Yes, it’s no mistake – it’s traveler not tourist traps. I believe there is no such thing as a tourist trap. After all when you’re a tourist you want to go places other tourists go and when you’re a traveler you want to go places no-one, or at least few, have set their foot in.
So if you’re going on a package tour and you have a grain of common sense left you do so accepting the obvious – namely, that seeing the Great Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, the Stonehenge, or the Aztec ruins of Teotihuacan, the Acropolis or other popular tourist destinations can’t be done without the company of hundreds, possibly thousands, of other tourists, the onslaught of local vendors peddling their kitsch, made-in-China souvenirs, and with limited or no possibility of experiencing the authentic local culture.
In short, everyone in their right mind knows Giza is more likely to look like this
This is not to say that being a tourist is inferior to being a traveler. It is simply different. And unavoidable in some places. With 13 million tourists a year visiting the Acropolis for example, you get some 35 thousand tourists a day.
Still, would you miss seeing the cradle of European civilization?
Probably not, just like you wouldn’t want to miss Notre Dame or the Statue of Liberty. When you go there you simply resign yourself to having to share the moment with others and being subjected to all the usual tourist industry harassment, hoping the views will make up for the inconvenience.
Having said that, there are plenty unnerving traveler traps. These are the places you go with absolutely different expectations. Not to tick them off your must-see list but to experience something, to live an adventure, meet the locals who are genuinely happy to see you not because you’ll buy their stuff but because they are curious and hospitable. And you leave utterly and deeply disappointed.
Traveler Traps I Fell For
To save you from a couple of those: my personal warning list of the places to avoid if you’re a traveler:
Drawn by images of the Big Blue and pristine beaches I expected pristine nature, blue waters, clean beaches and friendly locals.
Don’t go there unless you’re loaded and can afford the luxury of tourist resorts. Otherwise the beaches were littered, and you couldn’t move ten feet without being pestered by some marijuana dealer (know for some it’s an attraction, but not for me) whose smile was faker than a Wall Mart cashier’s.
San Jose, Costa Rica:
Costa Rica is the Switzerland of Central America, with well developed eco-tourism and pharmaceutical industries, so after arriving at its nice international airport it came as a shock to see this:
The barbed wire says it all. The city really is a place you don’t feel safe in at all. It looks more like a very, very poor and shabby European or North American transplant. Thank God the countryside offers some stunning natural beauty and the Ticos are friendly, because the capital is downright shady. I was so glad to get out of it!
Prague Old Town
The magnificent Castle, the famous Charles Bridge met and exceeded my expectations:
However, what I was really looking for was the Good Soldier Schweik’s spirit.
The city center offered nothing that you wouldn’t find in any other European city. Unfriendly staff had the look that said:"Another damn tourist." Pricey restaurants, souvenir shops and throngs of tourists.
After a long search that led me away from the Old Town I came across a well hidden authentic beer cellar with pleasantly indifferent staff, fresh and ridiculously cheep beer, packed with locals singing Czech songs.
Mt. Caddilac, Maine USA
Supposedly the first place in the US to be struck by the sun’s rays at dawn (in fact it only is for a part of the year). A summit offering astonishing views of the ragged North Atlantic coastline.
It sure has the views. But having climbed it we found it also had a busloads full parking lot! What a mood killer!
For a truly traveler-like experience the following rule of thumb seems to work: avoid everything touristy, especially destinations recommended by popular travel guides, magazines both online and paper. If a thing is mentioned as a unique in Lonely Planet or Rough Guide – be certain it’ll be overrun by the time you get there. So go for the unexpected, take the more difficult road, and dump your travel guide.
You may end up singing in Czech or dancing salsa in a Nicaraguan village. Or bribing the corrupt Honduran soldiers on that less popular border crossing…
Tell me and others what traveler traps you fell for. Post your comments below and together we’ll compile a list of places to avoid. Unless, of course, we visit them a
s tourists, that is.