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My Top Travel Letdowns and Surprises

Travel appears very totally different proper now relying on the place you are from and the place you are going. Be positive to examine native restrictions and be prepared to stick to any and all security laws earlier than planning a visit to any of the locations you could examine on this website. Also, some posts on this website include affiliate hyperlinks, which means should you guide or purchase one thing by way of one in every of these hyperlinks, I could earn a small fee (at no additional price to you!). Read the total disclosure coverage right here.


It’s now turn out to be an web development: sharing “Instagram vs. reality” memes and images, highlighting the truth that loads of what we see on-line is not precisely all the time “authentic.”

And it clearly goes past fairly images on Instagram.

Expectation and actuality can misalign in so many features of our lives, whether or not it is the clothes we’re shopping for on-line, the recipe we’re making an attempt to duplicate off Pinterest, or perhaps even the folks we’re courting. And typically journey expectations simply don’t match as much as journey actuality, both.

Angkor Wat sunrise crowd
Ever seen a lovely photograph of Angkor Wat at dawn? This is what you see should you flip round!

Thanks partially to social networks like Instagram, we have a tendency to construct up locations and journey experiences rather a lot in our minds. We see lovely, postcard-perfect images, and mentally insert ourselves into these beautiful scenes of pure magnificence, already choosing out which images we’ll plaster throughout social media earlier than we even depart dwelling.

We thumb by way of guidebooks and lay out bold itineraries of the museums we’ll go to, the eating places we’ll eat at, and the historical past we’ll take in. We think about spontaneous connections with the pleasant locals, who we’ll certainly stay buddies with for all times. And we’re already practising the conversations we’ll have with others after we return, sharing with them each element of the right journey we’ve simply had.

But, in fact, that is by no means the way it occurs. Not each vacation spot is postcard-perfect. Things by no means go fully based on plan. And even the most-visited and most-loved locations can rub us the unsuitable method beneath the unsuitable situations.

Pretty positive I spent extra time on the lookout for parking areas in Yellowstone than really issues like geysers.

Of course… the other might be true, too. There are locations that take us abruptly, or exceed our expectations (be they low or not). We typically discover ourselves stunned by the locations we fall in love with.

So right now, I believed I’d have a look again at a few of the locations I’ve visited within the final 10 years that did not fairly meet my expectations – both in a great way, or a nasty one. Hopefully it could actually assist show that each journey expertise is totally different – and that you may by no means actually decide a vacation spot by another person’s Instagram publish.

Biggest journey surprises

There are some locations on the earth that you just simply sort of know you are going to love earlier than you even get there. For me, these locations have been locations like New Zealand and Scotland and Norway; locations that I dreamed about a very long time earlier than I visited, and locations that met or exceeded my expectations on a number of journeys

I’m not going to speak about these locations right here. Instead, I wish to speak about locations that I did not actually anticipate to fall in love with, and one or two that I really anticipated to dislike earlier than my first go to.

1. Barcelona, Spain

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
The unfinished Sagrada Familia

I believe the perfect instance of my low(ish) expectations of a vacation spot being blown out of the water is Barcelona. You would possibly suppose that is foolish, since this Spanish metropolis is thought for its unbelievable structure and meals. But it is also fairly well-known for its crowded touristy spots, and for petty crime like pickpocketing.

Lots of people instructed me I in all probability would not like Barcelona, however I deliberate 5 days within the metropolis anyway – in spite of everything, I all the time want to type my very own opinions about locations!

View of Barcelona from Park Guell
View of Barcelona from Park Guell

And guess what? I actually, actually loved my time in Barcelona. I did my homework to pre-book some actions, timed issues to keep away from a few of the worst vacationer spots, learn up on scams to keep away from forward of time, and usually simply saved my wits about me.

I by no means felt any extra “in danger” in Barcelona than in some other giant metropolis in Europe, and total had a extremely nice time there. I’ve many issues left on my “next time” listing.

Read extra: Everybody Was Wrong About Barcelona

2. Venice, Italy

Gondolas at twilight in Venice
Gondolas at twilight in Venice

I visited Venice for the primary time in the summertime of 2013, and, identical to with Barcelona, I anticipated to probably not adore it. Even again then, earlier than the fixed discuss of “overtourism,” Venice was recognized for being fairly crowded and touristy – and I used to be additionally visiting in August, when it was scorching and numerous locations had been closed as Italians went on their very own summer season holidays.

