Tips on how to avoid the crowds, evade the masses, and still see the sites
Everyone has some horror stories about traveling abroad in Europe, myself included. Whether it’s involving a cramped flight, 18 man hostel rooms, lines that last for days, or naked men wrestling at 2 am (true story), most of this misery is related to one problem: too many people. While I always advocate going to both the touristy spots as well as those off-the-beaten path, here’s how to avoid crowds wherever you are, or at least reduce the depressing effect that they can have on your trip.
1. How To Avoid Crowds – Planning
I’ve mentioned this before in my post Secrets To Saving Money – Cheap Travel, although for a different reason. While traveling during the off-season is a great way to save money, it’s also a great way to avoid the crowds.
Obviously there’s a reason people travel to particular places during certain seasons – beautiful weather, local holidays, seasonal phenomenons of nature (you get the idea) – and more than likely you won’t want to miss these. The key is figuring out exactly when the high-traffic travel season begins and ends, and either traveling right before or immediately after, or traveling to a location that’s nearby but may not be the main attraction.
Lonely Planet country guides are a great place to start your research as they have both a “Top Events” (holidays) and “When To Go” section arranged by month at the beginning of each chapter. Travel forums like Bootsnall, Fodors, and Slow Talk, and resources like Bing’s Travel page are also extremely useful when planning a trip.
2. How To Avoid Crowds – Transportation
I totally advocate going the low-cost carrier route, but nothing makes a 3 hour Ryanair flight worse than being packed into the plane’s cabin like a bunch of sardines. While a jet charter to London would be awesome, it’s not the only way to travel comfortably to England, or any other country for that matter.
It is totally possible to avoid the crowded low-cost carriers and fly on a normal airline on the cheap. The key is keeping your eyes open for deals as airline ticket prices literally change by the hour. Set up an account with a website like Airfarewatchdog to get notified about discounted tickets, and compare prices on flight booking engines like Vayama.
Take The Train
If you have the opportunity, taking a train is a great alternative to flying. Trains offer more leg room (in most cases), you can get up and walk around, and you just have more personal space in general. On our trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou, my friends and I had originally paid $8 for the first-come-first sit car (which ended up being a sweat box of people practically standing on each other), but for an extra $3 each, we were able to get our own booth in the dining car which was 10 times as spacious, and 100 times as quiet.
Consider A Road Trip
There may be no other place with more crowd-free space than the open road, so consider a car rental and head out on a weekend road trip. It’s just you and your friends in that car, so you can feel free to open the windows (or the top if you’re lucky), blast the radio, and stop anywhere you like along the way. Sure you have to account for things like gas, but when divided up between 3 or 4 people, it’s probably one of the cheapest ways to get from place to place. A U.S. driver’s license is considered valid in many countries, but you can also check out AAA’s International Driving Permit.
3. How To Avoid Crowds – Accommodation
Hostels are convenient, cheap and increasingly higher in quality, but there will be a time when you just can’t bare sharing yet another 18 person room. Luckily there are still plenty of freedom-affording options out there, many of which I’ve listed in “5 Alternatives To The Humdrum Hostel“. Here’s a recap.
Cheap Hotels Instead Of Hostels
While there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to avoid the crowd by booking a room in a hotel, at least you’ll have much more privacy. You can even find some pretty decent 2 star hotels using sites like Hostelworld, and although they may be a bit further from the main part of the city (which is why they’re usually cheaper), that’s not a bad thing if you’re goal is to avoid the crowds.
Want to totally avoid the crowd? Try booking a short-term rental apartment with sites like Roomorama. Although I didn’t really take advantage of this during my travels around Europe and Asia, it’s becoming all the rage as people are looking for an authentic experience without the crowded rooms or hassle. You have your own space for your entire stay, you don’t have to worry about a curfew, and if split between 2 or more people, you can find great places for $25 – $30 a night.
Couchsurfing: The No-Brainer
The only other people staying with you are the people who actually own the couch you’re sleeping on. While you don’t have 100% freedom, you’re away from the masses, you’re host can often provide helpful info, and it’s usually inexpensive or free.
How To Avoid Crowds – On The Ground
Like I mentioned above, I’m an advocate of seeing both the touristy attractions and off the beaten path sites, but that doesn’t mean I want to be stuck in a crowd at either. Masses of people are a definite at popular tourist attractions, but you can increase your chances of missing the most crowded times by finding out when buses or cruises are coming (especially in smaller resort type locations), getting to the attraction at the beginning or the end of the day, or pre-booking passes that let you go to the front of the line.
Off-the-beaten path sites
Heading off-the-beaten path is a great way to go as A) the crowds will obviously be smaller if any at all, and B) you’ll probably land in areas where the local culture hasn’t been affected by outside influences. This has worked really well for me in China so far, since visiting any of the major tourist sites is a recipe for frustration during many weekends and holidays. I visited a lesser-known “culture street” called Liulichang during my fall semester break last year, and plan on checking out a half built theme park called “Wonderland” on the outskirts of Beijing that I found while using StumbleUpon.
In addition to Lonely Planet’s “Top Events” and “When To Go” sections, you can also ask for recommendations from the people working at your hotel or hostel, and of course, you can always talk with the locals.
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If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!