World Travellers Sharing Their Stories About Some of The Most Disappointing Travel Destinations They Have Been To. Travel Isn’t Always Pretty. We Just Don’t Talk About It Enough.
Article Updated September 2018
In an era of social media, staged photography and increasingly accessible travel, we have inadvertently romanticised our perception of world exploration. Undoubtedly there is an increase in experiencing disappointing travel destinations as we trawl through magazines, over-hyped Instagram posts and the need to fulfill bucket lists. Overcrowding is becoming a major issue whilst lack of environmental awareness is literally spoiling our natural resources. And in most cases, we don’t even voice our disappointment anymore as we are so caught up in ticking off that list or creating that perception ourselves that it was a trip of a lifetime.
Well, as world travellers, we are happy to tell it like it is. We are not discouraging you to visit these places, but we want to curb your disappointment. As long as you’re prepared, it may just give you a much better experience than some of us on this list have had.
USEFUL TRAVEL TIPS
#01 – SAPA, VIETNAM
by Amy Chung @ Family Globetrotters
Sapa is a frontier township in the Lào Cai Province in north-west Vietnam. It is the trekking capital of Vietnam and is renowned for its hiking through the rice terraces. Sapa was to be the highlight of our Vietnamese adventure and we very much looked forward to the rolling hills that dipped into the deep bowels of Muong Hoa Valley.
Upon our arrival in Sapa town itself, I was confronted with a haphazard town of jumbled urban development. In my conflicted state, I understood that we as travellers and tourists, did this. Holiday makers have allowed the town to develop faster than it is regulated, in a bid to grab a slice of the tourism pie. Construction aplenty combined with zero injection of funding in public infrastructure, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Gone were my initial perceptions of a quaint town filled with low key travellers amidst the local H’mong tribe.
The roads were impossible to navigate and filled with large potholes. This would have been fine if there weren’t bumper to bumper traffic as trucks and vans filled with tourists tried to get the necessary drop off points. The restaurants did their best to rip off the travellers and I’m so scared to really ask what I actually ingested! Oh, and let’s not forget the locals following you endlessly trying to get you to buy useless souvenirs.
The hike with the local tribe however was amazing and once we were trekking through the mountain, we didn’t really see any other trekkers. It would seem the mountain was big enough to accommodate all of us. Our guide never went to school but spoke almost perfect English which she attributes to tourism. She took us to see her home where her husband looked after their 2 children whilst she worked. In comparison to her neighbours, she could be considered wealthy and I understood that despite tourism ruining such a beautiful place, it also gave them a livelihood.
Despite being one of my most disappointing travel destinations, the overall vibe of the place, the main purpose of going trekking there was stunning. But it is a changing township. Should you still go? I say yes but opt for the homestays instead. You can still get an authentic experience, but it will never be what it once was.
#02 – THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, ECUADOR
by Carly Heyward @ Flight of the Educator
The Galapagos Islands always held a lot of mystery and uniqueness for me. As a child, I heard about them in conjunction with Charles Darwin, finches, and evolution. I started to learn more about fauna in the form of tortoises, marine iguanas and (for a middle schooler) the hilariously named Blue Footed Boobies. So, when I was finally able to make my way down there, I found myself sadly underwhelmed.
I didn’t know that they were formed because of volcanoes and that no flora or fauna is technically native. I’m not sure what it was that made me think the Galapagos Islands were a rainforest, but it was really closer to a desert. Although I was excited to see the sea lions, tortoises and penguins, I didn’t really see the Finches and Boobies bounding around as I was led to believe. I’m still very happy I went, but it was very different. And the biggest bummer of all was when I found out that Darwin and Eleanor Roosevelt couldn’t wait to leave, and they never wanted to come back.
#03 – EL NIDO, PHILIPPINES
by Megan Johnson @ Red Around the World
“You have to go to El Nido!” “El Nido is the best!” You’re not going to El Nido!? You have to go!” These were all things I heard while I was in the Philippines, and before I left, I read it all over the Internet. Yet, I decided to skip El Nido for North Luzon. However, once I got to Malapascua and made friends, I did what any backpacker would do, and I skipped my flight opting to go to El Nido with my new friend.
After an unnecessarily long journey (our fault) we finally made it to the limestone paradise that everyone says you just can’t miss. Well, I wouldn’t have been horribly upset if I did miss it. Don’t get me wrong, I get why people sing it’s praises and I am glad I went. It’s mind-blowing how clear the water is, how pristine it is. The towering limestone cliffs are incredibly impressive, but it’s just. So. Busy.
And I mean busy. The small town is packed. I’m surprised I didn’t get run over by a tuk tuk. Everyone goes there for island hopping, but there are only four tours that everyone does at the same time, so there are tons of people at every stop and like, 12 boats at every stop to carry all the people. It’s beautiful and worth visiting, but it was just way too busy for me to love it.
