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Avoid Tourist Traps (Your Wallet Will Thank You)

You can hear the sound of ocean waves crashing in next to you, the sun is kissing your cheeks, a salty breeze is cooling your skin, and a polite waiter is slipping an icy drink into your hand while softly saying, “that’ll be sixteen dollars, miss…” Wait, what?!

Yep, this is exactly where our long-awaited vacations go wrong. Everything seems to be going so smoothly until you get the bill. Your relaxation goes out the door and the stress strolls in.

Tourist traps know all-to-well that you, the innocent vacationer, are a money tree. As soon as you set foot on the soil of some touristy destination, you can bet that most people you meet will be trying to get your money.

You want to avoid going into debt because of your vacation, so you can avoid losing your hard-earned dollars on common tourist traps with a little planning and know-how before your trip begins.

Convenience Isn’t Free

Hotels, resorts, restaurants, ice cream parlors, and even parking lot owners know that you go on vacation to relax and will do anything you can to avoid getting stressed out. Because of this, they’ll charge ridiculously mark-up prices on anything that’s convenient for you.

  • Want a parking spot within three miles of the restaurant you plan to dine at? It’s yours— as long as you pay $10 plus tip to valet your car.
  • Want a fruity drink delivered to you right on the beach? Sure! Just be prepared to pay double or triple what you would pay for the same drink at your local watering hole. (And, of course, you’ll be paying far more than if you made the drink at home).

How do you avoid all the mark-ups? Simple: Get rid of the middle man.

How many family vacations did you go on where your parents stopped off at the local grocery store for snacks and drinks to stock the hotel room? And sure, paying to park your car is a nice luxury, but if you’re okay with walking a bit and enjoying some nice weather, why not just park a bit further away?

Plan, Research, Plan Some More

Another thing tourist traps know? How much you don’t know.

Unless you revisit the same destination year after year, you probably don’t know your way around your vacation destination. This can be a huge problem for your stress-level and your wallet.

Think about it: You probably know your hometown like the back of your hand. You know where you can get the best steak at the best price. You know where to find cheap or free parking…even close to the hottest places. And you definitely know where that little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place is that serves the best 99-cent margaritas every week night.

People that are new to a city (and probably only visiting for a week or so) have no idea where to find the best stuff for the best prices.

Again, the solution is simple: Do your research!

Scour the Web for reviews about the city that you’re visiting. Get the low down on hotels from Then, check out the restaurants that residents recommend (instead of just driving around aimlessly and settling on some pricey, generic place). Try and for the best local recommendations. Look for helpful tips on navigating the city (yes, an electronic navigation system is helpful, but it doesn’t know how to avoid tourist traps).

After you’ve done your research, write down numbers, directions, and addresses that could help you during your vacation. Just don’t forget to take the information with you!

(Note: If you’re traveling domestically, that could be as easy as packing your phone. If you’re traveling abroad, be careful about using data on a smartphone without checking with your carrier. Depending on your plan, it’s easy to wrack up hundreds of dollars of charges without even knowing it.)

It’s Still About Having Fun

If you can do a little research before you head out on your journey, it can save you tons of headaches and dollars. Of course, the ultimate goal on vacation is fun and relaxation, so you can’t avoid all those costs for convenience. Try to save a little extra cash so you’ll be prepared when you run into unavoidable tourist trap expenses.

Try as we might, we can’t avoid all those tricky tourist traps; but we can do some research and prepare to fight off as many of them as we can.

What about you? How do you avoid tourist traps? What are your best money saving tips for vacations?

Published or updated on August 13, 2010

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About Amber Gilstrap

Amber is a twenty-something CPA from Kansas City, Missouri who loves writing, working out, and---of course---finding fresh ideas for saving money. Follow her on twitter @amberinks.


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  1. David Weliver says:

    Great post, Carrie.

    The prices resorts charge for food and drinks never stops amazing me. I was at a resort in Puerto Rico two years ago where 12 oz cans of cheap beer were $8 at the poolside bar. Needless to say, we found alternatives very quickly.

    The prices were almost as steep where I went on my honeymoon in Aruba, though I confess we splurged a little more for fruity drinks delivered to us on the beach.

    I don’t mind spending money on good food at quality restaurants while on vacation, but buying overpriced beer and burgers definitely gets me (mai tais on the beach excluded, perhaps). I usually stop at a local grocery store/liquor store pretty quickly.

    PS: 99-cent margaritas? I gotta come to Kansas City!

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