As promised here are some of my own tried and true tips for striking the local/tourist trap balance.
1) Get advice from others- before you leave AND once you’re there.
Through my travels, I made decisions because of conversations. I told as many people as I could where I wanted to go, and asked for their advice. I read the local hotspot lists and the Frommer’s guide, too. What ultimately mattered most to me, however, was what sparked my interest.
2) Only listen to half of it…
No matter what guidebook or friend of a friend or blog may recommend, I was travelling for my own experience. I am passionate about Impressionist art, so I purchased a student card for unlimited access to the Museé D’Orsay in Paris-an expense others chose not to make.
3) Break away from the pack.
Even if the pack is going to an underground/improvisational/pop-up/double secret-you-can’t-get-in-even-if you-are-in-the-band concert and you want to see Big Ben strike midnight. If I learned one thing travelling in groups-be independent enough to speak up and see the sites you want to see-regardless of their rank on anyone else’s list.
Here are some tips/sites/guides I found helpful while traveling, please comment with your own favorites!:
www.frommers.com Generally has some excellent lists of those “Top” sites we all want to see, along with usually up-to-date info on opening hours and ticketing
http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/index.jspa Thorn Tree forum is a great place to ask questions of your fellow travellers
Online search engines: Don’t forget the daily grind! Look up metro access, currency exchange houses, and where you can get a cheap breakfast!
How have your travels been shaped by friends and guides? By what you happen upon by mistake? By local suggestions?
Do you think travels in smaller towns and more remote locales are more “authentic” somehow?