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How To Travel Without Crowds In High Season!

July 15, 2010

family travel avoiding crowds in high season for more freedom & peace

 I hate crowds, don't you? Especially when I'm traveling to special places as there is nothing better than having them all to your self or sharing with just a few others, so one can truly take in the essence of a place. How can anyone really enjoy a place when you are in wall to wall people in a mass of humanity? That is not the way I want to experience the world.

Everyone knows that high season is the worst time to travel, but sometimes that can't be avoided. We have been traveling non stop since 2006 and we do travel off season and shoulder season as much as we can, but we also have gained great experience on the tricks of how to avoid crowds even in the highest of seasons in the most popular places. People often ask us how we manage to have photos and videos of popular touristy areas without crowds in them.

We visited Mykonos when the whole island was booked in August and four huge cruise ships waited in the harbor, yet enjoyed the peace and bliss of a deserted gorgeous beach and walked tiny Mykonos Town totally alone. When we visited world renown Ephesus, Turkey in high season, we had it totally to ourselves for the first thirty minutes which was thrilling. We spent a month in Dubrovnik in August, it's highest season, yet spent the whole time enjoying it without crowds.

We visited Austria's most visited site, Melk Abbey in it's highest season when it is overrun by river cruise and bus tours, yet we had it entirely to ourselves as we visited the famous library and church totally alone. We stayed at an enchanting place on Crete and saw Knossos without any crowds in high season. We visited Cinque Terre and Portofino in high season, yet had such a peaceful stay minus crowds that  we added another week. We even saw the Louvre and Mona Lisa without any crowds and it is always high season there!

How did we manage to do these things? We are not magicians and found that it is easier than most people think. Slow travel certainly is an advantage, but most of the tricks can be used with any type of travel. Here are our top tips:

1) Make it a priority to avoid crowds 

family travel seeing cruise ship crowds and buses- how to avoid this & have more fun for less

Bus loads of folks from the expensive river cruise boats touring the crowded, high cost way

2) Talk to Locals

The locals know the inside information, so talk to them or others who have spent a lot of time in an area. Travel forums like Fodors, Bootsnall, Lonely Planet, Slow Talk, etc can be a big help. We have used all of them and find them a great source while planning a trip.

Once you get there, talk to the locals! Start with the people at your hotel, pension or campsite and tourist information, but don't be afraid to just ask anyone. Learn how to say hello in the local language, then ask if they speak English ( or any other languages that you speak) and ask away. You would be amazed at how helpful the grocer, gas station attendant, man on the street, person sitting next to you in a cafe, etc can be.

Even if they have limited English, most people enjoy helping travelers and can give you the basics like what day a place is least crowded. People make travel special, so it is just another way to make your experience more enriching and sometimes you will make special connections by going out of your comfort zone and asking for what you need.


3) Find out when cruise ships & buses come and avoid them

It is not unusual for a few cruise ships to flood a small popular tiny town like Dubrovnik, Mykonos, Capri or a site like Ephesus with 30 thousand people at once. It is a frightening, horrible  and frustrating way to experience a place and totally ruins it.  We had to learn the hard way to avoid this at all cost as it is such a lousy way to see a place that it is better not to see it at all.

There seems to always be days that none come, so that it when you want to be there!  Otherwise you will feel like a piece of food that is engulfed by a swam of ants. Not only can you not see anything, you will not be able to get a meal, taxi, a bus seat or anything. Trust me, you will be hot, miserable and squashed,  so avoid at all costs.

5) Be first or last

We do not tend to be early risers ( I can be, but my dear ones who travel with me are sleepy heads that tend to move very slow in the morning). Sometimes though, it really pays off to get up and out very early. Sometimes very early. Note that at Ephesus , Melk Abbey and Mykonos Town mentioned above, we were up early and the very first ones to arrive. That was absolute key in having those places to ourselves in high season ( Ephesus and Melk were also on non-cruise ship days).

Late in the day is another way to avoid the crowds. Why not hang out at the pool all day relaxing, then hit the key sites an hour or two before closing? Usually the cruise ship folks have gone back to the boat and other daytrippers have faded from fatigue or off for a beer, wine or early supper.

Sometimes we do both for a place, which is really easy to do with slow travel and gives one many advantages. With the  Melk Abbey, we went late in the day on a cruise day. We saw a lot without paying the fee ( even part of the church)  and got a real sense of the place and how it worked. It is always a good feeling to be walking to a well known place as you pass all the hoards leaving. (Late in the day is also a good time to talk to the people who work there and get more information.)

We also went back on a non-cruise day and were the first ones there. We had it totally to ourselves, including renown library and church for over an hour! We ended up getting both afternoon sun photos ( from our first visit)  as well as the morning ones. Then we also added the English tour with a small group of people as the abbey filled up with more people ( but not over crowded as it gets on cruise days).

We really got to enjoy Melk and the other gems that we saw in high season, because we had the time, space, quiet and ease to take it all in with time to relax and reflect. No rushing, no crowds.

  Family travel Austria, frugal travel can be better than luxury travel for avoiding crowds

Enjoying a whole peaceful park to ourselves in Melk right on the Danube for less than 20 euros a day next to the expensive cruise boats & we did a day cruise plus our bikes  for a pittance.



