My best travel trick for high tourist season is a no-brainer, and I'm always shocked when people don't do it

The holidays are quickly approaching, which means scrambling to buy gifts, figuring out who to tip and how much, higher airline prices and millions of people hitting the road and the skies to visit family and friends. If you’re getting stressed about the season, you may want to consider a whole new travel plan: leaving on the actual holiday, instead of on the days before. Not only can you save money, but some surprising perks might help you realize why you should travel on the holidays more often. It really could be the best thing for your sanity and your wallet — and might make you feel like you’re traveling like a millionaire, without the millionaire budget.
Trinidad and Tobago
a group of people standing in front of Mont Saint-Michel

  • The best trick I’ve found to save time on a trip seems blindingly obvious: Buy your tickets for tourist attractions online, before you go.
  • After walking past enormous lines during peak tourist season, I realized it’s not obvious to everyone.
  • Five minutes of Googling can save hours of your tourist life.

The July morning I visited Mont Saint-Michel this past summer, it was hot.

And absolutely packed.

The fabled island off the northern coast of France is hours from the nearest sizable city, so tourists roll off buses and onto the island in waves. We battled our way up the steep steps and around narrow bends flooded with backpackers and families until we reached the island’s crown jewel, the abbey at the top.

The line stretched for blocks, and my travel partner suppressed a resigned sigh.

But … there were technically two entry points, one “avec des billets” and one “sans billets.” So I took my folded billets (tickets) out of my bag, walked right past dozens of people waiting to buy tickets in the “without” line, and straight into the abbey, which ended up being the highlight of our visit.

And I couldn’t help but wonder: Why didn’t everyone waiting in that sun-baked queue buy tickets ahead of time?

It had taken me maybe five minutes of Googling and clicking and entering my credit card info to buy the two $10 tickets a few weeks before. They weren’t restricted, or hard to find, or extra expensive. So why wasn’t everyone doing it? 

Generally, I prefer to travel in shoulder season, but a week in peak tourist season was the only time we could make the trip work. Since we just had the seven days, I made a list beforehand of the things we wanted to see, and quickly checked which offered tickets for sale ahead of time. Every time we showed up at an attraction, we’d get right in, saving ourselves the agony of slow-moving lines.

This happened again and again: at the Rodin Museum, at Musée d’Orsay, at Monet’s gardens in Giverny (yes, we did the tourist rounds). And I’m not saying it was a case of tickets-or-we-turn-around; we stumbled across plenty of places we didn’t know we’d be visiting until we got there, like the magical Jardins de Brécy.

Friends and coworkers tell me they prefer to travel off the cuff, booking flights, trips and hotels last-minute, and deciding what they’ll do once they arrive. I can’t relate, but sure: Theoretically, an impulsive adventure holds some appeal. Sometimes the tickets are timed, anchoring you to a specific place at a given time, and maybe not everyone wants to travel with a detailed itinerary spreadsheet (although where do you keep your confirmation numbers!?) or a suitcase pocket full of print-outs.

But frankly, if I had to loiter in a ticket line every day of my vacation, I’d bail. A different kind of impulsivity.

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