“It is not down in any map; true places never are.” – Herman Melville
Today on my way home from class, I walked by my favorite panini place in Trastevere and noticed something for the first time: a sign outside that read “WE ARE AGAINST WAR AND TOURIST MENU.” I laughed to myself at the irony that it was in English, and then counted my blessings to live just a few minutes from this local, delicious, and brutally honest establishment that is the self-proclaimed “oldest panini house in Rome.” I shook my head as right next door there was an obnoxious menu with badly photographed pictures of the food and a man outside begging people to come to eat there. To me, that is the most painfully obvious sign of a tourist trap. Unfortunately, it takes significant travel experience to be able to recognize these things.
One of my number one goals when I travel is to live and act like a local, whether I am there for 2 months or 2 hours. My most googled phrase is “best local restaurants + insert city I’m in here” or “off the beaten track activities in said city.” I think this habit is due in part to Travel For Teens, where I have certainly learned in the past three years how to be a traveler and not a tourist. At TFT, we pride ourselves on itineraries and activities that hit the major points, but that a local would still enjoy. With experts in every place we travel, extensive on-the-ground research, and some local staff members, we are able to provide the ultimate experience that is not only enriching and educational but fun and different. A Travel for Teens trip is truly unique and unforgettable, to say the least, and you can bet it won’t be cheesy. It is vital to our mission to encourage teens to love travel, appreciate differences among cultures, and invoke a desire in them to learn and see more.
TRAVEL FOR TEENS TOP 10 TIPS ON HOW TO AVOID TOURIST TRAPS:
1. Ask your friends and acquaintances (social media is of huge help here), if you are going to a popular destination you probably know someone who has been there before – especially people who have lived/studied in that place for long periods of time.
2. AVOID anyone that approaches (harasses) you on the street and tries to sell you their product/look at their menu/get you in their restaurant or bar. Authentic, quality spots do not need somebody on the street pulling tourists into their establishment.
3. Try not to eat at restaurants in main squares/piazzas/plazas/places. Generally speaking, they are overpriced and overrated.
4. Utilize the internet!!! There are thousands of pages of reviews out there – take the time to read some of them.
5. Go local. Give your business to the family-owned establishments that have been around forever.
6. Talk to local people – your taxi driver, the butcher, or even someone who just looks like they know what they’re doing. Chances are they will know the good spots and be happy to help out.
7. If you are living somewhere for an extended period of time, try your very absolute hardest to make friends (or date!) with a native of the country (…still working on this one). This will open so many doors.
8. Go to an open air market. Keep going back to the same person and you might see the prices getting better as time goes on.
9. Get lost on the winding streets outside of the city center. You never know where you may end up or what you could discover.
10. Don’t take a picture of the gladiators outside the Colosseum. They WILL charge you.