It was a chilly but clear Monday in Rome. Our wake up time was 7 am and I was tired from staying up late the night before. By late I mean 11:20 pm, lets face it, I like my sleep. We rubbed the sleep out of our eyes, laced up our tennis shoes, and hitched a ride on the bus to the Vatican. When we arrived we walked briskly to Sr. Peter's, expecting a long line and even bigger crowds. But to our surprise there was a short line and barely anyone around! Michael ushered us to get in line, but I knew it was a rare opportunity to grab a shot without anyone in my picture. So we took some pictures, strolled around, then waited in a short queue.
If you're anything like me you detest long lines- I turn into a five-year-old and start dancing around, stammering my feet. I also would like my pictures to be crowd and selfie stick free, so here are my best tips to avoid the lines and crowds and get your best shot. After all, waiting in line wastes time you could be exploring!
How to avoid lines and people when you travel
1. Get there early
I know sometimes when you travel you're really tired. Believe me, I get it. I remember getting roughly 4.5 hours on a few of my European trips. And while I was tired, I'm glad I got up and got out to really do my darnedest to see it all. See what time museums, churches, castles, or historical sites open, then get there BEFORE that. Now, I'm not talking hours before, but 15 or so minutes and you'll have some peace and quiet to see it on your own, without the crowds. That's how I got this shot in Versailles:
We arrived early and my mouth dropped to see literally no one in front of the castle. Before the line started, we snapped some pictures. I always do pictures first if I can, since I know it will just get more and more crowded.
2. Buy tickets ahead of time
I cannot stress this point enough: check to see if you can buy tickets ahead of time on EVERYTHING you do. We purchased tickets beforehand for the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, and I'll never forget bypassing a two hour line as they scanned our tickets and ushered us in. To me, when you're traveling, waiting in line is the worst, since you can't see anything just standing there. So, do your research and always buy ahead.
3. Know where you're going
After touring St. Peter's at the Vatican we did wait in a 15 minute line to get inside (pretty unavoidable). When we came out the line had quadrupled down the street. I couldn't believe my eyes! But we didn't have time to gawk, we headed straight for the Vatican museums. On the way dozens of “tour guides” asked us if we knew where we were going and if we had tickets. They actually told us to stand in the wrong line. Michael was smarter than that (he's they type who reads the fine print) and headed straight for the ticket man. We were directed straight in for our audio guide. I couldn't believe it! Why would they tell us wrong information? Because they sell “skip the line” passes. But if you already have tickets (see point 2) you can skip that line and head on in the majority of the time. If we didn't arrive early and have our passes we might be still waiting in that line right now…
4. Have a plan
It's essential to know when things open and close. You might choose a museum that closes late and then try to get into a church to find its already locked. So have a rough itinerary of where you want to go, and check opening and closing times. We went to Milan on a Sunday only to realize that EVERYTHING is closed on Mondays, except the Duomo. We found this out late, and missed a museum we were keen on going to because we didn't check the opening times. Many countries (Italy and Germany for example) have “off” days. Almost every shop is closed (including grocery stores) on Sundays in Germany. Having a plan and checking the times will make sure you don't miss something when you travel.
5. Eat later
I know this one might sound odd, but eat later in the day. Grab something to go for breakfast and don't worry about having a sit down lunch. The crowds tend to swell later on in the day, so arrive early and stick around as long as you can. I always bring a backpack with water so I'm not parched. In the morning I'll grab breakfast at our hostel/hotel or at a grocery store nearby. Then I'll eat street food for lunch and save my appetite and spending on dinner. That's when I relax and think about all the fun stuff I did earlier in the day.
6. Keep climbing up
If you want to avoid others in your pictures, keep on going. It might be more strenuous, but I'm telling you, you'll find a more deserted spot. When we walked near the Colosseum is was FLOODED with people. Literally 1,000s of people, and their selfie sticks, crowded near certain spots around the ancient ruins. I took a few pictures there too, but as we kept going up, we found a grassy area that was much more secluded with ample space to have a picnic and take photos.
7. Know your angles
We went to the Colosseum on a Sunday, the previous day it was closed and our tour guide warned us that it was more crowded than usual. Because we (Michael) had tickets and a plan, we skipped the line and were able to wander around a bit before the tour started. Still, every picture inside looked like an actual gladiator game was taken place with 1,000s of people around. So we had to be strategic. Instead of shooting into the crowd we shot down and took panoramics. A full body shot meant 17 other people in the pictures, so we just did top of the head. Play around with your angles to find what works, and of course have a plan.
8. Get off the beaten path
Of course, to really avoid lines and people, head where no one else is going. This can still happen even in touristy places. We were driving around the French Riviera and it seemed like every beach and boardwalk was crowded, so we headed to some smaller towns and villages tucked away in the mountains. We found peace and quiet along with serene views. It was worth it to get away and just have some time to ourselves.
See our full 8 day French Riviera itinerary right here.
9. Go in the off season
One of the best ways to avoid the crowds and lines is to go in the off season. In Paris this past January we arrived early to the Notre Dame. I can remember a few years before, when we went in July, the line stretched clear down the street. I hate lines, crowds, and most of all, waiting.
Recently, we went skiing in Ellmau, Austria, a picturesque town known for winter sports. We heard the lines waiting to go up the gondolas to the top of the mountain could be excruciating but we went the last week possible for skiing. The mountain was deserted and we rarely waited more than a minute to get up to the top.
If you plan ahead and are willing to go on the off season or on your own route, you'll be surprised to see how much you can see and do without the wait and without others around.
PRO TIP: Some places offer a card. For example, in Innsbruck, Austria and Florence, Italy, you pay for a card that gives you access to museums, cathedrals, and more. You ALSO get to skip the line, which to me is very much worth it. As of this writing I'm in Florence and we skipped a 4 hour wait to get into a museum or to see the David. To me, time is money and I'd rather spend more time exploring.
I hope these tips have helped you. I truly think it you plan, budget, you save time and effort in the long run.
I would love to know: did you ever travel somewhere and avoid a line or people? If so how'd you do it?! Spill below!