6) Stay in peaceful oasis

I think it is always important to stay in a peaceful oasis, but even more so in high season. One needs time to relax, refresh and rejuvenate while traveling. Time spent just reading, hanging out, playing in a pool or jacuzzi or doing nothing is important and we tend to enjoy these more in beautiful, peaceful, uncrowded surroundings.

Some places are harder than others to avoid the crowds, so where you stay is key. If we had stayed in Mykonos Town in August, it probably would have been harder to find a peaceful place at a good price as that is the main area where the cruise ship folks take over.

At Ephesus it is Kusadasi that is over run with tourists and cruise ships. Thus, these are the kind of areas we avoid staying. We don't usually book ahead, but keep our eyes open ( usually before hand relying on locals through forums, Tripadvisor or crowdsourcing through Twitter or Facebook) for a small, peaceful, authentic, family friendly place.

In Mykonos we stayed far from the maddening crowd because it was high season and a lovely traditional place in Selcuk very near Ephesus and the important museum and sites to avoid the crowds. Since my priority is to skip the crowds and have as authentic experience as possible, I research each place to analyze what would best serve this purpose.

I don't have endless time to research every place we stay, so a certain amount is just instinct, luck and common sense. I always try to find the best hotel, pension, hostel, B&B, or campsite at the best price. I know what we like and appreciate and tend to be able to hone onto them quickly. What are your tricks and tips to avoid the crowds in high season?

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Adventurous Kate

Great advice here, Jeanne!

A few things to add to #5:

Hit scenic/outdoor/nonticketed places early in the day and museums later in the day.

I'm SO not an early riser, but my friends and I got to Castle Hill in Budapest by 8:00 AM, before the area attractions opened. We were literally the only people there! It was so much fun running around Castle Hill, taking pictures with no one else in sight! Two hours later, it was positively SWARMED.

Many museums also have free or discounted entry later in the day, and tourists don't often take advantage, so it pays to go later!

Christina

Last year when we went to Grand Cayman Island with two 3 year olds, we went in the middle of September, a key to our great experience. We also stayed on the East End, the slowest, least-crowded spot on the island. We rented a garden apartment of a mult-million dollar home, right on the ocean, and the owner was never there, so we were alone the whole time. The cost to rent per week was much less than even the mid-range hotels.

We swam with the dolphins, explored caves and even ate at one of the highest rated restaurants, located right on the ocean, completely all to ourselves. We even walked through a botanical park and only saw two other people in our two hours there. At sunset, we had an entire beach to ourselves.

It was a wonderful, peaceful way to explore a beautiful island.

soultravelers3

Kate - Absolutely, going early and going late can make such a difference! Thanks for adding your experience! I'll keep that in mind when we head back to Budapest in summer. ;) Timing is everything, eh?

soultravelers3

Christina - Wow, that sounds like an amazing time! Thanks so much for adding your tips!

TreverJClark

Great post. Where are you guys spending the winter anyway?

Subadra

Hi there,
It has been a while since I followed your blog. We are a homeschooling family in the bay area, and have seen you post in couple of hs lists long time ago.
This blog is a delightful read. Are you guys planning a visit to Asia at any time, specifically India? Let me know. We will be living in India for the next year (or 2) and will be doing a lot of travel in the Asian continent. It will be fun to meet up..
Subadra

soultravelers3

Trevor - Thanks! We plan to winter in Malaysia this year so that Mozart can immerse in her Mandarin to a deeper level at a Chinese school there, probably in the Penang area.

Subadra - Thanks for your kind words. I remember you! We will be wintering in Asia for a few years to help Mozart get very fluent in her Mandarin.

We have friends from the Bay area that have moved to New Delhi so we plan to visit them and the Taj Mahal next spring on our way back to Europe.

Hopefully we can connect too! We will be exploring Asia while wintering there.

Subadra

Oh that is great to know. We will be moving around in Bangalore/ Chennai/Mumbai...Keep us updated!
-Subadra

Vacation Ideas

Wow! That was so elaborate and well written..When I travel with my family I always make it a point to talk to the locals to know the best time to go to a particular location..
A really helpful guide, this one!

Cheers!

Dan - Voyagner

Tourist crowds can definitely be over the top and annoying. Sometimes though crowds are the essence of a place, what would be the point in traveling the world if it were all empty?

soultravelers3

VI - Thanks!

Dan - Good point! Weather and crowds really impact ones perception of an area so much. We've just returned to a wonderful spot in Provence that we last saw in October with no crowds. I certainly enjoyed the place without the crowds, but must admit there is a totally different feel here in high season summer and it is not all bad.

If one wants to see the best places at the best time, sometimes you have to deal with some crowds and that can be okay as long as there are not too many.

Leslie

Helpful tips thanks!
crowds could really be stressing ,you'll just waste your energy instead of having fun. No argument on the be first or last tip.

Andre

Great post. I do enjoy most locations with less 'tourists' but I do agree with Dan that sometimes it's the crowds that make the place. Rio Carnival for example

V

Hi Jeanne,

Great post, as always. You mention "non cruise days" often in your post. Can you help with how you determine that in advance? Look at all the cruise lines' itinerary for the port of call during your visit?

Thanks,

V

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thanks for the kind words V! You are right, I suppose I should have been more clear about how we avoid cruise days if at all possible...we just ask the locals.

They usually know when the cruise ships come..so we avoid those days and times. Also one can usually avoid the gigantic cruise crowds by going early or late in the day if you are stuck on going only on a cruise day.

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