The Biggest Mistakes Tourists Make in New Orleans
Like just about everyone in America in a given week, you're dreaming of some kind of New Orleans trip. Which is terrific -- we'd love to have you! But you have to appreciate that people come here and hit major snags. They budget too much time for the French Quarter and too much money for bad drinks. They get pleasantly, publicly buzzed, and then take leave of their common sense... which, trust me, you'll need here. Why, you don't think you're the first freewheeling visitor the locals here have met, do you?
You'll have a great time, so long as you take a sec to get savvy. Before you run rampant down Rampart, keep a few things in mind to make your trip -- and our lives -- as smooth as possible.
Don't fall for scammers who want to bet about your shoesYou're wandering down the street, drink in hand, chilling, when an aggressively friendly person sidles up and says, "I bet you $10 I can guess where you got those shoes." Spoiler: It's a grift. The answer will be, "You got one on your right foot, and one on your left." Or, "You got them on Bourbon Street, in New Orleans, Louisiana." And then the smile will fade from their face as they stare into your soul awaiting payment. It's just easier to use those shoes to walk away, or say, "I'm a local."
Don't fall into a time warpNew Orleans has its own dimensional physics: Things that shouldn't take long, do, while things that seem like they'd last a while, don't. For instance: the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, a popular sightseeing ride for visitors, may draw you into a Garden District rabbit hole of architecture/trees/traffic that can soak up a couple of hours if you're inclined. Walking from one end of the Quarter to the other, however, takes maybe a half-hour, tops. The National WWII Museum is immensely impressive, not to mention impressively immense -- you could rightly dedicate a whole day to it. And the amount of time you should wait in line for a Bourbon Street hurricane to-go cup? Zero minutes. You're better off chugging Everclear mixed with Kool-Aid, because that's what you were about to pay $10 for.
Don't mistake open-container laws for anarchyAbout those Hand Grenade drinks: New Orleans is truly an advanced and learned city -- not only can you drink all the time, but you can drink just about anywhere publicly so long as your beverage is covered, or not in a glass or metal container. Well, I think those are the rules. Actually, the specifics are a bit hazy, but really, the NOPD has bigger concerns than your sipping a beer on the sidewalk. That said, enjoy your drinks like an adult. Don't drop them, don't leave them on the side of the road, and definitely don't drive with them. Or else you give ammunition to the people in power looking to "clean up" this city and make it as watered-down as the drink you just paid too much for.
Don't engage the uber-Christians on BourbonEven in a town of flamboyant personalities, the fundamentalists who hang out on Bourbon Street warning passers-by of eternal hellfire are standouts. Offended listeners often take the bait and get into heated discussions that only confirm both sides' views of one another. Don't look at 'em, don't photo 'em, don't harangue 'em. Do let 'em go ahead and pray for your soul. In this town, you really will need it.
Don't keep your wallet in your back pocketPickpockets thrive amid the sensory overload here. Anything in your back pocket is liable to fall out during festivities, or get snatched by some nimble-handed sneak. Your front pocket or your jacket will serve you better.
Don't walk alone in the Quarter past midnightStay out late drinking, by all means, but consider that a hangover is nothing compared with waking up without your wallet, so explore the wee hours of the morning with at least one other person by your side. Walking alone down a dimly lit Dauphine Street is an open invitation to -- well, better not to fret, just be smart and safe, y'know?
Don't force a Katrina conversationMore than 1,500 Louisianans died in Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest natural disaster in American history, and you're naturally curious about that. Still, keep your roll nice and slow. You don't want to force people into being, as one longtime resident put it, "some trauma Google." If you really want to know how people's lives have changed since that storm, just talk to people long enough, and it'll come up on its own. Or it won't, because the person who lived it isn't feeling the conversation on that particular topic. Which you should feel comfortable respecting.
Don't show up late to the Endymion paradeEndymion is often the biggest, largest attended Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. People camp out to stake spots literally days in advance, and God help you if you encroach. Last year friends and I tried to casually walk up to see a couple of floats, and were immediately accused of stealing the view and beads. Don't take it personally, though. In a town with literally dozens of parades that week, many smaller parades are a better option.
