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08 Jun
2009

How to Avoid Tourist traps

Avoid Tourist traps

A very common question that backpackers and travelers ask themselves is: How can I travel and find unique experiences? It's not about the sights, monuments, landscapes, and museums. Travel is about people. Meet the right people and you will have the right experiences.

After spending a day in Nelson, it was clear to me that we had discovered my favorite place in the South Island of New Zealand. But how to break away from the local tourist traps? With a few more days to spend in Nelson, and having no real plans, I instinctively asked Sally, who works at a local bar. We met while celebrating my birthday, sampling beer and devouring delicious chocolate mouse.

She recommended Boulder Bank and Cable Bay. The next day we drove 15 minutes outside of Nelson to the coast and found some amazing surprises. There was a local or 2 lounging on the boulder beach getting some sun and walking their dogs, but other than a handful of people, these locations were completely untouched by tourists.

As we sat on the boulder beach, allowing the waves to wash over our feet, we felt in possession of a local treasure. It was awesome! For us, Cable Bay, despite the lack of anything resembling a sandy beach, embodied peace, solitude and an excellent view of a special bay.

How did this happen? It's not as simple as it seems.

  1. First, you have to be aware of where you are. What's popular? What is the main attraction of the area? To put it plainly, why do people travel to the place you are visiting?
  2. Once you know what you are trying to avoid, discover what you like in the area. Is there a musical hall? A market place to shop? A brewery? You know who you are and what you enjoy. Find that local. Your local, someone who might enjoy doing a similar activity as you.
  3. As soon as you find your local, don't scare them away. Seriously, this is important. You need to approach the person like you have nothing to lose. Otherwise, your local might think you are trying to sell them something.
  4. Once you establish communication with your local be bold and ask the question.

With Sally this was easy. I knew what the local tourist traps were and what I wanted to avoid. And I didn't scare her away. My question went something like this:

"You know, I love it here in Nelson, it's great, and I am planning on spending a few more days here, but I don't want to end up at the World of Wearable Art museum or any other tourist trap. What would you do tomorrow if you could do anything you wanted?"

The 4 step method isn't fool proof and I am still working out some kinks in the system. Each step can lead to problems, especially the first step. Although we did not end up going to the World of Wearable Art museum, what if we missed out? This is a big problem with the "ask a local" approach because most locals have been over-saturated by their local attractions. So much so, that they wouldn't wish their local attractions upon their worst enemy. But to you, the local attractions could be new and exciting. Your local will not always agree with you, and this is okay.

You can travel to every country all around the world, but unless you interact and connect one-on-one with people, you won't really experience any of the places you visit. Just remember, your local is not you and checking out their recommendations can sometimes be risky. It's a big world out there to explore. Be adventurous, but take caution while avoiding the tourist traps and when searching for your local.


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