Maybe you’re the type of person who loves the sheer energy of lots of people around when you’re traveling. Maybe you don’t mind waiting two hours in line to see an exquisite painting. If that’s you, then go for it. For the rest, there’s a reason we call a vacation a “getaway,” right? We're quite literally getting away from the daily grind at home and often that includes, well, lots of people.
When it comes to avoiding the frustration of pushy crowds and long lines, think outside the proverbial travel box so you’re not wasting an enormous amount of your precious sightseeing time. Time is money. You may not be able to avoid crowds entirely, but you can sure try.
With a little planning and a few shortcuts, avoiding the worst crowds can be a reality — and you may just be able to get that perfect photograph without the unwanted photobomb. Here are four ways to avoid crowds while traveling.
1. Timing matters
Most of us know what it’s like to be stuck in long, hot lines at an amusement park or waiting in a mile-long line at a famous museum. Depending on the location, factors that influence crowd sizes may include weather, local festivals, holidays, certain times of the year, and weekdays versus weekends.
Here’s the thing: It’s not just where you go, but when you go that makes all the difference. It stands to reason then, if you want to avoid crowds, avoid peak tourist seasons.
If summer is crazy where you want to go, throw on a jacket and go in autumn when the crowds thin out. If spring break at the beach is way too crowded, choose late summer. If there are a million people descending upon your chosen city for an event you’re not attending or a holiday you don’t celebrate, by all means, avoid that weekend. Go experience must-see locations during the week and spend the weekend relaxing at your chosen accommodations. You get the idea.
Off-season travel typically comes with the perk of lower prices and fewer tourists. Consult with locals when possible. Do research online. Check with a travel agent for advice. They'll know off-peak travel times and may even be able to save you some cash. Be sure to check if the attraction you want to experience is open at the time of year you can go. To search the best travel times of the year for hundreds of locations, check out whentobewhere.com.
2. Start early or go later
Often, showing up early — or going later — is a strategy especially useful for tourist sites that tend to be over-crowded by midday. Perhaps you only want to wander around that museum for a couple of hours right before closing or see the epic city view from the top of a famous tower when it first opens.
Plan ahead and find out what the peak hours are for your chosen attraction. You may not always be able to avoid those large school groups or bus tours, but timing your visit can help.
Think about catching sunrise or sunset at the famous overlook or natural wonder. Try heading to the art gallery when everyone else is grabbing breakfast. Hit the beach later in the afternoon when families are typically gathering the kids to leave. In some places, it’s worth the higher hotel prices to stay close by to what you want to experience. Staying closer means you can get there early — or stay later — without fighting traffic.
3. Hit tourist hotspots strategically
Know beforehand where you're going and when the typical tour bus may arrive to plan your optimal time frame. Check school schedules and holiday travel patterns where you want to go. Intentionally visit areas that are less affected by crowds at off-peak times. Remember, sometimes the popular spots aren’t necessarily the most beautiful. The Grand Canyon is a good example. It draws mobs of people to its South Rim while the North Rim is just as grand, but less traveled.
Hate wasting your time in long lines? Consider avoiding them by joining a group tour, or a tour that visits several locations with one ticket. Pre-purchase your tour spot online and you’ll not only avoid massive entry lines, but breeze past the multitudes with special entry to places tourists aren’t normally allowed. In some cases, pre-purchasing your tickets online will give you a designated arrival time, also saving you precious sightseeing time. This is a must for highly popular historical locations around the world.
Even if entry is free, you can waste a lot of time just waiting to get in. In this case, see if there’s a way to book online in advance. Sometimes for a few bucks extra, you may be able to bypass the line entirely.
4. Don't follow the crowd
Talk to locals. Find some interesting photo opportunity just beyond where the crowds gather. Check out the back of the building, enjoy a drink on the rooftop, get the coveted photo on the other side of the waterfall or just 10 minutes further down the hiking trail.
Put on your explorer hat — find interesting locations off the beaten path. Going to a famous museum, theme park, or local attraction? Walk opposite the flow of traffic. When you get inside, start at the top floor and work your way down. Take the hiking trail in the opposite direction. Don’t want to fight crowds at the airport? Consider a road trip instead.
Make reservations for the restaurant or bar at the top of the mountain, famous city tower, or on a rooftop along the main street where a parade or fireworks might be. You may spend more on the food itself, but you’ll be able to relax and get a delicious meal (or a few drinks) while enjoying the view everyone else is paying to merely get a look at (and fighting the crowds to see).
Taste the local cuisine at times other than typical meal times. Save some money by eating at happy hour or taking in brunch. Try the local street vendor instead of the sit-down restaurant. Grab some sandwiches and have a picnic near the famous location or on the museum lawn.
Bottom line? Spend more time enjoying the view and making memories with loved ones. With a bit of research and preparation, you can relax and avoid crowds while sightseeing.
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