Travelers have a love-hate relationship with tourist areas. It’s natural to want to see the most famous attractions in each major city you visit, but the area surrounding recognizable landmarks are often filled with traps designed to get visitors to spend more money than they should.
It is important to know how to deal with tourist traps properly so that you aren’t disappointed on your trip. While it may be impossible to experience an attraction without being suckered into a tourist trap (I’m looking at you, gondola rides in Venice), these tips will help you learn how to enjoy major attractions without feeling like you’ve been had.
Recognize When You Are In A Tourist Trap
Tourist traps are inevitable. If a monument attracts 5,000 visitors each day, it is no surprise that companies want to place their business very close by.
These traps come in many different forms: An unimpressive but popular beach right beside your hotel, The Notre Dame cathedral, or any place with street performers and a McDonalds. Tourist traps don’t have to be international: Hollywood Boulevard and Santa Monica Pier are tourist traps on the West Coast and Times Square is much of the same on the East Coast. If locals tend to avoid an area like the plague, it’s probably a tourist trap.
Don’t Spend Too Much Time at a Tourist Trap
You didn’t travel 5,000 miles to see a Starbucks and an H&M store. Tourist traps are a waste of time. They are overpriced, overcrowded and often resemble home. These common areas are specifically designed to lure in the unimaginative traveler with familiar brands and chain restaurants. Most of the stores that make up a tourist trap can be found in your hometown, so why bother?
In Fact, Don’t Buy Anything At All
Unless you’re in a plaza to visit a specific restaurant or you want to buy a postcard, don’t bother wasting your money in any of the shops. The coffee that is $4.50 in a busy area is $.79 two streets over. It doesn’t matter if you head east or west, once you leave that area, it will turn back into an authentic experience free of flashy shops and preying pickpockets.
“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.”
– Gilbert K Chesterton
Be Aware Of Pickpockets Near Tourist Traps
These areas are also a breeding ground for pickpocketing. Take Barcelona’s busiest street, Las Ramblas. In the summer and on the weekends, Las Ramblas is very crowded, and it is easy to get pushed and shoved as you make your way down the street. While you are standing in the heart of Plaça Catalunya taking in the sights, thieves can easily cut your bag with a razor blade and steal your phone, wallet, passport, or whatever they can get their hands on. It is important to be aware of your surroundings in a busy place. Many thefts happen in crowded areas while the tourists are distracted by the live statues and street performers, so be on guard.
Enjoy The Attraction, Then Move On
The best way to get the most out of a tourist attraction is to remember to get in, protect your belongings, take your pictures then get out. You will enjoy the popular attraction without feeling like you were duped.