Tourist traps are the very antithesis of all that’s good and wholesome about traveling.
Whether it’s a tuk-tuk ride via a family jewelry store, a souvenir shop at the foot of an ancient monument or an all-inclusive beachside resort, they overpromise and underwhelm, overprice and underdeliver.
They can also be the difference between a great trip and a flat-out disaster, and in some cases, they can even influence the way you think about a certain city, country or culture.
Luckily for you though, most tourist traps are garish and therefore relatively easy to spot.
That is if you know what you’re looking for.
So, if you want to make the most out of your next backpacking adventure, check out our 5 tips for avoiding tourist traps like a pro.
1. Be Wary of Multiple Language Menus
The most common tourist trap you’re likely to encounter is the restaurant with menus in multiple languages and flags adorning every page. Complete with poor translations that leave you wondering whether you can actually order fried baby seals or if what they really mean is fried baby eels.
Not to be defined only by their questionable list of dishes though, these places almost always have a smooth-talking host with a movie star smile stationed out the front, with the goal in mind to catch your eye and shepherd you into the dimly lit establishment with promises of free bread and an endless supply of olives.
Before you even know what’s going on, you’re looking at a menu that’s clearly designed for tourists, with dishes from what appears to be every country in the world… except for the one you’re visiting.
Don’t give in and trade speed and convenience for quality and authenticity. It most definitely ain’t worth it.
2. Master the ‘Anniversary Dinner’ Hack
If you’re the type of individual who prefers asking for restaurant recommendations in-person, rather than putting your faith in an online review site, here’s a little hack you’re going to love.
The next time you check into your accommodation, ask the employees where they like to eat without actually asking for the ‘best’ place since ‘best’ can mean different things for different people.
Instead, hit up a person working behind the desk or the resident tour guide as to where they’d go if they had to take someone special out for a specific occasion, such as an anniversary dinner, boozy birthday lunch or even breakfast with their beloved mother.
This way you can avoid run-of-the-mill recommendations and quickly find a place to eat you know the locals go to.
3. Apply Critical Thinking to Anything ‘World-Famous’
Funnily enough, the most famous places in the world don’t advertise themselves as being ‘world-famous’.
You probably won’t run into a hiking company in Nepal that offers tours of the world-famous Mount Everest, nor will you see guided walks around the world-famous Buckingham Palace.
You may, however, eat the worst steak of your life at a world-famous Argentinean restaurant (located in Vietnam), or feel cheated by Mother Nature when you fail to see the world-famous sunset (on the windswept steps of Mongolia).
The best places don’t need to advertise themselves as being ‘world famous’, because the immutable laws of attraction dictate that if something is worth seeing, people will make the effort on their own, hackneyed slogan be damned.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Use Public Transportation
First-time travelers and backpackers may feel daunted by public transport in a foreign country.
Crowded trains in India, for example, can be a nightmare for people who value personal space, and nobody will begrudge you a desperate prayer before boarding a chicken bus in Central America. But the truth is that public transport isn’t so bad in the sense that it offers two distinct advantages.
The first of which is the fact that it’s affordable, which is especially important if plan on staying outside of the main tourist zone, and the second being that it gives you a chance to really immerse yourself in a different culture to the point that you’ll feel like a true local… minus the giant backpack.
5. Harness the Power of Facebook
Facebook groups can be a powerful tool in helping you peel pack the touristy façade and discover where to go for the best food, sights, and things to see.
Expat groups are particularly helpful as they allow you to engage with people in the know who are often ready to share their experiences, given they’ve probably fallen for a few tourist traps themselves.
Asking them what they do on the weekend to pass the time will give you plenty of ideas for your own itinerary, as will starting a discussion about the places they love to take their out-of-town friends to when they visit. Not to mention local restaurants and businesses will also regularly post in the group, meaning you can keep tabs on upcoming events or special occasions and avoid a serious case of FOMO.