But regardless of all of that, Venice completely delighted me.

I cherished all of the previous buildings and maze-like canals. I could not take sufficient images of gondolas. And I found that the crowds weren’t actually as dangerous as I’d initially feared. I took my compulsory images in St. Mark’s Square and on the Rialto Bridge, and then promptly went wandering and discovered quieter streets and canals away from the vacationer crush.

Rialto Bridge in Venice
A gondola on the Rialto Bridge

A second go to in 2019 confirmed what I’d concluded about Venice on my first journey: that I really LOVE the town, and that it is really fairly simple to keep away from the crowds so long as you keep in a single day and wander off from the preferred spots.

Venice is such a singular place, and though it *is* fairly touristy, I nonetheless extremely advocate visiting.

Read extra: Venice Survival Guide: Tips to Help You Love Your First Trip to Venice

3. Vietnam

Ha Long Bay in Vietnam
Ha Long Bay in Vietnam

Vietnam was the primary nation I visited in Southeast Asia. And whereas I did not anticipate to *not* prefer it, I used to be stunned in the long run by simply how a lot I did prefer it.

I went to Vietnam in 2014 as a backpacker. And again then, Thailand was the agency favourite by way of Southeast Asia backpacking locations. Sure, different folks preferred Laos and Cambodia and had been beginning to speak about Bali… however Vietnam wasn’t often the primary place really useful by backpackers headed to the area.

My love for Vietnam was positively helped by the truth that I went on a tour, which ended up being a terrific introduction to Southeast Asia as an entire. We had a terrific information with a love of his nation that was completely infectious, and I got here away loving Vietnam for its meals, for its tradition, for its cities, and for its folks.

Street scene in Hoi An, Vietnam
Hoi An, Vietnam

And whereas a small a part of me was perhaps a bit of nervous at first to go to Vietnam as an American, I felt nothing however welcomed there. I now listing Vietnam as my favourite place I’ve visited (thus far) in Asia.

Read extra: Traveling in Vietnam with Intrepid Travel

4. Puerto Rico

Street in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico
Colorful road in Old San Juan

When it involves dreamy tropical holidays within the Caribbean, it is my guess that not lots of people instantly consider Puerto Rico. And that is in all probability why I went to the island territory for the primary time again in 2016 with pretty middling expectations. I did not anticipate it could be a spot that I’d instantly placed on my “must revisit” listing as quickly as I obtained dwelling – however I did!

As a historical past nerd, Puerto Rico’s distinctive historic story had me instantly hooked, as did its structure, meals, and in fact seashores.

It took 4 years for me to return to Puerto Rico (this time with my husband Elliot in tow), however my second journey there was simply as nice as the primary. It’s additionally a visit I’ve been pondering again to rather a lot lately, because it was the final journey I took in 2020 in “The Before Times” earlier than pandemic shutdowns.

Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island
Flamenco Beach on Culebra Island

Puerto Rico has had it tough within the final decade, with monetary struggles, hurricanes, and now a pandemic decimating its tourism trade. Once it is protected to get again on the market, I extremely advocate contemplating a visit to Puerto Rico.

Read extra: Thinking About a Caribbean Vacation? Think Puerto Rico or 5 Days in San Juan, Puerto Rico: The Perfect Caribbean Getaway

5. Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw Old Town
Warsaw Old Town

I spent three months touring round Europe in the summertime/fall of 2013. It was in the course of the time once I was testing out being a “digital nomad” – and largely failing at it.

I headed to Poland in the direction of the tip of September, deciding to squeeze in a go to to the nation earlier than heading to a convention in Ireland, and then in the end giving up on the entire nomadic factor and going dwelling. By the time I obtained to Warsaw, I had just about no cash in my checking account, was burnt out from making an attempt to work on the highway, and did not have any correct clothes for gray autumn days.

With all these issues working towards me, I ought to have been fairly depressing in Poland. But I really discovered myself actually loving Warsaw.

Park in Warsaw
It’s laborious to dislike a spot with so many fairly inexperienced areas!

This is probably going largely due to my good friend Kami taking me in and displaying me all of her favourite components of Warsaw over the course of some days. She took me to exploit bars to eat pierogi, confirmed me across the Old Town, and even launched me to a cool neon museum.

On my very own, I additionally visited museums and parks and previous cemeteries, and wound up naming Warsaw as one in every of my favourite European capital cities.

