Have fun, splurge on exciting experiences, but beware of tourist traps

Alex Bowden, Herald Foreign Correspondent

In a column I wrote a week or so back, I talked about spending money in a foreign country. I encouraged future students abroad to splurge now because when they’re older and all motor functions cease, they will be happy to have had great experiences in a new country. While that statement still stands, I cannot say it stands for everything. 

 While today’s particular column will be specific to London and England as a whole, keep in mind that the examples I present here are true to any country — including the one you’re currently living in. Today I will be discussing tourist traps, why they exist and why we as travelers fall so easily into them. 

 The best way to begin discussing tourist traps in England is to reference the one franchise that will always capture the attention of a well-read visitor — Harry Potter. Harry Potter is everywhere in England. It’s almost like J.K. Rowling should have mentioned the amount of Harry Potter themed shops when describing muggle England. 

 I am a huge fan of all things Harry Potter, but the amount of money that you can begin to think of spending in one of the many of these shops is insane. Who could possibly need so many Harry Potter stores? Surprisingly, each one is full of people! 

 On the West End, theatre themed cafes that play ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Wicked’ all day will not only serve you mediocre hot chocolate but also waste your time with the novelty of musical theatre in a place where you could actually go see a show. And don’t even get me started with ghost tours. I love a spooky story as much as the next guy, but the ghost tours are very underwhelming. You would have a better time taking a train into Camden at 1 a.m. to get a proper freak out rather than listen to an older gentleman try to tell jokes while you walk around old cobblestone streets. 

 The important thing to know is that all of these excursions cost money and have huge crowds, and tourists love them. While these are all “fun,” they don’t give you the true experience you want to seek out in a new country. I am often surprised at how many different places here are free (after all, this is not America). This weekend, I went up to York and hung out with my friends while also doing tours here and there for class. However, the best time I had that weekend was not on my ghost tour, nor in a bar called the Evil Eye — one that Johnny Depp goes to when he visits York, England. 

 My best time was actually at the ruins of a church known as Rievaulx Abbey. Yes, it was one of the countless churches I have seen this month, so what makes it different than anything else? Well, to be quite honest, the time I had in the countryside at Rievaulx Abbey was about the most Harry Potter related thing I have ever experienced. Seeing the rolling hills of Yorkshire county with sheep and cows just relaxing and border-collies that look exactly like my dog at home just running freely around made me feel like I was actually seeing what I came to England to see.

 You may be asking, “how does this description have anything to do with Harry Potter?” Well, it’s easy, just seeing the hills and the sky together and seeing as far as the horizon goes reminded me of those wide shots of Hogwarts that we all remember from the Harry Potter movies. It’s an experience that far beats paying insane amounts of cash to get an article of clothing that says “Hogwarts” on it.

 The best part about these locations is that there aren’t a lot of tourists around, so really, you don’t feel the ‘trap’ of the tourist trap. If you want a magical experience in the country you choose to go to, see what those who lure in tourists have to offer, but go off the beaten path and find an experience that rivals any trinket shop.