Instagram is probably what first shed light on the truth beneath the appearances, at least in terms of major tourist attractions and unrealistically beautiful photos. We’ve all seen pictures of the Mona Lisa in the heart of the Louvre, but if you turn the camera around, you’ll see a massive crowd that waited in line for hours just to be the first to snap the same identical photos. How can you avoid situations like this when you travel?

1. Get up insanely early.

This isn’t exactly a trade secret anymore, and it’s becoming less useful as more travelers become aware it’s the only way they’ll be able to add that shot of them alone in front of the Taj Mahal to their Instagram. Short of scaling walls and trespassing, this is the only option some travelers have to see their favorite places without listening to babies crying or people complaining it’s too hot.

It’s the same across the world. Arriving at the Acropolis at sunrise ensures you’ll have the view to yourself before the tour buses arrive, just as dashing into a theme park the second it opens means you’ll have your pick of rides before the lines start forming.

2. Travel during the winter or major holidays.

Of course, sometimes even getting up early isn’t enough. It sounds like common sense for travelers, but there are always going to be certain times of the year when even the most crowded places are completely empty, like New York City during Thanksgiving.

Despite this image of travelers being the kind of people who brave the elements and get out into the far corners of the world, the majority of us are rather predictable creatures: we stay inside sipping hot chocolate when it’s cold out and don’t always feel like exploring during holidays intended for family. Český Krumlov — setting for the Hostel movies — was practically deserted when I visited in February, and France during the summer holidays is incredibly quiet.

3. Run like the wind.

When the crowds are motivated or crazy enough to still gather en masse during a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, that’s when it helps to have some athletic ability. Remember what it took to reach the Mona Lisa? Well, it’s several hundred meters from the entrance to the Louvre to the famous painting, which is more than enough time for any runner to dash past retirees and little kids… assuming security doesn’t stop you.

4. Pay extra.

When your strength, careful planning, and alarm clock amount to nothing, that’s when it’s time to open your wallet. Beaches on Bali — at least those in Kuta and Seminyak — are infamous for swarming with hawkers and scammers, but of course the majority of people blocking the view of the sand and sea are fellow tourists. One of the few places on the island where it’s possible to have a beach experience without getting harassed while still being close to amenities is Nusa Dua; hotels here are among the most expensive on Bali, but paying extra means no one trying to sell you a tour as you walk along the sand.

5. Choose the rocky path.

Mt. Fuji in Japan has four trails leading to the summit, but the overwhelming majority of climbers take the well-developed Yoshida Route in August, when the entire hike is practically a 6-km line. On the other hand, waiting until the off season and choosing a less developed trail like the Subashiri — more physically challenging — can completely avoid the infamous crowds in Japan. I saw fewer than 20 people on the mountain at that time.

One of the most famous tourist attractions and photo spots across the world is Macchu Picchu, just outside the city of Cuzco, Peru. The country has capitalized on its fame across the board; sometimes it’s not even possible to climb a small mountain without being in a tour group. Even visiting the site itself is restricted, limited to 2500 permits a day at a cost of around 40-50USD. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to see the Incan ruins without going on an overpriced train. Choosing to end your trek at nearby Huayna Picchu not only makes for a cheaper trip, but still offers a good view of Macchu Picchu. This route is limited to only 400 people a day, making it much easier to avoid the crowds.

Do you have any tips to avoid crowds at peak season? Leave them in the comments below!

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