I feel like I’ve won the travel lottery when I avoid all the crowds at my travel destination. There’s nothing better than taking photos without all the tourists and people!

Around the world, I’ve found ways to avoid big groups of tourists. I’ve hacked my way to being the only person at famous landmarks. I’ve dodged the crowds in cities across the globe.

Here are my favorite tips for avoiding crowds, the smart way!

Travel during the weekdays, not weekends

If you can take time off work or class, consider traveling only on weekdays.

We took a Monday-Wednesday trip to Montauk, NY, where weekends are the HIGHEST times for crowds. Weekdays are totally more chilled-out, and even kind of empty!

We also found that hotel prices were extraordinarily lower from Sunday to Wednesday, compared with Thursday to Saturday nights. It’s win-win if you want some breathing room as well as a way to save money on the trip.

Travel in the off-season or shoulder season

We try to pick a place where the high seasons hasn’t yet started or is about to end. High season for a destination usually mirrors good weather, exciting festivals or holiday breaks. Travelers are less likely to book trips in rainy season or at a “random” time of year, like September.

I typically avoid traveling in summer, because it seems like everywhere in the world is crowded! I book trips in late January, after the holiday rush, as well as November (before the winter holidays). This is a great way to avoid the summer and holiday-time crowds.

Travel to the “second city” in a country

Portugal is one of my favorite countries. I love Lisbon so much that I’ve been there twice! It seems like every single traveler who comes to Portugal visits Lisbon and sticks around. The way to beat the crowds, though, is to go to a “second city.”

During our second time traveling to Portugal, we decided to take a Porto. During this trip, we noticed that there were fewer tourists in Porto than in Lisbon. We stayed in a residential neighborhood where we felt like locals! For more, see our Porto travel guide.

Wake up early to go

If you want a place to yourself, it usually means going when no one else is willing to be there. That means waking up super early to get to a place before it opens or catching an unpopular hour.

We figured out how to skip the crowds in Chichén Itzá because we took a 7am bus and got in line before 8am for tickets. This was a great way to have the place to ourselves before other tour groups arrived. We got photos without anyone else in them, which was cool. As soon as 10am came around, the tour buses unloaded with tons of tourists, and the crowds had ensued.

We did the same thing at the Tulum ruins, once we knew that this was the smart way to avoid crowding.

In Hong Kong, everything is crowded, especially the famous shopping district of Causeway Bay. During the day, there are crowds everywhere. What about at night, though?

We stayed out past dinner time and went to Causeway Bay after dark to enjoy emptier streets. this is how we got to take these cool Hong Kong night photos that we’ll always remember. The crowds are all gone!

Have some locals show you around

We enjoy talking to locals and meeting up with connections that we’ve made all over the world. After braving the crowds at the Cliffs of Moher during our road trip in the Wild Atlantic Way, we met up with my friend Rob in Dublin.

He and his wife took us on a surprise evening trip to Glendalough, a natural park with medieval stone structures. We arrived after most visitors had left, and we stayed til twilight, which was magical. We barely saw any other people. The key here is going with the local experts!

Avoid national holidays

When I lived in China and Hong Kong, traveling within the country during the Chinese New Year festivals was synonymous with “getting stuck in the crowds.” Every expat living in China knows that getting on a train or flight during the Lunar New Year holiday means absolute chaos because of all the people doing the same thing.

The key, for me, was to leave. I traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos during this time of year, and avoided the insanity of the domestic travel crowds within China. I came back and milked every last minute of my vacation hours to come back to my job with a fresh mind.

Or, travel on a national holiday

When planning what to do in Madrid on a layover, we hadn’t guessed that we’d arrive on a national holiday! This resulted in fewer crowds at some popular spots and parks!

On the flip side though, some things like landmarks and attractions were closed. We didn’t mind, because the city didn’t seem so busy, and it was a pretty relaxing stay.

Take a road trip

The times we’ve avoided crowds without much effort has been on road trips that started in major cities. We have road tripped in Portugal toward the Alentejo region, from Halifax out to the coast in Nova Scotia, from Las Palmas in Gran Canaria and around the island and from Cordoba, Argentina, to the mountains in Las Sierras.

All these times, we’ve been able to get out of the car and take incredible photos off the side of the road, without another person in view. Getting off the beaten path and out of the city (but going back to the city a few days later) has been a cool way to get rid of the tourist crowds.

Travel to underrated and developing destinations

When we were able to visit Sri Lanka, we were the first of our friends to go. Now, Sri Lanka is a popular travel destination, but the crowds do not even compare to the crowds you’ll find in Venice, Rome, NYC, Paris and London.

We were able to have a pretty relaxing trip, especially outside the cities. Most of the crowds we saw were authentically local, not foreign tourists.

