Every travel destination has something you just have to see or do.
You’ll read about it in guidebooks as you plan your trip and you’ll hear it when you arrive from the locals. As a tourist, you’re expected to want to go to visit the top tier attractions, walking the path of countless others that came before you and paying a pretty penny for it.
These activities are popular for a reason, but with such high traffic comes a sad but true downside: experiences that are often pricey, crowded and a tad overrated.
Here are some of the world’s most iconic travel experiences with comparable (and cheaper!) alternatives to help you venture a little farther off the beaten path.
1) A Gondola Ride in Venice
Ah, Venice. This floating city is filled with winding canals and bridges and the top ‘to do’ in this spot is a ride on one of Venice’s famous Gondolas.
I’ll admit that, in theory, there’s something charming about being serenaded by a handsome Italian gondolier as you float magically through the Venice canals. That is, until you realize that you just shelled out a small fortune ($115 for 40 minutes) for this ride through the back alleys of Venice.
Instead: hitch a lift on a traghetto
If you want to maintain the experience of getting up close and personal with the canals, do what the locals do: hop on a traghetto, a public transport gondola essentially unadvertised to tourists that takes passengers from one side of the Grand Canal to the other.
With seven stops along the Grand Canal and with fares under a dollar (!) you’ll be able to both bypass the confusing streets and get to say that you’ve taken an authentic Venetian gondola ride.
The best of both worlds! (And, maybe the traghetto’s gondolier will sing if you ask nicely enough…!)
2) Bungee Jumping or Sky Diving in New Zealand
Adrenaline junkies and adventure enthusiasts alike converge on New Zealand’s pristine landscape, seeking beautiful scenery and action packed activities.
The pilgrimage to hurdle yourself off a bridge or out of a plane is usually at the top of the list for most young travelers. It’s a Kiwi rite of passage and along with your jump you’re sure to be offered robust (and expensive) photo and video packages to capture the whole experience.
Instead: Hike the Tongariro Alpine Crossing
Not for the faint of heart, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an adrenaline filled day hike on the North Island.
You’ll pass dormant volcanoes, steaming geothermal ground and, honestly, what’s more harrowing than knowing that one wrong step and you could fall off a mountain?! Perilous, yes, but also beautiful and a once in a lifetime opportunity to say you hiked in the footsteps of Sir Edmund Hillary.
3) Swim with the Dolphins in Hawaii
For many, swimming with dolphins is the ultimate bucket list item.
There’s something about getting to play, touch and frolic with the lovable creatures that gets many a hearts a flutterin’ and many a wallets a-opening.
Throughout the various islands, there are marine parks where you are given some quality time with a dolphin. These adventures are memorable, but at prices from $100 to $250+ they are often very expensive as well.
Instead: go snorkeling!
Rather than going to a commercialized park to see your wildlife, grab your snorkel gear and head out into the crystal clear ocean in search of the graceful green turtles (otherwise known as “honu.”)
There are countless places that are known to have frequent turtle visitors, but the Big Island and Maui’s Kaanapali Black Rock are sure bets. And who knows… you might just run into a dolphin while you’re out there, too!
4) Harbor Tour in Sydney, Australia
Sydney is known for world-class beaches, tons of green space and beautiful coastal hikes. But this all pales when compared to the picturesque Sydney Harbor, the epicenter and heart of the city.
With the picturesque Opera House and the dramatic and sweeping Sydney Harbor Bridge, it’s expected that tourists will flock to the water on pricey cruises (from $50 to over $125 per person) to get up close to these stunning landmarks for unique views and great photo ops.
Instead: ride the Manly Ferry
The Manly Ferry is a great alternative to a formal and expensive “Harbor Cruise.” For under $15 USD, you can have a round trip ticket on the ferry from central Circular Quay to Manly Beach.
Enjoy the 30 minutes ride through the harbor (past all of the top sights) before disembarking at the fabulous Manly Beach for an afternoon of fun in the sun.
TIP: For the best views of the Opera house, be sure to sit on the right side of the ferry going to Manly Beach, and the left side heading back to Sydney.