Destinations Let's Travel

In Defense of Tourist Traps

If you’ve done some traveling in your day, or read travel websites, you’ve seen articles warning against being too much of a “tourist” when you travel. “Steer clear of that attraction, it’s nothing but tourists,” they say.

I’m here to tell you that philosophy? It’s bullshit.

There’s a lot to be said about getting off the beaten path a bit to experience a different side of a place, but that doesn’t make the more popular sites any less worthy of your attention. Travel snobbery demands that you refrain from being too touristy, but I say that travel snobbery deprives you of seeing some of the world’s most amazing places.  In my estimation, a great traveling experience will contain a healthy mix of seeing famous sites, which will likely be crawling with tourists, and doing some independent exploring that lets you see the more everyday side of the destination.

The most spectacular travel experience I’ve ever had is considered a “touristy” place: Machu Picchu. After the first couple of hours we were up there (we took the first bus so we got there about 6:00am to catch the sunrise), it was crawling with people. But the moment my best friend and I laid eyes on the ruins, we started crying and hugged each other; it didn’t matter that there were groups of tourists snapping pictures around us. Later on, after spending 8 hours exploring and even taking a short snooze on one of Machu Picchu’s many hills, we would tell each other that this day could not have been more perfect. That it’s one of the most visited places in all of South America did not diminish my experience in any way, and I doubt anything I do in the future will top the amazing feeling I had while there.

I throw major side-eye toward anyone who says they stay away from famous sites; why would you go somewhere with a world-famous attraction and deprive yourself of the opportunity to see it, just because other people also want to see it? Most of us don’t get unlimited time to travel and will likely only visit a lot of places once, so it’s silly to stay away from an attraction that is historically and culturally significant because of a misguided philosophy about being a “real” traveler.  Are you a human being who is traveling somewhere? Then you are a “real” traveler. I’m much more likely to get annoyed by the person who proudly proclaims they are avoiding a major attraction than I am the person who’s itinerary consists mostly of seeing those major attractions. These places become popular because they’re historically or culturally important, or just beautiful, so it’s no surprise to find yourself among other travelers when you visit them.

Since when did “seeing the sights” become passé?

Besides, you can still enjoy crowded tourist attractions, especially if you do a little planning. Get there first thing in the morning. Visit during off-season (bonus: everything is cheaper). Buy tickets in advance so you don’t wait in double the lines. And if all else fails, throw some vodka and orange juice into a water bottle and enjoy the fact that while other people are at work, you’re waiting in line in a beautiful place to see something incredible.

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