Join Facebook groups before your trip

To get some insider travel information, I like to join Facebook groups geared either toward travelers or expats in the destination where I’m headed. I’ve joined groups like “Expats in Mexico” when I was living in Mexico City, and “Southeast Asia Backpacking.”

When you pose a question in these groups, you may wind up with expert tips from someone else who has recently been to a famous landmark or national park, and had a way of avoiding crowds.

The best advice that I got for visiting Barcelona was to book advance tickets for all the “Gaudi landmarks.” I hadn’t even known how important this tip would be, and it turned out to be the BEST suggestion that I got for traveling there.

While getting pre-booked entry tickets didn’t exactly let us avoid all crowds, we avoided waiting in lines for buying tickets upon arrival. We were pre-booked to everything, from Parque Guell to Sagrada Familia, and got spared from the crowds who needed to buy tickets there.

Travel to small villages

While traveling out to small villages and towns isn’t for everyone, it is certainly the way that Dan and I have avoided the crowds during our trips.

On our visit to Santa Fe de Antioquia, in Colombia, we hardly saw other tourists. It was so incredibly nice to be among the locals and just sit in the town square eating ice cream. We have lots more photos at our travel guide for Santa Fe de Antioquia.

Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the road trip through Portuguese villages we took, where we stopped by centuries-old ruins and only saw a few other visitors.

Go with a private driver

Hiring a private driver sounds expensive, and in a lot of the world, it is. But in some places, hiring a private driver is more cost-effective than doing the trip yourself.

I had a private driver and guide for the day in Angkor Wat, Cambodia, and we had a driver in Sri Lanka from Galle to Colombo. Our driver in Sri Lanka was flexible and offered to stop the car at local places, like local fishing stands along the water. We never would’ve seen these things without him!

Take a hike

Go hiking! Unless you’re going hiking somewhere like Machu Picchu or Huang Shan in China (literally the most stressful and biggest crowds EVER on this hike), chances are that you will get to spread out from other hikers and have breathing room.

A few memorable hikes where we beat the crowds are Grouse Mountain Vancouver, Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington State and The Burren National Park in Ireland (it was mostly empty).

Use Google Maps

Something I’ll do when I’m researching a new place is to hunt around Google Maps for hikes, nature walks and towns that seem interesting, but aren’t the #1 “thing to do” in a place.

The top things to do in any destination are those places that are sought-after for the photo op, and for the bragging rights to say you went there. The next-best places you may find by being a sleuth in Google Maps are where you’ll find hidden gems, and avoid big crowds.

While traveling in the Dominican Republic north coast, I looked for beaches that were in small villages. We wound up at a perfect white sand beach (Rio San Juan) where we were the only non-local visitors.

Take a guided tour or trek

A memorable place where we avoided crowds completely was our trekking trip in Sapa, Vietnam. We went with a local Hmong guide who brought us to local homes in villages. She took us to mountain tops where we were quite literally in the clouds, and there wasn’t a single other person there.

Usually when I think of “tour,” I think of going with a group of people in a van and hopping off at different points of interest. But by taking a trekking trip with a professional guide, you may have the opposite experience of avoiding all the other tourists there.

Stay in the residential parts of town

When we went to Amsterdam, we could’ve stayed in the tourist district and been near all the action. Instead, we chose accommodation at the Lloyd Hotel, in an up-and-coming area called the Eastern Docklands. We mention this in our Lloyd Hotel review!

It was very chill and mostly residential. I recommend booking a place to stay outside the downtown areas, for this type of charm. No tourist crowds here!

Visit places during off-hours

“Off-hours” in my experience has maybe meant the hottest point of the day (maybe 12 or 1pm) or meal times, when everyone is out eating lunch. By going to a popular place but not at the most popular time of day, you have a better shot at having the place to yourself.

Off-hours could also be when people tend to go in for the night, but maybe it’s still bright out! In Estonia, during the longest days of the year, the sun would set at 10pm. We went for a nature walk by the coastline at 9pm, to find basically no one there!

At national parks, avoid the gondola ride and walk instead

While this one is specific, it nearly always applies! When we were in El Teide National Park, every single visitor made a beeline for the Visitors Center and the gondola ride to the top of the mountain.

Instead, we chose to hike some of the trails in the other direction, and were rewarded with tourist-free photo opportunities (and a lot of sweat and dust). We have an article about how we went hiking in El Teide for you to see more.

Here’s a list of some of our favorite places where we have avoided the crowds:

  • Santa Fe de Antioquia, Antioquia department, Colombia
  • Pirita Beach, Tallinn, Estonia
  • Nuara Eliya, Sri Lanka
  • Vinohrady neighborhood, Prague, Czech Republic
  • Mértola village, Alentejo region, Portugal
  • Las Sierras Sierras de Córdoba, Argentina
  • Ķemeri National Park, Latvia
  • Burren National Park, Ireland
  • Rotterdam, Netherlands