The energy and atmosphere that come with being part of a crowd can greatly enhance some travel experiences. On the other hand, throngs of people can completely ruin a traveller’s day.
While it may seem a bit anti-social to want to avoid other people when you travel, there are lots of benefits to sidestepping big crowds. All these tips and tricks can save you time and money, and help you stay healthy on the road without having to make too many sacrifices.
Avoiding crowded places is a great way to combat over-tourism. It can open you up to more intimate and authentic travel experiences, and even lighten your environmental footprint. Visiting lesser-known destinations or popular places outside of high season helps to spread tourism dollars further, a huge positive for small businesses and communities.
As a big believer in slow, experiential and minimalist travel, I always make an effort to avoid congested places. In this post, I’m sharing my top hacks for how to easily avoid crowds when travelling.
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25 tips to avoid crowds when travelling
Next time you travel, try putting these practical tips into place. Some of these hacks can be implemented in the planning phase, helping you set the foundation for a quieter, more peaceful travel experience.
Swap ‘must-visit’ for ‘lesser-known’
This may seem obvious, but opting out of popular or ‘trending’ destinations is one of the easiest ways to avoid large crowds.
The negative effects of over-tourism on cities such as Venice and Barcelona have been well documented. For every bucket-list city we’re told we have to see once in our lifetime, there are dozens more under-the-radar destinations that are just as worthy of our time. It may take a bit more digging to find them, but the reward is usually worth it.
For some inspiration, start with this list of alternative city break destinations in Europe.
Remember that travel trends come and go – destinations are cast in the spotlight then drop off the radar almost as quickly. Is everyone you know visiting City X this summer? It may be more sustainable to wait until next year.
Travel during shoulder season
There’s a reason it’s called peak season.
Crowds are at their thickest, prices are highest, and there’s a greater chance of things selling out. Whenever I travel somewhere in high season, I always sense a tenser mood. In some places, a boost in tourist numbers goes hand-in-hand with an increase in petty crime.
For most of Europe, summer is the busiest time of year while the winter months are low season. My advice: Embrace spring and autumn travel!
Timing is everything, and shoulder season is your best friend if you want to avoid crowds.
When it comes to Southeast Asia, don’t be afraid of travelling during wet season. You’d do well to avoid countries that experience a full-scale monsoon, but as I learned when I lived in Phnom Penh, ‘green season’ is actually the nicest time of year to visit Cambodia.
Tap into crowd calendars
Some popular attractions (including theme parks) publish crowd calendars online. They can estimate the number of visitors for the season ahead based on data from previous years. Some go into minute detail, projecting which weeks or even days will be the busiest.
If you have a long lead-time on your trip, researching crowd calendars can help you decide which dates to avoid. Even if you’re not going to visit a theme park, the annual trends can give you a clue as to when the local area is busiest.
If everyone followed this logic, the quiet days would soon turn into the most crowded days! But it remains a good way to plan ahead and avoid crowds when you travel.
Understand domestic tourism cycles
Domestic tourists have very different travel preferences to international visitors – just think about how differently you approach planning a trip in your home country compared with international travel. Peak season for local travel might fall during low season depending on public holidays, school breaks, and many other factors.
The easiest way to avoid crowds of domestic tourists is to research the local calendar first. When are school holidays? When do the major public holidays and long weekends fall?
Consider festivals & events
Attending a festival or ceremony is a wonderful way to experience a different culture. If this is one of your main priorities when you travel, you may wish to time your trip with a special celebration or ritual.
Depending on the context, festival season can be busier or quieter than other times of the year. In many cultures, religious festivals are designated family time; people leave the bigger cities and travel back home to spend time with their relatives.
Taipei during Lunar New Year or Hanoi during Tet, for example, are both extremely quiet. If you want to move around, that’s another story – public transport is often very crowded and it can be difficult to buy tickets.
Consider major events that are planned years in advance, for example Lunar New Year, as well as small rituals you might not know about, for example religious pilgrimages. Also remember that ‘official’ holidays often differ in practice and can stretch out for days either side of the calendar dates.
Pre-purchase tickets for major attractions online
One of the easiest ways to avoid crowds of other tourists is by skipping the line at major attractions.