Read extra: 7 Reasons Why Warsaw Is Awesome

6. European Christmas markets

Heidelberg Christmas market
Heidelberg Christmas market

For anybody who’s ever been in Europe earlier than the vacations, you may take a look at this one and go “…well, duh!” Europe is thought for its nice Christmas markets, decorations, and traditions. And once I booked a December river cruise again in 2015 with the intention to go to a few of these very markets, I had a sense I’d don’t have any hassle having fun with it.

But now, greater than 5 years later, that journey nonetheless stays one in every of my all-time favorites. Europe is not simply good in the course of the Christmas season; it is downright magical.

Cologne Christmas market
Cologne Christmas market

On that 2015 journey, I visited almost a dozen Christmas markets throughout three totally different international locations. In Cologne, Germany, I walked a lot that the bottoms of my toes felt bodily bruised. But it nonetheless ranks up there as one in every of my favourite journeys ever.

Planning one other Christmas market journey to Europe could be very excessive up on my bucket listing.

Read extra: Christmas Markets with Viking River Cruises: What’s It Really Like? and 5 Things You Must Do at a German Christmas Market

7. Budapest, Hungary

Hungarian Parliament on the Danube
Hungarian Parliament on the Danube

Fun reality for you: Budapest was the primary main metropolis I ever visited in mainland Europe! That would possibly sound loopy, but it surely’s true! My very first journey to mainland Europe was a visit to Eastern Europe in 2012 that started in Budapest.

I used to be nervous on my method there, since I used to be touring solo (nonetheless a comparatively new factor for me again then!) and with out realizing an entire lot of people that had been there. I had excessive hopes for Eastern Europe as an entire, however truthfully did not know what to anticipate from Budapest.

Amanda at Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest
Playing princess at Fisherman’s Bastion

I in fact ended up loving Budapest, although. I’ve since been again two further occasions (in 2014 and once more in 2019), and nonetheless listing it as one in every of my favourite cities in Europe.

Budapest has all of the old-world appeal that you just’d anticipate a giant, grand European metropolis to have, however can be quirky and not overly-polished. I’ve really actually loved in every single place I’ve visited in Hungary, however Budapest stays a agency favourite.

Read extra: 10 Things to Do in Budapest for the History Lover

8. Scottsdale, Arizona

McDowell Sonoran Preserve
McDoproperly Sonoran Preserve

I first visited Scottsdale, Arizona, again in the summertime of 2019. It was the host vacation spot of a small running a blog workshop I used to be mentoring at, and to be sincere I wasn’t wanting ahead to going to the Arizona desert in June very a lot in any respect.

But, because it seems, Scottsdale (a smaller metropolis not removed from Phoenix) is admittedly, actually cool. It’s artsy and outdoorsy and crammed with actually wonderful meals. It has cool mid-century structure in every single place, and the previous “it’s a dry heat!” adage actually is correct.

Scottsdale Andaz pool
All the swimming pools in Scottsdale positively assist with the warmth, too!

I used to be impressed sufficient by Scottsdale that I went again for a second time on the finish of 2019, and Elliot and I are already speaking about after we would possibly have the ability to get again on the market collectively sooner or later.

Read extra: 7 Reasons You Should Put Scottsdale, Arizona on Your Must-Visit List and 3 Days in Scottsdale, Arizona: 3 Itineraries for 3 Different Types of Travelers

9. Slovenia

Lake Bled in Slovenia
Lake Bled in Slovenia

Unlike a few of its neighbors like Italy and Switzerland and even Croatia, I really feel like Slovenia is not tremendous well-known as a vacationer vacation spot. Which, truthfully is a rattling disgrace, as a result of the whole nation is so lovely!

I had heard about how unbelievable Slovenia was a very long time in the past, and ended up including it to my 2012 journey round Europe. I took the prepare from Croatia, and spent a couple of days every in Ljubljana and Bled. I did all of the touristy issues like visiting caves and taking a ship trip on Lake Bled and mountain climbing in Triglav National Park – however only a few spots felt overly touristy.

Soca River in Slovenia
I additionally went rafting on the Soča River, which actually IS this shade!

While I anticipated Slovenia to be fairly, its breathtaking magnificence actually left an enduring impression on me. The nation as an entire jogged my memory a little bit of New Zealand (one in every of my all-time favourite locations on the earth), and I really feel prefer it’s in some way managed to stay a little bit of an underrated spot in Europe.

Going by way of all my Slovenia images once more makes me wish to plan one other journey proper now!

