5 Awful Travel Destinations You Think You Should Visit
After traveling the world for over ten years, I can tell you why many of the world's top destinations are popular: heavy marketing and free trips for prominent travel writers. There isn't much else to it. But somehow, the alleged awesomeness of many popular vacation spots seeps into our collective consciousness and overrules everything that makes them terrible to visit. We always hear about the places we absolutely MUST visit before we're randomly hit by a bus, but I promise you, in some cases, that bus is the better option. Especially if you've been duped into visiting a place like...
While Lonely Planet named it one of their best destinations for 2015, Bali is mostly a tourist trap. Over 3.27 million people visited this island in 2013, and that influx of recent vacationers put a strain on infrastructure, leading to frequent brownouts. It's also massively polluted, like 1,000 garbage trucks exploded and not a single resident owns a broom. If you try to escape the pollution on the land, you'll be greeted by the trash-filled beaches. I once went swimming on the famous Kuta Beach only to come out with McDonalds wrappers on my arms. The water on that part of the island is filled with sewage the locals let run into the ocean. Tourists swim in whatever the locals flush.
"Enjoy beachside access to our bountiful Lost and Found piles!"
The city of Ubud -- made famous by the book Eat, Pray, Love -- is packed with people who don't realize that what they're experiencing is the Epcot Center version of Indonesia. Pretentious westerners attend overpriced yoga retreats and tell you "How zen this place is" in their quest to get spiritually drunk and soulfully laid. It's an island of people trying to be Julia Roberts.
"And with all the raw sewage, our oceans are teeming with hungry fish waiting to be caught!"
I saw more BBQ restaurants, sushi joints, Italian restaurants, and trendy coffee shops than I did tiny local Indonesian restaurants serving local cuisine. Basically, it's the foreign city you visit if you don't want feel like you've wandered too far from home.
My suggestion? Skip Bali and head to the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia. It feels a lot less like a theme park attraction there.
What more could you want out of such a storied city with a history that stretches back centuries -- a city that that helped establish the basis for much of modern civilization -- and left us treasures of their influence in the form of their beautiful ruins, incredible food, and vibrant culture?
Well, cleanliness, for starters. And maybe a little less foreboding sense that I could be mugged and stabbed while I'm distracted by ancient piles of rubble.
"...THE HELL OUT OF ATHENS!"
Athens has been called a "destination to watch" in 2015, because when a city is one giant construction project that stalled-out after the demolition phase 2,000 years ago, you want to pay close attention to the exciting things they have in store for us in the year ahead.
Outside the Plaka (the historic area with the ruins), Athens has few redeeming qualities, unless you consider filth a redeeming quality.
The buildings (the ones that aren't ancient ruins) are run down and covered in graffiti. It's a sprawling city, yet the metro is often not running due to strikes, and crime has grown in recent years. To put it bluntly: Athens is repulsive.
I'm a former history teacher who read books on ancient Greece as a child (yes, I'm a huge nerd). I wanted it to be the Athens of my dreams, the one I romanticized. It's not only far from that dream, but at this point I'd be happy if they at least sprayed the buildings down with a hose and sponge.
Thankfully none of the graffiti is of people's stupid tag names.
It's brings me solace knowing I'm not the only one who thinks so either. Whereas Lisbon might be run down and charming, Athens is just run down. I'm fascinated by the achievements of the ancient Greeks, it's just too bad it's getting to the point where I can't tell the difference between an ancient ruin and a modern building.
Bocas del Toro, Panama
Located near the border of Costa Rica, these islands in Panama are one of the most visited destinations in the country, with many travel publications touting their "sleepy" charm. And, don't get me wrong, the islands do make for some beautiful photos, but they're a lot like a Monet painting - beautiful from afar and a mess close up. The beaches are small and often lined with seaweed and broken tree branches, the water is rough, there's almost nothing to do on the islands, and the scuba diving is as basic as it gets. The main island is a one road town where locals often commit petty theft against tourists, because that's how you treat the people who keep your local economy afloat.
"Seaweed or seamonster? You decide, here, in beautiful Bocas del Toro!"
I wanted to love Bocas since so many people told me I had to visit. But it turns out it is like the Krakow of Central America on the backpacking trail. While it's fun and the parties are sometimes intense, as a beach paradise, it's grossly overrated and overpriced (Thanks, tourists!). What Bocas offers can be found in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica, Roatan, Honduras, Caye Caulker, Belize, and countless other beach towns throughout Central America.
What it does not offer is anything unique except maybe a lot of cocaine, which the locals sell to the hordes of tourists visiting the islands looking for a good time. So if you're in need of some booger sugar to make your trip to Bocas del Toro at least a tiny bit interesting, you should have no problem there.
"Participate in our trend-setting Take-A-Branch-Leave-A-Branch program!"
And for all the partying that goes on here, accommodation, food, and drinks is about 30% higher than it is in other parts of the country. Bocas del Toro is hyped up to be the beach paradise to end all beach paradises, when in reality it's just a tiny island that offers nothing beyond decent weather and cocaine on every corner.
When you picture islands in the Caribbean, you picture tropical paradise - white sand beaches, turquoise blue water, and nearby reefs for snorkeling. When everyone told me Curacao was going to be paradise, I believed them. After all, it's been named one of the best destinations to visit two years in a row. When I got there, I scoured the island for those beautiful beaches people talked about and came up empty. The beaches were rocky and the best ones were often in private resorts you had to pay for.
"Come and get a close up view of our world famous beached albino seals!".
Taxis across the island cost upwards of $50, and buses only ran every two hours. There was some good local food at the market in Willemstad, but the beaches are better for pictures that make your friends back home jealous than for actual swimming.
Pictured: Actual swimming.
The island is overpriced, the night life is seriously lacking. Clever photography and a smart marketing campaign have made Curacao one of the most popular islands in the Caribbean. If you never left your beautiful resort, you might think so too. But once you explore the island, you'll find that there's not much there. If you want a better Caribbean paradise at a more affordable price, try St. John, an island with personality and life. Curacao is person you date who's actually quite boring once you get over their good looks.
I'm sure everyone will send me hate mail for this but I am just going to come out and say it: I don't get why people love London so much. TripAdvisor users named it the best city in the world to visit in 2012.
I'm not saying that just to answer my own question. I really want to know.
London is the most expensive city in the world. A visit is not affordable to most, with the average pub meal costing $15 (and if you want a nice meal, you're looking at around $50 at least). A basic plate of fish and chips can cost $18. That's bar food! It's not supposed to cost that much! Ever!
What the hell is a Dover Sole and why is it 28 English money?
With meals that expensive, it's impossible to eat out often. Furthermore, the weather in the city sucks. It's often cold, cloudy, and rainy. Additionally, the tube closes early on weekends (1AM) and is frequently shut for maintenance. London is a great city for the 1% of the world with its high fashion, expensive restaurants, clubs, and homes. If you're loaded, go to London and have a ball. But if you want a modestly priced international vacation destination, you can do a lot better. I've never seen my money disappear so quickly for virtually no reason.
Oh, there's the reason.
Some will say "Yes, but the museums and theater are wonderful and the city has a lof of history." That may be true but that doesn't mean we have to fawn over London and put it on a pedestal! If we are going to write odes to a city, it should have it all. London does not have it all. Give me Berlin, a city with a growing food scene, art, music, diversity, and cheap prices. It is vibrant. London is your stuffy grandfather who goes to bed at 8pm. Go there if you have to, not because you think you want to.
Matthew Kepnes is the author of the book "How to Travel the World on $50 a Day" and runs the popular budget travel website, Nomadic Matt.