These days, most museums, galleries and historical landmarks give you the option to pre-purchase tickets before you arrive and bypass the queue. Online tickets often come with added perks, such as discounts, local guides, exclusive access to a part of the attraction other tourists might miss, etc.
My favourite platform for buying tickets online is Get Your Guide. They offer a huge selection at great prices, a user-friendly app (no need to print anything out), and a very flexible cancellation policy.
Use Google’s ‘Popular times’ feature
One of my favourite free tools for avoiding crowds when travelling is Google’s ‘Popular times’ graph. Like a crowd calendar, it correlates user data to show you which days of the week – and, conveniently, which times of the day – a restaurant, museum, shop or other venue is likely to be busiest. Not everywhere has one, but it’s worth a quick internet search to see if the data is available.
To access the graph, just search for a business name on Google. On desktop, it will appear on the right-hand panel of the search results page. On mobile, you can also find the graph on the Google Maps business page.
The blue bars indicate the most popular hours. It also tells you the average wait time for restaurants and cafes, and the average amount of time people usually spend there.
Skip the free tour
I’m a huge fan of free city tours. But if I want to avoid crowds, I always skip them. Why? They’re popular, so they’re usually busy. And they often visit the most crowded places in a city at the busiest time of day.
Instead, I suggest upgrading to a paid tour. The more bespoke the itinerary, the higher the chance of having the guide to yourself or being part of an intimate group. When booking tours, always check first to see if there’s a cap on group size. I try to avoid anything where the group size is over 10 people.
Hire a private guide
Hiring a private guide is one of the easiest ways to venture beyond the popular sites and discover the quieter corners of a city or town.
Private guides often give you greater flexibility in choosing a start time for your tour, so you can get out before (or after) the crowds.
Ask a local
There’s no substitute for local knowledge. If hiring a private guide is out of your budget range, try looking online for itineraries written by local bloggers – or just ask around for recommendation when you arrive.
It’s easy to forget that locals don’t always hang out (or eat or shop) where tourists do, especially in bigger cities. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve asked an accommodation host or taxi driver for a local tip and ended up in an uncrowded, fascinating part of town as a result.
Use Google Maps instead of TripAdvisor for food recs
There’s nothing at all wrong with TripAdvisor (I use it regularly), but because of the nature of the platform, it does tend to privilege more touristy venues. To find less-crowded restaurants, bars and cafes in particular, try using Google Maps instead.
In my experience, Google Maps is better for finding local recommendations because locals are more likely to use it. When I arrive in a new place, I always pinpoint my accommodation and go for a virtual ‘walk’ through the neighbourhood, clicking on icons to see what has a high star rating. I then save anything that sounds promising.
There’s a bit of a paradox here: Crowded restaurants are often the safest in terms of hygiene (especially in Southeast Asia) and serve the most delicious food! Thus, I recommend scoping places out at ‘peak eating time’ and coming back earlier or later if you want to avoid crowded dining areas.
Adjust your meal times
Don’t worry, you can have your cake and eat it too! If you want to avoid eating out at the busiest times of day, figure out the general daily patterns and try to adjust your mealtimes to be before or after ‘peak’ dining hours.
In other words, eat where locals eat – just don’t eat when locals eat.
When we travel, we usually prepare a light breakfast at home then eat a big meal at around 11am when restaurants or cafes first open. We’re usually the first ones in, and we’re out before the lunchtime rush.
Food delivery apps have really come into their own in the past few years. If you really want to avoid crowded restaurants, try ordering in instead.
Apps differ from country to country; when you arrive in a new place, set your location on your phone and browse popular downloads in your area on the app store – this will usually reveal the most popular services.
Remember that some restaurants and cafes offer direct delivery via their Facebook Page or website to counteract the overheads third-party apps charge.
BYO water (and snacks)
Avoid crowded malls and grocery stores by packing your own snacks before you go out for a day of exploring.
Travelling with a reusable water bottle and avoiding pre-packaged foods is also a great way to minimise your use of single-use plastics.
Find out when cruise boats dock/tour buses arrive
If you’re travelling to a place with a cruise port or a famous landmark that attracts busloads of tour groups, see if you can’t scope out the time of day crowds usually start pouring in.