Read extra: Ljubljana: The City You Can’t Help But Love and An Adventure on the Emerald River

Biggest journey letdowns

Even although I do know this a part of the listing is the *actual* motive you clicked on this publish (c’mon, everyone knows it is true), I must be sincere with you: my listing of “letdowns” is shorter than my listing of journey surprises!

This is not as a result of I’m some enormous pessimist who all the time goes into journey with low expectations. Instead, it is as a result of I’ve all the time been a “glass half full,” Pollyanna sort of gal who can often look previous the dangerous experiences and deal with the general positives as a substitute.

Cathedral Cove in New Zealand
High winds cancel sea kayaking in New Zealand? Go on a hike as a substitute!

Have I had journey plans ruined due to dangerous climate or poor planning or easy dumb luck? Of course. Have I been actually upset to overlook out on these issues within the second? You wager.

But, on the finish of the day, I’m often in a position to transfer previous the dangerous luck and dangerous moods fairly rapidly, both by shuffling a schedule round, or just accepting that typically shit occurs and there’s nothing you are able to do about it.

The mantra I’ve adopted throughout these moments has been “Just accept it, and move on.”

Belize
In Belize, my digital camera died AND I had the flu. Still cherished it, although.

But there HAVE positively been some notable journey letdowns in my decade of touring all around the globe that I have not been in a position to “move on” from. Not everybody will agree with all of those, however that is a part of what’s so fascinating about journey: all of us have our distinctive experiences that form our opinions.

In the next instances, the positives by no means outweighed the negatives for me.

1. Amsterdam

Amsterdam canal

I’ve now visited Amsterdam 3 occasions over the span of 6 years. I’ve visited in all totally different seasons, stayed in all types of various locations, and have finished every part from bike excursions to canal cruises to meals excursions to easily wandering round aimlessly.

And whereas I can not deny that Amsterdam is a *beautiful* metropolis, it is one which I’ve simply by no means actually “clicked” with. There’s nothing inherently unsuitable with Amsterdam, and I can not even say that I’ve had any dangerous experiences there. I’ve simply by no means fallen in love with the town like so many others have.

My first go to to Amsterdam was as a budget-seeking backpacker in the summertime of 2013, once I did all of the touristy issues with buddies I’d met on a backpacker bus. I had loads of FUN on that journey, however I did not fall in love with Amsterdam as a metropolis.

Amanda in Amsterdam
Amsterdam is gorgeous; it is simply not for me

I attempted once more in 2015 once I visited earlier than Christmas with my mother-in-law earlier than occurring a river cruise. And I most lately went again with my sister in 2019 the place we skipped essentially the most touristy issues and tried for a extra laid-back go to.

My verdict is that whereas I do not thoughts visiting Amsterdam, I do not suppose the town will ever have the identical pull on me that another European cities do. I can not say why for positive; it simply is what it’s, and I’ve made peace with that.

Read extra: Amsterdam: It’s Not You, It’s Me (a break-up letter to Amsterdam) and Giving Amsterdam a Second Chance

2. Cambodia

Bayon Temple in Angkor, Cambodia
Bayon Temple in Angkor

People all the time prefer to ask me about my favourite and least favourite locations. And whereas I all the time stress that I do not “hate” any vacation spot I’ve been to, I often find yourself mentioning Cambodia as a rustic that was in all probability essentially the most troublesome for me to go to.

And I’m not speaking troublesome logistics-wise. I’m speaking troublesome in that it completely broke my coronary heart.

There are loads of unbelievable issues to see in Cambodia (the Angkor temples in all probability being essentially the most well-known). But there’s additionally a painful latest historical past to grapple with, together with loads of corruption.

Killing Fields in Cambodia
Places just like the Killing Fields aren’t nice to go to, however are necessary to know Cambodia’s latest historical past

I visited Cambodia in 2014, not lengthy after graduating with my grasp’s diploma in tourism administration. After taking programs in and writing papers on tourism growth, it was laborious to see the abject poverty and lack of sustainable growth in Cambodia. It was even more durable to journey there realizing that loads of my tourism {dollars} had been lining somebody’s pocket as a substitute of really serving to the native folks.

Don’t get me unsuitable: I believe studying about Cambodia’s darkish previous is essential, and I loved some components of my Cambodia tour. But, total, the nation left me feeling a bit pissed off and unhappy.