#04 – NAPLES, ITALY
by Cydny Voicechovski @ Goal Traveler
One thing we always preach is to try and find the silver lining in any location we go to. We never want to say that nothing came out of it. That is why we practice leaving our expectations at home, because when expectations come into play, you are asking to be disappointed.
One city that we visited that we struggled enjoying was Naples, Italy. It was our honeymoon and we decided to add a pit stop in Naples before our trip down the Amalfi Coast. I had past experiences in various cities in Italy, and this stop would be my husband’s first. Everyone raves about Italy, its architecture, the culture, the food, so I just assumed Naples would be no different.
Turns out Naples, is your quintessential blue-collar city of Italy. Dusty, not well taken care of, and busy. The people were not very fond of outsiders or tourists getting in their way, and I guess I can relate by practically being a New Yorker. It’s one of the only cities we’ve visited through our 32-country journey that we felt uncomfortable and unwelcome. Go figure, that Italy would pose that threat to us. We took one wrong turn, and let’s just say the townies made it known we were not where we were supposed to be.
At the end of the day, Naples did have some exquisite food, so we took our focus in that direction. My advice is to find what you can enjoy and let that guide you through your journey.
#05 – UBUD, INDONESIA
by Amy Dodd @ Oceans to Alpines
Bali has been a place for the tropical and resort getaway. Stay in luxury while enjoying the local and cultural aspects of Bali. You will find pictures of it all over Instagram. Females in flowing dresses visiting the rice fields or sitting on the Bali swings. While Ubud may have been a magical getaway destination it has quickly turned into a tourist trap.
Most of the places that are featured such as the Tegalalang rice Terrace, is actually smaller than expected. The photos make it seem like a large rice field used in the area, but it has transformed into a quick tourist photo stop. Expect an entrance fee, and more fees if you want to visit different parts of the rice field. Additionally, a lot of the famous “Bali Swings” that surround the rice fields charge a price to get that classic “Instagram” photo. Additionally, the Handara gate that has been made popular on Instagram is simply a gate to a golf course.
Overall, Ubud has been made to appear as an integrated nature and resort style of getaway, but the nature aspect has turned into tourist photo ops over the recent years. While I would still recommend visiting Bali, look instead to go off the beaten path and away from Ubud. Head more up to the North and stay in that area. Or visit all the neighbouring islands: Nusa Penida, Lombok, Gili Islands etc. That will give you a real authentic visit and what the Instagram photos are trying to show but are faking. However, if you are interested in a resort style stay then Ubud is perfect for staying at a resort.
#06 – MONT SAINT-MICHEL, FRANCE
by Daniela Koleva @ Ipanema Travels
I have always dreamed of visiting Mont Saint-Michel. I’ve imagined how I approach the island in a fairy-tale like setting. This was before the social media, before Instagram, before Internet. I thought it will be magical, just like on the movies or pictures I’ve seen.
Years later my dream came true, I was heading to Mont Saint-Michel on a day trip. We arrived by car and had to park on the mainland. It was after the bridge was built. Walking towards the island was as beautiful as in my dreams. Mont Saint-Michel looked like a small water globe in the distance and with each step it grew bigger and bigger.
Finally, we arrived there on the island and were immediately engulfed by the crowd. It was impossible to walk, it was impossible even to move around. The crowd was moving us. I thought I will suffocate. We even didn’t make it to the top, or to the Abbey. We turned around and left the anthill.
Overtourism is doing no good to places. Destinations can boast increase of numbers but at what cost? Growth is amazing, but it shouldn’t be left uncontrolled. Proper management in tourism is required to guarantee that attractions and destinations won’t be ruined by tourists. One solution for Mont Saint-Michel could be a daily quota of tourists, or an online booking with time slots, to dose the visitors.
#07 – PHI PHI ISLAND, THAILAND
by Valentini Argyropoulou @ My Shoes Abroad
Phi Phi islands became famous after the movie “The Beach” that was filmed in one of the most spectacular bays of the complex, the Maya Bay. Nowadays Phi Phi Don (the only inhabited island) welcomes approximately 1000 tourists per day. Needless to say, the tiny island suffers a lot from tourism and it is not quite the paradise it used to be.
On my first day, I was so disappointed by the water quality of the main beach that I didn’t even swim! Unfortunately, many business owners do not care for the environment and have no plans of how to deal with the waste that their businesses produce. Combine that with the lack of a proper sewage system, one can only assume where everything goes. On the other hand, the most secluded beaches tend to be much cleaner, but they are still very crowded. Tourist agents are constantly promoting tours touting ¨Beat the crowds! Maya Bay & surrounding islets¨ that start at 6 am which then makes the surround island just as busy.
Don’t get me wrong, the nature and the landscape are very beautiful – if only the Thai government, the locals and the tourists could try to preserve this slice of paradise. At the moment everything is being sacrificed for the money. Some parts of the islands have already been closed down by authorities for a few months in order to rejuvenate the area. Let’s be positive but let’s start to respect the environment too!
