to Puerto Rico, we signed up for a night kayaking tour to a bioluminescent bay. Since we did not book ahead of time (a mistake that almost cost us a very cool experience), we had to settle for the only tour group with openings. It was a big group and although the people were nice enough, most had never kayaked before. Our guide gave us a two-minute explanation on how to kayak and then put us in the water. It was 8 o’clock at night and completely dark. Talk about a disaster. It was frustrating at first, but then became so comical that I could not help but laugh. Watching kayaks run into trees is pretty funny after all. C and I even made it a point to try and pass as many kayaks as possible—which wasn’t too difficult given the lack of skills amongst our fellow tourists. The whole experience ended up being a highlight of the trip.
Tip #7: learn to deal with it
Often, dealing with tourists is unavoidable. Just take a deep breath and go with the flow. Sure, it would be nice to be the only person trying to hold up that leaning tower of Pisa. But that is never going to happen. Accept the inevitable and move on. Now might be a good time to make new friends. If you are stuck standing in line, you might as well get to know the people around you. Who knows? You may find you have a lot in common or perhaps they have some good suggestions for where to eat dinner that night.
In Helsinki, we wanted to visit the Sibelius Monument. When we arrived, there were several tour buses parked and a whole lot of people walking around. We figured we would wait until they left. But every time a bus pulled away, another pulled up. Finally, we accepted the inevitable. We got right in there and explored the monument, took our pictures and then moved on. It was not the most pleasant experience, but it was far from a disaster.
Tip #8: distract yourself
In certain situations (particularly on buses or planes), it is a good idea to try and distract yourself. Headphones are your friend. Music soothes. Earplugs are never remiss and a good book can come in real handy. It helps to be prepared in these sorts of situations—especially if there is a crying baby on board.
Tip #9: connect with locals
Talk to the locals about what to see and where to eat. They know the hidden gems and I have never had one recommend I eat at a Hard Rock, which is where all the tourists go.
A few years ago, I visited Cozumel via a cruise ship (speaking of way too many tourists). My friend S and I had escaped the crowds and large shore excursions to go spear fishing with small, local tour company called Spearfishing Today. It was just the two of us, our guide Leo, and Juan, who steered the boat. Although neither S nor I managed to hit anything, Leo speared a nice-sized triggerfish, which he offered to us.
Of course, we could not take it back to the cruise ship with us, so Leo recommended a restaurant that would cook it up for us. We walked a couple of blocks off the main drag and into a small restaurant. Leo had called ahead for us. They took our fish and cooked it to our specifications (half ceviche, half grilled). We were the only people in the restaurant and it was one of the most delicious meals I have ever had. Plus, the views as we walked to and from the restaurant were lovely and people free.
Yes, other tourists can be a trial. But with a little preparation and planning, their impact on your vacation can be greatly minimized. Do not let those tourists ruin your good time. Plan, prepare and be patient.