Read extra: Thoughts on Cambodia

3. Athens, Greece

Athens Acropolis
Athens Acropolis – it was simply 105 levels today.

History fan that I’m, I used to be SO excited to go to Athens for the primary time. I could not wait to see all of the ruins, and to stroll within the footsteps of historical philosophers… But sadly there was simply no magic spark between Athens and I.

Granted, I solely visited for a couple of days on my first journey in 2012. And I used to be there within the top of summer season throughout a warmth wave, which made every part additional depressing (no joke, they closed the Acropolis whereas I used to be there due to the warmth!).

View of Athens Acropolis
Even this view of the Acropolis from my resort could not redeem Athens for me.

I used to be additionally touring on a price range with different backpackers, so I’ll admit that *perhaps* that performed a task in me not being notably impressed. It’s someplace I would take pleasure in extra with extra time, and a more healthy price range. But I can not say it is metropolis I’ve prioritized returning to.

(I did, nevertheless, LOVE hopping across the Greek Islands on a separate journey a 12 months later!)

4. Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Midway Geyser Basin
Incredible to see, however we did need to drive round for half an hour to discover a parking spot.

Now I’ll preface this one by saying that I nonetheless suppose Yellowstone is an unbelievable place, positively worthy of preservation.

I can perceive why it was named the very first nationwide park on the earth. I imply, the geothermal exercise! The wildlife! The dramatic landscapes!

BUT, Yellowstone has suffered in recent times from its personal reputation. I visited in 2017 with my sister as half of a bigger highway journey out West. We had a couple of days to discover Yellowstone, however the immense dimension of the park coupled with how crowded it was in August left our entire go to feeling very rushed.

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone
Because we spent a lot time driving/on the lookout for parking, we by no means had a lot time to really benefit from the unbelievable surroundings!

I knew entering into that I would wish to mood my Yellowstone expectations a bit, particularly since we had been touring in the course of the excessive season. And I definitely did not dislike the park. But ready for parking areas, getting caught in visitors jams, and spending extra time driving in between sights than having fun with them signifies that I would not precisely title Yellowstone as my favourite nationwide park.

This is an effective reminder that timing can typically be every part. Would I’ve cherished Yellowstone if I’d visited throughout a unique, much less busy season? It’s very doable, and I’ll need to check it out someday!

Read extra: Yellowstone National Park: What to Do and See in 2 Days

5. The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul

The final place on this listing is not a metropolis or nation; as a substitute, it is one very fashionable attraction in Istanbul, Turkey. The Blue Mosque (formally the Sultan Ahmed Mosque) is a mosque constructed by the Ottomans within the early 1600s. It’s nonetheless used as a functioning mosque – however can be a well-liked vacationer attraction.

The Blue Mosque is thought for its lovely tile work, and I’ve really visited it twice – as soon as in 2012, and once more in 2019. And whereas I can definitely admire the artistry and structure right here, I would not name both of my visits to the Blue Mosque notably satisfying.

First of all, visiting an lively spiritual website can all the time be a bit unusual – particularly when it isn’t your faith. It can really feel a bit intrusive. Standing in line to go gawk at a mosque whereas some folks had been really going inside to hope made me really feel bizarre.

And it was additionally CROWDED on my first go to. I waited in line for half an hour, solely to be shuttled by way of, elbow-to-elbow, as if I used to be at an amusement park. The COVID-era me shudders at this.

Inside the Blue Mosque
It’s lovely, positive, but it surely was SO CROWDED the primary time I visited.

On my second journey, almost the whole mosque was lined up with sheets and scaffolding, as restoration work has been ongoing for a number of years now. It wasn’t almost as busy, however clearly it is rather a lot much less spectacular when you may’t see something.

Overall, each of my journeys to this marvel left me feeling fairly underwhelmed. There’s a lot unbelievable historical past and structure in Istanbul to see that I do not know that I’ll ever go to the Blue Mosque for a 3rd time.

The Blue Mosque in Istanbul
I really suppose it is extra spectacular from the skin anyway!

So there you could have it: a few of my most notable journey surprises and letdowns after 10 years of touring the world.

This listing may look totally different a couple of years from now – although I’ll say that the extra I journey, the higher I get at selecting locations I’m more likely to take pleasure in. I’m additionally a lot better at managing my very own expectations today, and with the ability to separate the “Instagram from reality” when I’m planning journeys.

And now it is your flip! What are a few of your journey surprises and letdowns? Do we have now any that match up?

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