Avoid The Tourist Traps and Explore the Hidden Paths

by Orielle Heilicher, Tastemaker in Residence  

Traveling as a student can have its positives and negatives. When you're constantly checking your bank account for how much money you are spending daily, but you can't really seem to control your spending habits, traveling can seem daunting. Plane tickets, meals, transaction fees and tourist attractions can quickly make your bank account scream.

As I experience more travel opportunities, I notice that the museums and tourist attractions have a high cost. Twenty euros for a student is a lot of money to get into one single attraction. The endless museums, towers, duomos to climb, and buildings to see are definitely worth the money when you have a guide telling you the context of all the attractions, but it often comes at a higher cost. Although these experiences are worth the money, I have learned that my best experiences abroad have been avoiding the touristy spots. There are definite exceptions to this rule, but my study abroad experience has slowly been teaching me to make my own fun in the pursuit of finding hidden treasures.

When I traveled to Amsterdam I went on a small canal tour with a low cost and it was worth all the hassle I went through to find it. It was relaxing and I learned information about Amsterdam I would not have learned on a conventional tour. Did you know that people in Amsterdam when building their homes are taxed based on the width of their houses? Neither did I until my canal tour.

Similarly, my trip to Prague was almost absent of tourist attractions. Of course I walked across the Charles Bridge and I saw the gorgeous buildings, but only briefly. The real magic of traveling is the hunt for small local places, roaming around the streets, and finding the unique local attractions like the candy shops with every type of candy imaginable. The bar scene is minimal in Prague, but the two I did visit were beyond amazing and intriguing. The bars almost always double as a live music venue. The bar Vzorkovna is the perfect example filled with different types of beer (typical of the Czech Republic), music, foosball and endless rooms to sit in.

You cannot forget to ride a Lime scooter before leaving Prague. They are dispersed all over the city, cheap to ride and a lot of fun to enjoy either alone or with friends. Download the app, find a Lime on the street and go.

While in Interlaken, Switzerland I chose many of the touristy things including kayaking between the mountains and paragliding among the mountains. Even though these were both expensive, it was completely worth it. I saw some of the most beautiful things when I happened to get lost with some friends on my way back from town. I encountered views of mountains that I had not seen before, as well as restaurants and cute houses that were tucked away.

Now, the most important of them all, Florence. Florence is home to never ending museums, churches and historical monuments. It is overwhelming to parse through all the history and tourist attractions to find your own fun. Living in Florence, I have found it much more rewarding to find new things that do not attract a crowd.

The small caffès around public architecture provide the perfect atmosphere for walking around to enjoy the weather and cute artisan shops. The Boboli Gardens in Florence are beautiful and massive. Even if there are many people, you will find spots that are secluded where you can enjoy the simple beauty of nature and escape from the city life. You can even bring a picnic to enjoy while you visit. Another place to have an amazing outdoor experience with a view is the Piazzale Michelangelo. I'm sure you may have heard that this location features the perfect sunset view of the entire city of Florence. Also, as often as you can, find the bars and food that do not attract tourists, but attract locals. These are mostly on the other side of the Arno (river).

As I travel more often as a study abroad student, I find that students tend to gravitate towards other students, student bars, student discounted restaurants and student centered travel trips. Surrounding yourself with this kind of atmosphere does not allow for expanding horizons, so I suggest branching out in order to have an authentic cultural experience. So far, the trips I have been on with the least amount of the touristy feel and the least student centered activities have been my favorite.

I hope you take my advice for your next trip whether it’s in the US, or abroad, enjoy every little thing and take in all the culture you can.