For cheap travel, avoid the tourist traps

When travelling, you’re going to find cheaper, better souvenirs – and experiences – off the beaten path, Hamm writes.

Eric Gaillard/Reuters/File
A souvenir vendor sells Eiffel tower models for tourists in front the Eiffel tower at the Trocadero in Paris in this July 2011 file photo. A great travel moment lives on in your mind and your heart, not your stuff, Hamm writes.

In 2004, I had the professional opportunity to travel to Mexico multiple times in a short span. On those trips, I had a few chances to visit some of the sights of rural Mexico.

One of the stops that really sticks in my mind is the opportunity to climb up a small Aztec pyramid at Teotihuacan. With some of my travel companions, we climbed up to the top of the pyramid, enjoyed the wonderful view, and also enjoyed the amazing architecture and design of these small pyramids.

Unfortunately, the primary path to reach these pyramids forced one to walk through a quarter of a mile or so of souvenir stands, all of which were hawking some kind of good. Since we were there as a large group, some people naturally finished with the pyramid tour before others and found themselves stuck standing there by all of these souvenir stands.

A few people wound up buying things from these souvenir hawkers. Those that did not were either drawn in to look or spend significant time trying to ignore them. 

In either case, the souvenir hawkers produced a pretty unwanted – and in a few cases, expensive – effect on what was otherwise a wonderful vacation stop.

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to avoid such tourist traps.

First, stick together as a group. Naturally, you’re going to have people who move at different paces in the group. If you find yourself wanting to move faster than the rest of your group, hang back for a moment and wait on them instead of charging ahead. Similarly, if you feel that everyone is waiting on you, hurry up a bit.

How does this help? If you all stick together as a group, you won’t be stuck at the souvenir or gift shop by yourself waiting on the rest of your group. Similarly, if you’re all together as a group, it becomes much easier to limit your time shopping for such souvenirs – or, better yet, skip them entirely.

Second, acquire memories, not stuff. If you want to remember your stop at an amazing place, take a lot of pictures. Record a bit of video. Write about it in your journal. Tell (and show) others about it. A great travel moment lives on in your mind and your heart, not your stuff.

Finally, bring back only things that matter. If you’re going to bring back a souvenir for someone, chances are you’re not going to find a cool souvenir in a souvenir stand in a touristy area. You’re going to find something much better off the beaten path in a place you didn’t expect.

If you’re planning on buying a gift for someone, put aside a bit of time to do just that and go to a place that’s genuinely local instead of just grabbing something less interesting from a souvenir stand. It will mean more, it will be far more interesting, and you’ll get more quality for the dollar.

Keep your dollars and spend them somewhere where you’ll get more meaning and value for your pennies. You’ll be glad you did.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book “365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere.

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