#08 – VENICE, ITALY
by Justine Cross @ Wanderer of the World
I’d heard (and seen) such fantastic things about Venice in Italy. Everyone was raving about a beautiful water-locked city that had no cars disrupting its peace, so I was anticipating stunning views, ancient architecture and plenty of culture.
However, I’m sorry to say that I was vastly disappointed.
In my experience, the photos that have been splashed so lovingly across social media and guidebooks are either photoshopped or taken during off-peak seasons. As travel writers, I think we have a duty to show places for how they really are to prevent other travellers from being disheartened upon visiting.
So, what can I tell you about Venice? It has been fully immersed into the tourist trade. You can be marvelling at the beautiful architecture of Doge’s Palace, only to turn around and find souvenir stands each way you look, selling souvenirs en masse such as fake Venetian masks, t-shirts and gondola hats. And sadly, despite there being no cars around, this isn’t a peaceful city. Admittedly, I was exploring Venice in the height of summer, but I was surrounded by thousands upon thousands of people; being jostled every which way and getting trapped on Rialto Bridge due to the bottleneck of people that forms here.
I will never be perturbed from trying to visit again, but I do know that I will avoid Venice in the summer like the plague. I’d suggest you do too if it’s the quiet canals and beautiful buildings that you want to take the time to admire.
#09 – COLOMBO, SRI LANKA
by Nadia Crowe @ Nomadic Nerd
Sri Lanka is a great place and I definitely enjoyed myself there, but I was also disappointed. It was my first time in a South Asian country and suffice to say, I had high expectations. Prior to this trip, I had saved countless magical images of Sri Lanka on Instagram. I know, we are supposed to take them with a grain of salt, but I couldn’t help it, I was so excited! Sri Lanka is one of those destinations that’s gaining popularity in the Instagram community and being an avid photographer, I couldn’t wait to explore. If I’m being honest, I was pretty happy with Galle, but Colombo was a bit of a disappointment. Despite being well versed on scams, my mum and I were swindled off our first tuk tuk ride, which on the first day left a sour taste in my mouth. But still, we tried to keep our spirits high. Here’s what I thought it would be like: quaint, charming, magical. Instead it was: busy, people were somewhat rude and at times it could be pretty scary.
Colombo was a bit confusing, in the lonely planet guide that we bought, we listed down the things we wanted to do. In particular, we wanted to visit the markets and do some shopping. However, what we thought would be a famous market was actually a lonesome shop selling homeware and the other was a vegetable market. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with vegetable markets or homeware shops, but needless to say we were confused. This happened a few times. In fact, the entire three days in Colombo was one big confusing daze. Nothing was as we expected it to be, people were rude, and money was lost. On our second day we even gave up and went to this outrageously expensive spa because the old Dutch hospital, ‘an attractive shopping district’, was practically empty! Maybe we were doing something wrong, maybe we should’ve gone there without any expectations. It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy myself, it was just different than what I thought and what I had seen online. In a sense, that’s why I was disappointed. I guess there’s a lesson to be learnt here, though. Keep an open mind, and whilst photos are a great way of looking for inspiration, they don’t tell the whole story.
#10 – SAHARA DESERT, MOROCCO
by Steph Edwards @ The Mediterranean Traveller
A trip to the Sahara tops many a traveller’s bucket list. It was at the top of mine, too, and I planned my trip to Morocco around a desert tour. My Instagram feed had been flooded with so many incredible photos of Morocco that I just had to go see it for myself. I pictured myself traversing the sand dunes of the Sahara with a perfectly photogenic caravan of camels at sunset, followed by an evening of good conversation and an incredible night sky at a Bedouin camp.
Here’s what my reality check looked like: it takes two days to drive to the Sahara camp from Marrakech. That’s two days in a really hot minivan with no A/C and a gruff driver, whizzing through various dusty stops which are actually much more interesting than the dunes. I woke up on the second day with food poisoning. But I persevered, determined to experience the magic of the Moroccan desert. When we arrived at Merzouga, the point at which the camel treks begin, I found myself wondering why on earth I’d been tempted to take part in an experience that involves animals. It’s difficult to overstate how uncomfortable they are to ride – even without food poisoning – and it’s also difficult to judge the adequacy of their welfare. I mounted my camel feeling queasy in more ways than one, particularly as I started to notice all the trash strewn around the dunes.
At the camp, we were joined by several rowdy tour groups for sunset and dinner, surfing down the dunes and taking bum selfies. So much for experiencing the peace and vastness of the desert. I couldn’t wait to get back to Marrakech.
In collating this comprehensive list, it certainly made me feel sad at the state of world travel. Disappointing travel destinations such as the Galapagos Islands and the Sahara Desert literally makes my heart ache. But in a bid to continue to see this earth, are we just contributing to the problem? I for one don’t ever want to stop travelling. I just have to be more responsible.
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