Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 9.17.36 PM-ANIMATION-1A few days ago, Laura suggested that skipping the inside of the Coliseum in Rome isn’t a bad idea because, really, it’s better from the outside anyway. But since then, I’ve had several conversations with people arguing more or less the same point: If you’re going all the way to Rome, you might as well do everything.

That’s a good point, and if we all had unlimited time and resources, I’d absolutely agree. But since we don’t, there’s a strong case to be made for skipping some of the big sites while traveling. Here’s why:

1. Skipping big sites saves tons of money, which let’s you travel more often. 

Visiting tourist sites is expensive. In Rome, there’s the Coliseum, the Vatican Museum, the Forum, the Borghese Gallery, dozens of churches, etc. Setting aside the fact that it’d take months (or years) to do everything, most of these sites cost money. Many of them are actually quite pricey. (The Coliseum is currently 12 euros.)

This is true in every city. In Paris, for example, visiting the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Orsay, the catacombs, and the Pompidou, is going to cost a fortune.

Wandering is free

If you cut some of these sites out, you can prolong your travels. Skipping, say, the Coliseum and the Forum, could buy you another night in a hostel or budget hotel. (There are really cheap-but-good hotels in Europe.) Skipping multiple sites over multiple trips can can net enough savings to buy additional trips. I know, because this is one way I’ve been able to afford traveling without being rich.

Of course, no one should cut out all the big sites. Traveling successfully means figuring out how to prioritize and where to make sacrifices. It also means figuring out which sites you can experience without paying to go inside. Neuschwanstein, in Germany, is one of those sites. The Vatican Museum, which houses the Sistine Chapel, probably isn’t.

2. Skipping big sites actually makes for more rewarding travel experiences. 

Skip the Doge’s Palace in Venice

You’re probably not going to meet any friendly locals atop the Eiffel Tower. You’re unlikely to strike up a conversation with a Venetian in St. Mark’s Square. And no Romans are going to ask you about your own culture when you’re squished in a crowd inside the Coliseum.

The point here is that travel is about having meaningful experiences that deepen our understanding about the world — not about checking off boxes on some bucket list.

I’ve done a lot of traveling, sometimes visiting big sites and sometimes not. And the more I travel the more completely uninterested I’ve become in major tourist attractions, even in cities I’m visiting for the first time. Literally 100 percent of the time, I’ve had a better experience wandering tiny alleys, eating at local cafes, popping into art galleries, and browsing markets.

If I could give one piece of travel advice, it would be to just completely skip all of the sites and wander.

I know that’s hard to believe and tough to do. Who goes to Paris and skips the Eiffel Tower, for example? But I’m telling you that you’re experience will be better if you do.

This is especially true if you have limited time and resources; if you’re only visiting Paris once, do you want to spend your time trying to see the Mona Lisa through a crowd of 300 people taking selfies with iPads, or sampling fruit at a local street market? If you’re going again and again, do them both. But if you have limited time, the less touristy stuff almost always offers the biggest rewards for the least money.

Related reading:

Why it’s okay if you skip the inside of the Colosseum

5 Unexpected things I saw at the Paris Flea Market

How to explore Paris’ beautiful, abandoned railway

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.

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