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Counter-Intuitive Tourism

Barcelona has recently experienced an upsurge in petty theft and robbery, with tourists the main target.  Wherever you go, try not to be an easy mark for criminals by deliberately dressing less touristy.  Lose the expensive jewelry and designer clothes.  Consider minimizing your time in the more popular and busy tourist areas.  (Barcelona's La Rambla, for example.)  Seach out places locals enjoy: you'll be less likely to encounter thiefs and you'll get to have a more authentic experience than you would hanging out at the "top 10" sites in a city.

This is just one example of counter-intuitive tourism - being a little less predictable, more adventurous traveller.  Here's some other suggestions:

1. Travel off-season.  Everyone says this, few do it.  Airfares and hotel rates are cheaper.  There are fewer crowds and line-ups at museums.  And you're going to be less vulnerable to tourist-directed crime when things return to "normal" and mostly locals reappear after the hordes have gone home.  If your vacation is cultural in nature (visiting sites and museums, seeing plays and performances, checking out local restaurants), why worry about weather?  It's not like you're going to be hanging out at a beach!

2. Travel with carry-on luggage.  Approximately one out of every 100 checked bags goes missing or is delayed.  Why risk starting off your holiday on a sour note?  If you can pull it off, carry-on luggage forces you to minimize clothes packed, so you have to be very realistic about what you really need to bring with you.  Wear your best outfit that you plan to use at better restaurants on the plane.  (You're going to a different restaurant every night: no one will know you're wearing the same thing!)  Also, after a long, tiring flight, it is great to make a quick exit from the airport and get started with your adventures!

3. Pay more for airfare.  Airlines are not fools.  They don't give you cheap airfares without taking away costly benefits (legroom, extra over-head storage space, priority boarding, advance seat assignment, meals, flexibility with changes.)  Weird as it sounds, pay more - look for the perks you care about.  In airline jargon, you should be looking for a "bundled" fare - one that gives you benefits at a cheaper price than you have to pay a la carte.

4. Take trains  rather than rent a car.  As much as having a car rental gives you a lot of flexibility, it can also be a hassle.  High parking charges (or impossible to park situations!), getting lost, traffic jams, inscrutable road signs, etc. all contribute to a stressful travel experience.  More and more savvy travellers are planning trips based on easy access via rail service, particularly in Europe, Japan, and China.   Outside of North America, in most advanced countries train travel is efficient, fast, reliable, and convenient.

5. Get advice from locals rather than social media.  As useful as Facebook, Tripadviser, Instagram, etc. are, you are generally getting advice from travellers who are doing the predictable things.  If you don't want to do what everyone else is doing, why listen to their advice?  As a store clerk where the best coffee bar is nearby.  As the front desk clerk at the hotel where they like to eat for a casual meal.  Ask a museum employee where their favourite exhibit is, and why.

6. If you like private transfers, don't book the hotel-to-airport transfer ahead of time.  Book it once you get to the hotel: the concierge or front desk clerk will be aware of the real time you need to allow to get to the airport, and will likely know if there's traffic problems your time of day or a special event that will complicate things.  If you later on need to book extra time, it is far more convenient to deal directly with the person who made your booking than sit on the phone talking to an international (and expensive) limo service.

7.  Eat street food.  Yah, not everywhere.  But if you are in a reliable country, get out there and sample what local people consider "comfort food."  You'll learn more about local culture at a food truck or stand than you ever will at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

8.  While we're on the subject, find out what restaurants have chefs who came from a famous restaurant.  Often, you'll get comparable food without all the unnecessary trappings that go into getting that Michelin star.  And often a famous chef or restaurant will have secondary restaurants and bistros - check those out: save money and maybe experience things that are edgier or closer to "comfort food" than in the chef's main venue.

9.  If you're athletic, consider going for an early morning run or run, even in a big city.  Before the traffic returns, you can cover lots of territory and get a good sense of the place in peace and quiet.  End the run at a coffee bar so that you can deliver decent coffee back to your slumbering room mate.

10.  Pick cheaper hotels.  This is especially true in Europe.  Cheaper hotels typically include breakfast, free wifi, coffee/tea-making equipment in your room, and can be located in more off-the-beaten-track locations.  Large, expensive hotels make their money charging for "extras."

11. Pay cash when you check out of your last hotel.  This is a fantastic tip from a savvy client.  Rather than having to pay a second round of exchange rates when you get home (or worse, just stashing the foreign currency away and forgetting about it), pay off your last hotel bill in a country with remaining cash.  All hotels will accept a combination of cash and credit card for payments.  Almost no one ever thinks to do this!


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