Let’s face it: Social media has changed how we travel—and not always for the better. For every destination we discover on Instagram, or for every viral image of a turquoise beach our family shares on Facebook, we find that our favorite destinations have become overcrowded and overexposed—and, as such, underwhelming.
Maybe the crowded stands at the Colosseum left you claustrophobic, or the drunken debauchery at the festival of San Fermín overshadowed its cultural importance to the people of Pamplona. Social media has made even the most remote destinations world famous, causing travelers to wrestle with some difficult questions. Chief among them: How do you blaze your own trail while traveling when seemingly every path has been torn up from overuse?
There’s no easy answer, but here are five tips for how to navigate must-see tourist stops and off-the-beaten-path experiences while enjoying the trip of your lifetime.
ASK THE LOCALS
While planning your next trip, don’t be shy about seeking out the local perspective.
Before you leave, that means consulting the likes of Yelp or TripAdvisor for real reviews from people who dine at those restaurants and relax at those bars every day. Chances are good you won’t find the tourist traps on the first few pages, and individual reviews can shed light on a hotspot’s best dish or drink.
And once you’re there, don’t be shy about chatting up your cabbie or concierge about what they like and where they go. When you ask about their experience, they’re much more likely to share a slice of local life you won’t find in a guidebook. You might also consider a walking or cycling tour of your city for on-the-ground information. Local experts usually lead these tours, and the close-knit nature of these outings usually affords you the time to inquire about their favorite restaurants, bars, live music venues, and more.
GET OUT OF THE BIG CITY
Wherever you go, the big city is typically what brings you in—but outlying destinations are often what keep you enchanted.
Take England: Most visitors snap photos outside Buckingham Palace and at the base of Big Ben. But you’re missing out by limiting yourself to London. Liverpool hosts The Beatles Story, a renowned museum devoted to the Fab Four; soccer fans can catch a match in any number of cities throughout the country; and England’s countryside towns host a slower way of life that feels alien from the hustle-and-bustle of London. The further you travel from the big city, the fewer tourists you’ll encounter along the way—and the more “local life” you’ll enjoy.
SKIP THE MOST POPULAR DESTINATIONS
Seemingly everyone who visits New York City insists on ascending to the top of the Empire State Building and enjoying its iconic views. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, locals in the know much prefer the views from the Top of the Rockat Rockefeller Center. You’ll skip the lines at the Empire State Building, and you won’t miss much while admiring Central Park and Manhattan’s world-famous skyscrapers.
In other words: Don’t plan your trip around the most popular destinations just because you should go. (All those photos at the Leaning Tower of Pisa carefully crop out the hundreds of tourists milling about at its base.) Instead, open yourself up to off-the-beaten-path destinations that cater to your interests. Are you a craft beer aficionado? Tour some of the city’s best craft breweries. Interested in a region’s unique history? Try an offbeat museum, like the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans. Curious foodie? Visit a city’s farmers market, and be sure to show up hungry.
In making these stops, you might miss some of the sites that show up on Instagram all the time, but you’ll have a trip that feels true to you, and that’s what matters.
The bumper-to-bumper traffic across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco demonstrates the iconic bridge’s enduring popularity. But you don’t see nearly as many cyclists crossing the bridge. Those who do enjoy pristine views of the San Francisco Bay, the city’s skyline, and the deep orange hue of the bridge itself—at their own pace while skipping the traffic.
On your next trip, consider swapping the car, bus, or train for a bicycle or your own two feet. Indeed, getting active can lead to memorable experiences and even help you feel more energized.
“Getting active” doesn’t mean a thigh-burning workout or sweating through your clothes, either. New Orleans and Chicago are both flat cities, for instance, so it’s easy to rent a bike or take a walking tour without enduring a strenuous workout. And if your destination of choice offers a national park system, research the trails to see which treks deliver Instagram-worthy views without exhausting you by hike’s end.
MAKE THE MOST OF THE TOURISTY STOPS
Even if you’re set on those iconic stops, you can take plenty of steps to skip the crowds and enjoy an experience that isn’t shared with the tourist throngs. Try visiting a site early in the morning or on a weekday. And if you can travel in the offseason, all the better.
But while you’re there, see about opportunities to enhance the experience and make it your own. Take the Pyramids of Giza: You can walk around the base of the three pyramids, but did you know you can go inside? For an added fee, a limited number of tickets each day grant admission inside the three pyramids. The passages are indeed cramped, but you’ll get a once-in-a-lifetime experience that most of your fellow visitors will never enjoy.
So the next time you’re traveling, take a bit of time to think about what means the most to you. A little research will help you avoid the crowds and craft a memorable trip that’s one of a kind.
Featured image provided by Royal Robbins ambassador, Stephen Lam from @standinginmotion. Taken in Squamish, British Columbia.
Written by Matt Wastradowski for RootsRated Media in partnership with Royal Robbins.