I’m not a huge fan. I just don’t feel comfortable when the streets are jam-packed, when I need to constantly dodge other people, when I’m faced with lines and groups and little space to call my own.
As travel becomes more and more popular and commonplace though, such tourist crowds seem to be the norm all over the world. Walking down the street in many destinations requires a lot of focus in order to avoid bumping into strollers, lost tourists and group leaders that don’t seem to mind taking over the sidewalks.
Of course, I know I’m part of the problem too. I am indeed a tourist visiting these very same destinations.
Forget about low seasons and high seasons, forget about visiting cold destinations in the heart of winter or tropical destinations in the middle of monsoon season. It almost doesn’t seem to matter any more. Travelers are everywhere, all the time.
We were just in Granada, Spain during what was supposedly the low season. It was 10C / 48F and rainy but the streets were packed and the tapas bars full, every day and every night.
Before that we were in Porto, Portugal, walking around in the cold, right alongside thousands of others willing to line up for an hour at the Livraria Lello or ready to walk along the Douro River.
In Lisbon earlier this month we were quite thankful to be staying at an Airbnb away from the city center, and away from the crowds that turned the streets of the Chiado and Alfama neighborhoods into one big bus tour.
Tourist Crowds Shouldn’t Ruin A Trip
Of course, we still loved these destinations. I’ve always been a strong believer that travel is about the mindset anyway, not the actual places we visit. It really is possible to enjoy any country, city or village if we’re open to getting the most out of our experiences and we focus on the important stuff.
For me, that focus has always been local interaction and local activity.
And no matter how crowded or touristy a place might be, those two things are still ALWAYS possible. (I follow a simple 5-minute rule to help ensure I have local experiences.)
Tourist Crowds Are NOT Everywhere
At the same time, there are definitely moments when I just want to push through a crowd and keep running until I’m somewhere quiet, somewhere without other tourists around, somewhere without lines, where we can just enjoy our surroundings on our own.
That takes me to last week…
As my girlfriend and I walked around the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, a breathtaking palace and fortress so very worthy of at least one visit in a lifetime, I made two observations:
- The Alhambra is one of the most impressive buildings in Europe.
- I love Romania.
Yes, you read that correctly.
While the Alhambra completely blew me away and quickly became a travel highlight of this year, my mind couldn’t help but drift to Romania at times.
The Alhambra. AWESOME. And crowded.
Corvin’s Castle in Hunedoara, Romania. Not as awesome, but definitely remarkable. And no tourist crowds at all.
The same goes for Sighisoara, Corund and Sibiu.
That short list includes one of the best preserved medieval villages in Europe, a stunning region in the countryside where traditional life is still the norm and a historic and gorgeous city. If all of those places were located in a more popular country, they, too, would be full of crowds.
But for now, they offer all the good stuff, without the over-tourism.
Sure, there are tourists in Romania but compared to the sights of Western Europe, there’s VERY, VERY, VERY few. (In Corund, one of my favorite areas, there’s almost none!)
Getting Away From the Crowds
Naturally, it’s not just Romania. There are many countries where even the greatest of what they offer can be enjoyed without the tourist crowds and lines and buses.
Such locations are becoming slightly harder to find these days, but they do still exist.
Actually, maybe they aren’t much harder to find. It’s just that everyone wants to visit the same places that they see on social media or that have the marketing budget to promote themselves as the destinations we ‘must see’ now. Or simply a destination where airlines are suddenly offering crazy cheap flights that we simply can’t turn down.
Whatever the root, though, it’s worth getting away from the crowds from time to time.
There really is something special about having a castle mostly to yourself, even if it’s not rated the most unbelievable castle on the planet.
There really is something rewarding about walking into a restaurant and being the only foreigner.
Or visiting a small workshop where the family is actually creating something useful for the community, not just to sell to tourists.
When you end up in the middle of a local religious ceremony or being invited off the street and into a birthday celebration, chances are high it didn’t happen in the middle of an extremely touristy city. It usually happens in places without crowds, where genuine interaction is still appreciated by all sides.
That’s why my mind drifts to Romania every now and then. It’s one of those countries that offers authentic interaction and rewarding travel experiences almost everywhere you go.
It’s also why my mind drifts to East Timor, Western Sahara and a local island in the Maldives. It’s why I’m just as happy in the streets of Timisoara or Moshi or on a random dirt road outside of Wanaka, New Zealand talking to a farmer about her horses as I am at the dreamy Gardens By The Bay in Singapore or wandering around Rome.
While those popular locations are popular for a reason, sometimes the lack of tourist crowds makes up for the lack of ‘top 10’ sights or ‘must do’ activities. Sometimes all we need is a destination all to ourselves.
Of course, ‘all to ourselves’ is impossible…but luckily, there are still destinations out there that offer something pretty darn close.
Thoughts? How do you feel about visiting incredible, but crowded, places vs less discovered destinations?