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When seeking to vacation, traveling to new places can be both invigorating and frustrating. As visitors, we are often times so clueless about our location and what it has to offer that we might as well have a target on our heads for swindlers. Hustlers can smell the touristy vibes from a mile away and often times will talk you out of your money for things overly cheesy (think flashing neon signs) or things you could have done for free.

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Recently I had the chance to pick the brain of travel enthusiast Pat Croce, a former owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and the current owner of a St. Augustine, Florida pirate museum about his strategy to avoid getting caught in tourist traps. The tips we came up with will ensure that even newbie travelers will be able to find authentic activities and attractions!

1. How can you tell you got pulled into a tourist trap?

Well if the colorful sign, bad food and cheesy photo opps didn’t send the red flag up, chances are you won’t realize what a waste it was until after you’ve paid your money. Often times people will get you caught in these traps when you’re walking out of the airport or your cab driver will bring up a “hook up” he has somewhere or a “great place” he knows about (usually he’s in cahoots with the owner of where ever he takes you and gets a kick back).

The best way to not end up in a tourist trap is to research, research, research. Do your homework! Yelp, Trip Advisor and most other travel websites are filled with comments and ratings from the people who have come before you. Many previous travelers let you know what red flags they’ve encountered and often times will share the hidden gems they found. I have found myself consistently relying on Trip Advisors GPS-based  “City Guides” app for their insider tips and ratings when I’m in a new place searching for food or activities.

2. What type of tourist activities should people splurge on while on vacation?

Pat Croce said it best when he told me “Give me something that can engage my spirit, give me something I can learn but still be entertained.” I’ve never understood why some people go on vacation and do regular things like go to the mall or the movies. Save those typical things for a weekend at home. The awesome thing about being in a new place is the ability to discover–to experience something new and unknown. A worthy splurge to look into when away are one on one guided tours. Usually this can be arranged through a hotel concierge, or you can find a referral via trip advisor. Find a guide working with a credible company that will pick you up and take you to multiple locations/ attractions. More then getting bustled around the city from someone who knows its in and outs, your getting a first rate history lesson on everything around you.

3. If traveling with a limited income, how can tourists get the most activity out of their trip?

Leading back to the idea of engaging one’s spirit when traveling, the whole point, in my opinion of  being an active traveler is creating new and unique experiences. That being said, think outside the box when planning your days. Embracing the culture in the location you’re in (whether foreign or domestic) is free. Do what the locals do. If there is a market place or a train or an area of town where the natives are regulars, flock there. Find the things that bring the locals pride like the hometown landmarks, the places with traditions or backstories. A little quality time with your computer researching before and during your trip will bring you experiences that are much more enriching (and cheaper!) then grabbing the first attraction pamphlet you see and signing up.

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WANDERLUSTING: 3 Smart Ways To Avoid Tourist Traps

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WANDERLUSTING: 3 Smart Ways To Avoid Tourist Traps  was originally published on