How to beat the tourist traps when travelling

Image Credit: Photo by Luca Vavassori on Unsplash

Lyndsey McKiernan gives out some tips to confidently navigate on travels for a more authentic and enjoyable experience.

The days of booking all-inclusive holidays in a travel agency are gone, leaving travellers to organise their own way to a new destination. While this has mostly led to cheaper and more personalisable trips, popular destinations have increasingly shaped themselves around the arrival of tourists. This has left tourists vulnerable; attempting to avoid inflated prices and underwhelming experiences. From Plaza Mayor in Madrid to Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, I have fallen for these money-grabbing schemes and discovered that the ways to avoid them are often transferable to destinations across the globe.

Before I dive into my recommendations on avoiding tourist traps, it is important to note that travel is a deeply personal experience. There is nothing wrong with going on the first city bus tour you see or eating at a restaurant located right beside a popular attraction. Exploring a new destination this way does not always equal a less authentic experience. Many prefer the convenience and relaxation that these options offer - it really depends on your own preferences and the kind of holiday you are looking for. 

The first issue that travellers face when arriving somewhere new is transport.

Before leaving the airport terminal, tourists are faced with a variety of options from buses and rail, to taxis, to car and bike rentals. There have been occasions where I land in a new country late at night with no desire to figure out public transport timetables and destinations. I then end up forking out five times more for the convenience and speed of a taxi, only to find out the next day that I was overcharged because I took an airport taxi and not an uber, or because I didn’t haggle down, or because I “looked like a tourist”. Other times, I have been more prepared and used the almighty Google Maps to navigate local bus routes, waiting 45 minutes for a bus that won’t be coming because there is a strike on, or being told my ticket is not valid because I bought it from a fake vendor. How are we meant to find our way around without falling prey to such traps?

Popular destinations have increasingly shaped themselves around the arrival of tourists. This has left tourists vulnerable; attempting to avoid inflated prices and underwhelming experiences.

The best loopholes that I have discovered are doing prior research and having confidence. I recently travelled to the Greek island of Santorini and got stuck in a bit of a pickle at the port. The only way to the town is via taxi or renting a quad bike, and considering I didn’t fancy tying my luggage to the front of a vehicle I had never driven before, I was left with no choice but to hail a taxi. If I had done a little bit of research beforehand, I would have known that you could phone a taxi service which would take you to the main town of Fira for no more than €30. Instead, I was quoted €115 by the taxi company at the ferry port. Where a lack of research failed me, confidence did not. The tourist trap alarm went off in my head and I swiftly argued my way to a €50 quote. Not ideal, but certainly better than bankrupting myself. Travel blogs are extremely helpful in this regard, with travellers detailing their own experiences and learnings. Have a look at public transport timetables and prices before arriving and decide which form of transport will be best suited for you prior to your arrival.

Planning a trip in advance does not have to be spreadsheets and plastic folders. It can take form in a fixed plan when considering transport, or in a general strategy when considering food. As a general rule, restaurants closer to a tourist spot are pricier and less tasty. I have found that the best route to take when aiming for authentic cuisine at less cost is to move further out from the main hub of activity. If locals are eating there, you’ve hit the jackpot. One trick that was circulating on social media this summer was to avoid restaurants that have their prices handwritten on the menu or with too many photos of the food. While this is generally a good rule, the best way to find out if a restaurant is worth visiting is to have a quick google for their reviews. This can be done in advance looking for local recommendations, or in a few seconds outside the restaurant. 

When it comes to accommodation, it is a little easier to avoid the tourist traps as it is generally booked in advance. Most listings have a comprehensive folder of photos and amenities, claiming to be the best hotel in the area, ultra-luxurious, and close to all of the major tourist destinations. To combat such market saturation and find a decent place to stay, similar to finding a good restaurant, the reviews are the best place to look. Check if there are enough reviews to verify the accommodation (I would generally recommend 10 or above), if the reviews were recent, and definitely filter by bad reviews. The negative reviews always say more than the positive - were the beds simply not comfy or were there no beds at all? Following on from that, have a quick look of where it is on the map. Listings can claim to be ‘a stone’s throw from the city centre’ and need a 40 minute commute in reality.

It can be tempting to dive head-first into a new destination without preconceptions, but it can leave you stranded with a negative experience. This doesn’t diminish the spontaneity and adventure of travel as you are still exploring somewhere new. I would argue it is better to learn from other travellers’ recommendations and avoid the most common tourist traps to get the best experience possible. Plus travel blogs make a great read, or so I’m told!