See the Sites, Skip the Crowds
For example, to see the Pyramids, plan to leave your hotel at 4:30 a.m. Drive in the predawn darkness through deserted streets and arrive at the Pyramids at 5:30 a.m. Mount up on an Arabian horse and then...there you will be, on horseback at the base of the 4,000-year-old structure, to watch the dawn over Cairo. Just you, the horse and the Pyramids at Giza, bathed in the magical light of the rising sun.
The Great Wall is a must-see for anyone visiting China, making it the most popular tourist attraction in the country. If you arrive with the rest of the tour buses, you'll be elbowing people left and right just to get up the steps for a photo op. Now here's the trick for a savvy traveler: Visit the Great Wall when and where everyone else isn't. Most visitors head straight to the section in Badaling, which is the closest section to Beijing (located about 45 miles from the capital) and is the best restored and maintained.
To be a true contrarian traveler, visit an entirely different section of the Wall—it spans more than 5,500 miles, after all. Instead of Badaling, head for Mutianyu and Simatai. Or check out Huanghuacheng, which is a popular starting point for hikers, who then head to Jiankou and Mutianyu on a two-to-three-day expedition.
Learn more about traveling to the Great Wall and beyond at PeterGreenberg.com.
Or how about experiencing the Great Wall in a unique way you'll be talking about for years? A company called Beijing Sideways takes visitors to sections of the Great Wall by motorcycle! You ride in the sidecar through the winding countryside to Huang Hua Shang or Shengtengyu and hike the Wall from there.
Alternative ways to see the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower
If you're short on time, it's fine to visit the tourist-friendly Badaling, but you must do it first thing in the morning. It opens at 6:30 a.m. in summer and 7 a.m. in winter. There's a public bus that can take you there, but to maximize your time and experience, consider hiring a driver to get you to the Wall the minute it opens. This advice holds true for many of the world's great sites: the Pyramids in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India and Machu Picchu in Peru are all—by far—best experienced before the crowds descend.
Fewer euros, less yen, saved pesos—more money-saving travel tips at Peter Greenberg.com.
In other major attractions, the key is to find alternate ways to get a similar experience. You'll have trouble getting a dinner reservation at Le Jules Verne restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower, but the iconic restaurant is also open for lunch when it's much easier to get a reservation. Book lunch on a weekday and you'll save yourself a lot of hassle—not to mention expense—while experiencing sweeping city views in the daylight.
Peter Greenberg's best tried-and-true tip for avoiding crowds
Finally, try my best tried-and-true tip for avoiding crowds: Travel in the off-season. It's the ultimate contrarian method, and it works almost every time. Just look at our national parks as an example. Visit the Grand Canyon between October and March, and you'll have it nearly all to yourself. (Here's another tip on the Grand Canyon: The North Rim is a lot less crowded than the South Rim, even during peak season.) Many park concessions offer off-season programming, like the Chefs' Holidays series in Yosemite's famous Ahwahnee Lodge and summer golf packages from $30 at Death Valley National Park.
Read about off-season culinary events in national parks at PeterGreenberg.com.
The world is packed with potential experiences of a lifetime. The trick is in making it your experience of a lifetime—where you have the space and time to enjoy it without the crowds.
Peter Greenberg is the travel editor of CBS News, host of a nationally syndicated weekly radio program and publisher of travel news site PeterGreenberg.com. He has been a featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The View, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and Larry King Live.
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