Vacations, for most people, are a big deal. They often take months of planning, from choosing a destination and securing days off work to arranging flights, accommodations, and activities. When traveling to tourist-popular locales, you’ll probably want to hit all the big-ticket, must-see attractions. And while that’s all well and good, you often get the most out of a trip by thinking small.

On your next big vacation, make an effort to seek out some local, lesser-known places. By veering off the path of the guide books, you’ll gain a more authentic, accurate picture of the area you’re visiting. Plus, you’ll get a break from the crowds and the repetitive staleness that too often accompanies the most well-known hot spots.

Here are a few tips for thinking small on vacation:

  • Break the Chain: Book your accommodations at a smaller, more personable Inn, family-run hotel, or B&B rather than the large-scale, corporate chain hotel. You’ll be treated more as a guest than a customer–as a person rather than a room number. While big-name hotels often provide concierge service for booking excursions and getting tickets, it’s more of an advertising medium than anything else. At the smaller venues, the Innkeepers or property managers are invaluable resources who will do more than dole out brochures…they’ll bend over backwards to make sure you have an enjoyable, complete vacation experience.
  • Savor Local Flavor: Pass on the McDonald’s or TGIFriday’s and opt for a local eatery instead. Ask your innkeeper for recommendations, or, if you’re feeling bold, stop a local and ask them where they like to eat. Chances are, you’ll find yourself at a restaurant off the beaten path that you may or may not have ever thought about selecting. And that’s the idea! The food will likely be better than your typical corporate fare, and so will the experience.
  • Skip the Mall: A mall is a mall is a mall (with a few exceptions, of course). Avoid the retail chain stores and instead purchase souvenirs and wares from local artisans and crafters at galleries, roadside kiosks, or small shops. You’ll get more interesting, better-made, and more meaningful items while at the same time supporting small, mom-and-pop local commerce.
  • Look Beyond Sightseeing: The hustle and bustle of traveling can become an overwhelming, over-stimulating grind when you try to pack too much regimented tourism into a trip. Take a break from the itinerary to go beyond sightseeing. Venture out into the local scene, stopping when something piques your interest. Visit parks not highlighted in the travel brochures, take in a movie at a neighborhood theater, or just drive around and get a feel for the area. Sometimes soaking up the culture is more in the little things than in the large-scale excursions.
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