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Tourist traps. Ugh. It can be downright depressing to realize you’ve just lost your hard earned money to one. Don’t let your vacation take a turn for the worse. Travel like a pro and learn how to avoid a tourist trap every single time.

Do your homework.

You know that sinking feeling you would get when the teacher would come to collect your homework except you hadn’t done yours? Okay maybe you don’t. But I do. When she’d make her way down my row I’d start slinking down into my seat and fishing around in my backpack. Of course it wasn’t going to magically appear because I hadn’t actually done it. Same deal here in real life. If you don’t do your homework, there’s a good chance you won’t get much out of your trip and you might just fall into a trap. We recently wrote a story about How to Eat Like A Local¬†and in it we talk about some of our best tips to keep you from avoiding tourist traps during meals.

Avoid Tourist Traps 1

Use your senses.

All of them. Including your common sense. If it looks like a trap, it probably is. Is the place totally empty? If so, ask yourself why? Do you see any of the food coming out of the kitchen? Does it smell good? Look good?

Beware of REALLY good deals.

If you see a sign for something that’s just too good to be true, look for the catch that’s not probably too far behind. Specials that are being over advertised are something that ought to at least get your guard up a little bit. Sometimes you’re lucky and the thing is as good as it seems.

Get off the beaten path.

Leave the neon and flashing lights behind and see if you can’t find a place off the strip (looking at you Las Vegas) that’s a little quieter. Not everything that glitters is always gold. Sometimes it’s the thing that’s not exactly clamoring for the limelight that’s worth visiting. Or eating. Or experiencing. You’ll know it when you find it. After that, it’s up to you who you decide to let in on your little secret.

How to Avoid a Tourist Trap

The first Starbucks … tourist trap or must – see? Both maybe?

Avoid pushy salespeople.

Do you have the sense that you’re being lured into something? Is someone trying to push a flyer into your hand or redirect your path? If so, beware. In some major cities, you’ll find people out on the streets trying to offer you all kinds of things! A ride on a horse, a tour in a boat, a free appetizer with the purchase of an entree and on and on and on. Read the fine print, ask about the fine print and walk away if it ain’t for you.

How to Avoid a Tourist Trap

Tourist trap or treasure?

Be able to say “No.”

If something doesn’t feel right to you, allow yourself time to think it over before committing. Asking questions about a place or an activity doesn’t automatically sign you up for it. Learn to say “No” without feeling bad and keep on going!

Negotiate up front.

This mostly applies to services that you will be purchasing from someone such as a tour guide, especially if it’s with an individual and not a company. If someone tells you they’re going to take you on a ride for a set price, make sure you’re both on the same page before setting off. On a recent trip to Beijing we nearly got scammed because the tuk tuk driver tried to change the price on us when HE decided to take the long way to our destination. Be kind but firm and only pay for what you both agreed on.

How to Avoid a Tourist Trap

Agree on the terms up front and then sit back and enjoy the ride!

How to Avoid a Tourist Trap Recap

Okay, after all that, I’ll admit I had a pretty good time at Wall Drug in South Dakota and I’ve stopped at South of the Border more than once. Most recently we met some friends at the Big Texan Steak Ranch which for miles was advertising their 72 ounce steak (free if you can eat the whole thing in under an hour!) Most people would probably consider all three of these places tourists traps but we knew what we were getting into and didn’t spend much money at them and ended up having a lot of fun.

What are your top tips for avoiding tourist traps? What are your best suggestions for how to travel smarter? Please leave them in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!

** Did you know we make Squarespace websites? It’s one of the ways we’re able to travel around! If your current site needs an update or you’re looking for a complete overhaul, please get in touch! Thanks much.

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