Don't use an actual taxiUber and Lyft are almost always cheaper, quicker, and more reliable. Before those companies came to town, it was nigh impossible to call for a taxi ahead of time, and almost as hard to hail one streetside -- doubly so during events and holidays. Once, close to Mardi Gras, a friend and I held our hands out for an hour and a half trying to get a cab. The one that finally stopped said he'd take us, but only if we overpaid him a huge, flat fee -- and let him pick up other passengers along the way. We were so desperate and broke, we asked to lower the price by $5. He drove off without even saying a word.
Don't forget to explore outside the French QuarterIt's what makes it onto all the postcards for obvious reasons, but there's so much more to New Orleans. You wouldn't go to New York and stay only in Times Square, right? Quality food, music, and venues abound in this city. In fact, here's a whole set of things to do that get you out of the Quarter.
Don't stay somewhere that isn't locally ownedAirbnb rentals are attractive here: cheap, ready alternatives to the suburbs' shabby two-star motels and Downtown's overpriced high-rises. But the city has really struggled to regulate them. Often Airbnb owners don't even live in the state. Entire neighborhood blocks have become Airbnb properties, forcing out locals who can't afford the spike in prices. For a visitor, it's easy enough to make sure the owner is a New Orleanian. Listings that mention rooms within a house, half of a duplex, or a guest house generally imply someone else resides there permanently. Likewise, renter profiles are a good indication of who lives where. When all else fails, sending a message should clear up any questions. Planning a frugal trip is no problem -- just be aware of who's benefiting.
Don't play cultural tourist in a gay barThe LGBTQ community has an extensive, vibrant history in New Orleans, and numerous establishments cater to it. They are safe spaces for people who, for quite a long time, had none to speak of. So, y'know, maybe not the best place to bust into with your friends only because your "gay friends back home are the best dancers." These establishments aren't forbidden to you, of course, but do keep some humility handy.
Don't twerk in front of the brass bands on Frenchmen StreetBrass bands are synonymous with New Orleans for a reason. Many of their members are still in high school, sometimes younger, but they can put musicians twice their age to shame. They get crowds dancing -- and you should, yes, dance -- but, look, if you're in town for only a hot minute and don't understand the city's complex racial makeup, don't twerk in front of everyone for laughs. It's disrespectful to the musicians, who practice too hard to be pulled into a joke. And you simply aren't very good at it.
Don't mistake voodoo gift shops for the real thingVoodoo swag is one of the foundations of the tourism industry, providing much-needed revenue for the town. Voodoo faith -- often spelled "vodou" -- combines spirituality and folklore from African traditions, Catholicism, and a host of other beliefs. They're different things, so don't go home with a bag of Donald Trump voodoo dolls and "Blue Dog" tarot decks and claim to have met a spiritual priestess. For that New Orleans experience, you can visit the Voodoo Spiritual Temple or F&F Botanica.
Don't eat an entire po-boy from Verti Marte in one sittingVerti Marte's bevy of po-boys makes for great cheap eats -- we're talking between six and 13 bucks, tops -- and they're sublime in their fried chicken, fried oyster, or shrimp incarnations. Generally they come fully dressed with mayo, lettuce, pickles, and tomatoes, but you can add most anything your stomach can take, and because they're available day or night, you may approach the counter in an altered state. I am telling you, from my own hubris, this is a two-meal sando. Bring a buddy or lug half home.
Don't forget to tip the fortune tellersThis probably won't affect your future, but if you're relying on a medium to get over your ex from two years ago, you can toss in a few bucks for the effort. Their incomes are unpredictable, seasonally dependent, and require them to endure tourists all day. Also, karma's real.
Don't fall in love with beadsUgh. Beads. They're everywhere -- in gutters, hanging from power lines, stuck in trees -- and they're never, ever decomposing. Have you ever been hit by a bunch tossed from a float? Suckers hurt like hell. They cost pennies to manufacture, and you're going to potentially expose yourself for a pair? C'mon. We expected more out of you, hypothetical tourist reader. How are you ever going to win your ex back with that sort of behavior?
Sign up here for our daily New Orleans email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in the Big Easy.