For those of us who love solitude, contemplation, and escape, avoiding the crowds is an essential part of enjoying our travels. Of course, there’s some irony in being a traveler who complains about all the other tourists cluttering up the landscape, because of course, we’re all contributing to the crowd!
The best-known places are always going to draw lots of people, and usually with good reason. So how can we see the sights without feeling like we’re stuck in a herd of camera-toting sheep? I take great pride in carefully scheduling a great travel plan…designed to minimize crowds and time in line and maximize your enjoyment. Here are our top ten tips for avoiding the worst of the vacation crowds:
- Hire a local guide
My very first suggestion is to hire a private guide if your budget will allow. A guide knows when the busiest places will have lulls in the crowds, and exactly where to go to soak in a city’s ambiance without being joined by thousands of others with the same idea. I have several well-vetted private guides that I frequently use for my clients. You will get so much more out of sights when you see them with a local guide who can make the history come to life. Your tour guide really DOES know it all!
- Skip the line!
Did you know you could do this? A major benefit of using a travel agent who specializes in custom designed vacations (like yours truly) is that they often have the ability to help you skip right past a 2-hour long line-up and whisk you inside the attraction you’d rather not wait to see. Some of the most important spots with “skip the line” privileges are the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Vatican, and Colosseum in Rome and the Accademia (to meet Michelangelo’s amazing David) in Florence.
- Take advantage of jet lag
What does that mean? Imagine you managed to stay up until 8pm after an overnight trans-Atlantic flight. Now it’s 5am the next day, and you’re wide awake. Get out of bed and go for a wander through near-empty streets as the city quietly stirs. Enjoy a coffee alongside locals on their way to work. Early morning can be a magical time to explore the streets of Europe.
- Travel off-peak
Have you ever been to Paris in August? The locals have fled the city for their summer vacation, leaving the tourists to take it by storm. A lot of stores, cafes, and restaurants are closed. Consider traveling in your destination’s shoulder season (May and September-October) – and avoid school holidays like the plague! If you are worried about taking your children out of school, get over it! A family trip to Europe will contribute so much more to their future than a “Perfect Attendance” award in 6th grade. *This is probably my favorite tip, by the way, because this is how I prefer to travel!*
- Do your research and plan museum visits accordingly
Many museums have “free” days once a month; these are always going to be busy days, and best to avoid. Some major attractions (e.g., London’s Tate Modern) stay open late one or two nights a week; visiting the gallery during these extended hours tends to offer a quieter experience.
- Investigate “alternative” destinations
Everyone talks about the big ticket destinations – Rome, Paris, London, Prague – but there’s much magic to be found in Europe’s smaller cities. For instance, if you’re looking to experience Dutch culture, Leiden or Haarlem are beautiful and less crowded alternatives to Amsterdam. (I can suggest some great alternatives to the hustle-bustle where you will get the true “feel” of the country you are visiting).
- Benefit from local insight
Talk to the locals to learn about what’s popular with people who live in the city, rather than what’s popular with people who visit it. A good way to incorporate this wisdom into your trip-planning is to use an experienced Travel Professional who specializes in custom designed travel experiences. Some of the suppliers we use to construct your vacation actually live in the destination you are visiting and can give us some great “insider” tips.
- Choose attractions off the beaten path
Just because it’s there, doesn’t mean you have to visit it; you won’t get a failing grade for skipping the supposed “must-sees.” You can visit London without going to Buckingham Palace; You can experience Italy without snapping a photo of yourself holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There’s way more to a city than its icons, so let the icons draw the crowds, while you ferret out more unique ways to spend your time.
- Stay in locally owned smaller hotels that are centrally located
Choosing a smaller hotel in a more residential neighborhood with easy access to the places you want to visit is a nice way to escape the crowds at the end of the day. You didn’t travel all the way to Europe to stay in a Holiday Inn or Best Western, did you? Plus, the owners and employees are super helpful in suggesting some little-known jewels for restaurants and sightseeing. *This is probably my second favorite tip because I am a sucker for a great boutique hotel!*
- Be aware of cruise ship dockings
If you’re staying in a port-city, find out when the cruise ships dock – then hightail it out of there! And if you’re one of the people debarking from the ship, see Tip #1…then hightail it out of there with your private guide! Today’s megaships can dump 5000+ people off in San Juan, Puerto Rico…all at the same time and all heading for the same sights!
If you’d like help avoiding the crowds on your next vacation, please get started by filling out our trip planning form, and we’ll get you scheduled for a free consult.
In the meantime….
P.S. If you’d like to take your next trip as a group (10+), which is a great way to cut down costs on things like private guides, skip-the-line access, etc. consider yourself a group leader in the making! What does that mean? It means you can possibly earn free travel for yourself or others in the group, extra group perks, and/or potentially a share of revenue with Kinship Vacations. Is there an important charitable cause in you and your group’s life? We can share our revenue with you to donate to that cause. What a nice way to spend a vacation, right? To get more info on our group travel opportunities, fill out our group trip leader form.
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