We all know them when we see them. You walk into a souvenir shop that’s right next to the airport and it just so happens to be next to another souvenir shop. No matter which one you walk into, you walk out with a trinket that’s about the same price, and a seashell keychain that’s $20 too expensive.
Maybe you went to a restaurant that promised the best Philly Cheesesteak in all of Philadelphia, and then your friend from Philadelphia said they’d never heard of it. Oh wait, that was me. In my defense, I had a sneaking suspicion I was falling into a tourist trap, but some traps seem worth the risk.
What Is a Tourist Trap?
Whether you like touristy activities or prefer to solely do as the locals do, if it feels right in the moment, enjoy yourself. But know the risks going in. Tourist traps often aim to squeeze every penny they can out of travelers by promising more than they can often deliver. If you want the most bang for your buck, it’s usually better to avoid them on trips.
With that said, some tourist traps are an important part of a place’s history. And if it’s worth the money to you, that’s what counts. However, there’s a difference between overspending to see the Statue of Liberty and getting fooled into purchasing an overpriced good or service that has no real relevance to the place you’re visiting.
Every major city is home to tourist traps. Some small towns have them too. The more well-known, the more familiar you likely are with them (think the Eiffel Tower or Old Faithful). The more people want to see it, the more tourist traps are built in its surrounding area.
Lesser-known tourist traps can be more difficult to immediately identify, so you have to take a second look first. Otherwise, you might blindly blow your travel budget and potentially miss out on more authentic experiences.
A good trip is a balanced trip. Go to Time Square if you’ve always dreamed of standing in the middle of it. But if you see a sign for “The Big Apple’s Best Pizza” in the most touristy part of New York City, you can expect to get what you pay for in one way or another.
Here are some tried and true steps for avoiding tourist traps.
Do Your Research
Undoubtedly, you’ll be doing some Googling before you travel. But don’t stop there. Pay attention to patterns. Tourist traps are often mentioned on the first page of tourist attractions. You’ll get a feel for what’s there to draw you in and what’s really worth investing in.
Reddit and online reviews are great resources for sifting through potential tourist traps and must-sees in cities. But again, look for patterns.
Pay attention to what’s said the most often. Remember that one person’s very bad day or isolated experience could put a major damper on their view of a place. See if it’s a common occurrence. Do the same for glowing reviews. After all, fake reviews do exist, especially for tourist traps.
Doing some research can also give you a better idea of your best freebie options and no-cost activities.
Be Wary If It’s Overpriced
Prices are always an easy way to identify a tourist trap. Souvenir store trinkets shouldn’t cost as much as your lunch. If it seems too expensive, it probably is.
When traveling, it’s important to trust yourself. And there’s no harm in shopping around. If there’s something you really like that seems like the perfect souvenir, there’s probably also somewhere else that sells it for less. The same is true of pricey menus or menus that overcompensate.
In cities with great food, there’s always a great deal around the corner from a tourist trap.
If a Deal Seems Too Good To Be True, It Might Be a Trap
While overpricing is a common theme for tourist traps, so is offering the deal of a lifetime. And as we know, If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If the deal has a sense of urgency or is fleeting, it might be a trap. Tourist traps make their living off seeming like a deal in one way or another. In other words, tourist trap “deals” always come with a catch.
When Possible, Rely on a Local
Locals are always our best guide to any city. They often know their home through and through, including its tourist traps. They can tell you which streets to avoid and which restaurants you can’t leave town without trying.
Typically, to find out all the “need to knows,” all you have to do is ask the right local. They’ll also be able to confirm or clear up the intel you got from your online research.
Veer Off The Beaten, Most Popular Path
If it’s well-known and popular, the prices will go up, whether it’s a true tourist trap or not. It’s important that you see all a city has to offer. So instead of just sticking to the most familiar path, if you veer even just a little off of the beaten path, you’ll probably find yourself somewhere even more local. In turn, it’ll likely also be significantly less expensive.
Always Trust Your Instincts
Travel tips like these are useful when you’re globe-trotting and exploring new places. But the main person you should be relying on is yourself. The better you understand what a tourist trap looks like, the sooner you can spot it.
Hidden gems are all over the place, and they rarely come in a blinking package right next to a city’s airport. But sometimes they do. That’s where your instincts come in. To some extent, the tips for avoiding tourist traps apply to all cities. But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what’s worth what.