On our recent road trip around Montenegro, we arrived in Kotor to find a huge cruise liner had just docked in the harbour. We asked our Airbnb host when passengers were likely to disembark, and according to her, it ran like clockwork, with people flooding the Old Town at the same hour every morning during summer season.
We planned our schedule around it and managed to avoid encountering any big groups.
Wake up early
One of the easiest ways to beat the crowds is to get up and get out early. I love taking early morning strolls when I travel, especially in bigger cities. There’s usually less traffic, fewer people, and better light for photography as well.
Cities often have a more local feel in the wee hours. Plus, you can pack a lot more into your day if you start early.
Take advantage of siesta hours
Similarly, in many countries it’s customary to take an extended break in the middle of the day for lunch. Businesses close up, people go home to eat, and the streets empty out. This is a great time to take advantage of the relative quiet and explore at your own pace.
On our recent layover in Doha, we realised the souq was closed for several hours during the hottest part of the day. Wandering the alleyways and aisles of stalls, we had the whole place to ourselves – all products set out perfectly but without another soul in sight.
Avoid moving around during peak hour
Peak hour differs wildly from country to country, city to city, depending on what the regular working hours are. If you can figure out when local peak hour falls (if in doubt, ask a local), you can easily avoid being out on the roads at the busiest time of day.
Less time waiting in traffic and less energy spent negotiating busy footpaths leaves more fuel in the tank for exploring.
Using public transport is often the cheapest and most efficient way to get around a city. It’s also an almost guaranteed way to find yourself in the midst of a throng of other commuters.
If it’s reasonable to do so, consider walking instead – you’ll notice a whole lot more from street level.
Hire a bicycle
Hiring a bicycle isn’t just a practical way to get around, it can also give you unprecedented access to the quieter parts of a city or nature spots that you might not be able to get to using public transport.
Stay in local neighbourhoods rather than tourist hubs
Every city has a few designated neighbourhoods where tourists tend to congregate. But you can always find accommodation options outside of the main hubs.
There are lots of good reasons to extend your search for accommodation beyond the central zones: Cheaper prices, more unique properties, more affordable restaurant options – and of course, if you’re out of the city centre and on the fringe, probably fewer crowds.
Try using Airbnb or Booking.com to find an apartment. You don’t want to stay too far out, so always check the location on Google Maps to make sure you can still access the sites you want to visit, either by public transport or on foot.
Spend the night near popular sites
I love a good day trip or excursion – but if I want to get up early and beat the crowds to a well-known attraction, I’ll try to find accommodation nearby for the night before.
As an example, we recently took a day trip from Lisbon to Sintra. We thought we were doing the right thing by waking up for the first train of the day, but we only just managed to get a seat! By the time we arrived in Sintra, it was absolutely packed with day visitors.
Had we gone up the day before and spent the night in Sintra, we could have woken up before the first train of the day pulled into the station and beat the crowds to the punch.
Choose your airport wisely
When booking international travel, people tend to look at flights into the capital without considering other options. Is there an alternative airport nearby? Flying into a smaller city is a good way to avoid crowds and beat the hubbub of the capital.
In Western Europe where there’s good rail connections, or in the Balkans where travel distances are short, it might even make more sense to fly into bordering country then make your way to your final destination.
Use an app to fast-track passport control
It’s difficult to avoid crowds at the airport – transiting is one of those situations where you’re likely to be surrounded by other people, usually waiting around in queues.
There are a number of mobile apps you can now use to fast-track airport immigration. Mobile Passport (US and Canada only) lets you pre-submit your travel documents and speed through immigration via the express lane.
There are lots of advantages to carrying minimal luggage, including saving money on baggage fees and streamlining the airport experience.
Travelling with carry-on only can also help you avoid crowds at the airport: Walk straight off the plane, bypassing the carousels.
Meeting fellow travellers, connecting with locals and joining in atmospheric events are all an important part of the travel experience. But no one likes to feel like they’re jostling through Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing every time they go outside!
There are lots of easy steps you can take to avoid crowds when travelling. Do you have any advice or tips of your own to add? Let me know in the comments below.