How to Avoid Tourist Traps

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For the longest time, I thought the best way to have an authentically local experience was to avoid touristy cities.  I’ve gone out of my way to visit places like Telouet in Morocco or Laguna Lachua in Guatemala and absolutely, I escaped all throngs of tourists and enjoyed my explorations.

Overlooking a town and the Atlas Mountains from my "private" kasbah
Overlooking a town and the Atlas Mountains from my “private” kasbah

Unfortunately, it’s getting harder and harder to find off-the-beaten path destinations.  The internet has made it much easier for travelers to learn about previously hidden sites.  Overall, I think that’s a good thing, but it does mean that you’re likely to find a crowd just about everywhere you go.

laguna lachua guatemala
No crowds here — but it required a 4-hour bus ride and 90-minute hike out of my way just to arrive.

So what should you do?  Skip the big name cities and head somewhere you’ve never heard of?  Maybe sometimes, but that means you’ll also miss out on some global favorites — these places attract travelers for a reason!

Luckily, I have a secret on how to have the best of both worlds.  It works for me, 9 times out of 10, no matter where I am.  Even after I tell you, it’s guaranteed to continue working.  It’s simple and provides huge rewards for the little effort it requires.

I call it…the 100-meter rule

All you have to do is walk 100 meters off the main drag.  You’d be amazed at how often this 60-second walk away from souvenir shops and English-language menus can lead to surprisingly authentic experiences.  After all, locals still live and work in these cities and therefore have “real” experiences every day.  Even the most touristy of neighborhoods usually still have a local hideaway nearby for workers trying to grab a lunch break or a taxi driver who’s stationed in that part of town.

venice canal
Literally rounding a corner in Venice led me to an empty residential quarter.

Taking the time — even just a minute — to head in the opposite direction of every one can help you find genuine experiences no matter where you are.  Just the other day, instead of eating at a mediocre, overpriced restaurant in the center of town, I found myself eating a feast of fish, rice noodles, and vegetables for $3.50…as long as I agreed to sing karaoke.  Thank goodness for new friends and local beer to help me get through “Hotel California.”

Meeting the locals in Vang VIeng, arguably the most inauthentic town in all of Laos
Meeting the locals in Vang Vieng, arguably the most inauthentic town in all of Laos

So next time you’re thinking about how to avoid tourist traps, don’t sweat the details of which cities to go to and which ones to skip.  Head to the places you want to visit and just be sure to take part of your day to head 100 meters off the main drag…then let me know if it worked for you.

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8 thoughts on “How to Avoid Tourist Traps”

    1. @Scott, Does it matter where you’re traveling? Sometimes there are great finds even a block away (and that can be in the USA too, where communication/safety usually aren’t an issue).

  1. We haven’t traveled much, but when we do, I can’t wait to try the 100-meter rule. It sounds like a great way to explore without having to stray too far in places we are unfamiliar of.

  2. Yep. Sometimes not even 100 meters. 20 steps down a tiny street in Istanbul got me away from $3 coffee to the world of locals squatting on cushions and 50-cent coffee.

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