I’ve read a few posts from other bloggers recently sharing about how awful a place was or how it was such a huge disappointment. Do travel disappointments happen? Oh yes! But often I’d say the responsibility for the disappointment is more about the traveler than the location. There is a bunch of online travel advice out there for a reason, and those of us behind giving it need to be more responsible, too, in my most humble opinion.
Lack of Research
If you’re the type of person who visits a place with expectations, then you should be doing some advance research. One of the posts I recently read was about the Malaysian island of Langkawi. As we lived there for a month, I was curious to read what she didn’t like about it. While I can’t disagree with most of her statements, what really stood out was her expectations.
She came to the island with visions of finding beaches like she had found in Thailand. Well, you really won’t find those conditions in Langkawi. She complained about the lack of nightlife; however, if you read any posts about the island you already know that the island isn’t known for its clubbing prospects. She complained about the lack of public transportation outside the tourist zone. Umm, yeah, that issue is raised in almost every article, too.
“I had to wait for over 2 hours to get a ticket to the Eiffel Tower.” Yeah, because you went during the height of the busy season and didn’t bother to read the advice from almost everyone who has been there which is to get your tickets online.
But if you visit one of the most recognized landmarks on the entire planet during high season you really shouldn’t be surprised you had to wait in a line.
Someone else wrote about their huge disappointment with the food in the Philippines. Again, Filipino cuisine isn’t exactly known for its gastronomic experience. One does not visit the Philippines for its food.
When we were newbies at this whole long-term travel thing, we visited Caye Caulker, Belize because some of my friends absolutely loved it there. I figured I like them, they like Caye Caulker, therefore I’ll love Caye Caulker, right?
I quickly learned that I needed to do two things: (1) only give actual consideration to travel advice from people with a similar travel style as my own, and (2) to basically have zero expectations when I travel somewhere.
Were my friends liars? Absolutely not! As much as I love them, we have different travel styles. They adored the place because it matched their style. I abhorred the place because it didn’t match mine.
Would I tell people never to go there? Absolutely not! However, I will share that for me it wasn’t a good place (*cough* Bali *cough*), and I’ll list the reasons as to why so that they can evaluate that.
I do the same thing when I give a glowing recommendation about a place. “Here’s why I think you should go there. . . “ If they don’t like similar things, then they know to discount my advice and to try to find someone who more closely matches their travel style.
It doesn’t mean my recommendation sucks. It just means it doesn’t fit their style. No harm, no foul.
I have gone to places having very high expectations and was thoroughly disappointed. Conversely, I’ve gone somewhere with very low expectations and ended up falling in love. We went to Prague with plans to only stay 1 week (too touristic, too expensive), and we ended up staying for 2 months. We only left because we had a housesitting gig elsewhere and were running out of Schengen time. It ended up being nearly tied for my most favorite city in the world, and it’s a VERY narrow margin.
What I’ve learned is that despite all the recommendations, warnings, and advice I find online and in person, I need to go to a place with almost zero expectations. When I go somewhere being completely open to the experience, come what may, I discover I have a much richer experience. And when some place doesn’t really jive with me, I know it’s because it simply didn’t work for me. It doesn’t mean someone else won’t absolutely love it.
And as a blogger, I have to keep this in mind. I never tell someone “Don’t go there.” Instead, I share my experience with all appropriate disclaimers—“We were only there for 3 days,” “Our neighborhood was absolutely depressing which could’ve affected our experience. (Hello, Lisbon!)”
“It’s too touristy”
Ok, many places really are quite touristy. However, I have yet to visit a place where it wasn’t easy to escape the tourist zone within usually a 5-minute walk. Paris is indeed touristy, but I’ve been to plenty parts of it that were dominated by locals. I’ve eaten in many places there where we were the only non-locals.
Also, sometimes there’s a good reason a place is touristy. If you don’t like being surrounded by tourists, travel in the off season. You’ll have far fewer of them to deal with. I’ve been to Paris in spring and winter. This year we’re going in the summer. I’m mentally preparing myself that my experience will most likely be quite different this time. Then again, I’ve already been to the heavy tourist spots so hopefully will be escape most of the throngs. But I’m prepared for that to not be the case.
I couldn’t stand the tourist throng in one particular area of Bali, but I already knew it was going to likely be packed with them. I knew the touts would be aggressive. I expected crowded beaches (although, thankfully, didn’t experience that). So, those items weren’t part of my “no thanks” position on returning there.
When you choose to go to a popular place, you really can’t complain that you’re being accompanied by hundreds or thousands of other people who had the same idea.
Blogs that are all sunshine and rainbows
It’s hard to be truly objective when you are being wined and dined. On the odd occasion I am visiting a place and receiving a comp (i.e., not having to pay in exchange for writing about or mentioning a place), I am continuously asking myself “What would I think if I had paid for this myself?” to help me keep perspective. For instance, when I recommended a hotel in Bangkok I stayed at while on a press trip, I did so only because I looked up the “rack rate” and felt that I would be willing to pay that to stay there again.
I have seen people who only write positive things, and they instantly lose credibility for me. Life is not perfect. Nothing is perfect. I make sure to include places that I adore and places I frankly despised, or was less than enamored with, because I believe it’s important to be transparent and honest.
This is also why you will find my disclaimer about not paying for something out of my own pocket at the top of one of my posts rather than hidden away at the very bottom.
I also don’t accept every offer that comes my way. I have turned down far more opportunities than I have accepted because my big question is “Will it provide value to my readers?” As well, it has to satisfy my ethical standards. In addition, I don’t typically pursue things that I wouldn’t be able to afford on my own because my message is that travel doesn’t have to be expensive. If I accept tons of stuff that would classify as high-end luxury travel, then how does that follow my mission?
Sure, I’d love to stay in a suite in a 5-star resort, but how does that prove travel doesn’t have to be expensive?
Occasionally, I will cover something that is a more high-end experience as a splurge, but they aren’t common for me because a splurge isn’t something that is “every day” either.
I also won’t accept offers for things I’m not really interested in. I’ve turned down a couple of proposals during our upcoming visit in Paris simply because I didn’t think it was all that interesting and wouldn’t be something I would want to write about.
I don’t blog “just for the freebies.”
At the same time, I think it’s easy to get jaded as a long-term traveler. We’ve been on the road for 4 years, so it’s getting harder and harder to impress me. Sure, that’s a nice beach, but so was [list 5 other countries]. I’m aware of that, though, and I try to remember that when I have less-than-stellar things to say about a place.
The perspective of someone who has been traveling full time for years is going to be different than the person who is on a 2-week holiday and/or hasn’t left their home country in a few years (if ever). I get that.
So when I have something that isn’t glowing to say, I make sure to try to account for grumpy long-term traveler syndrome. If I think it’s a possibility, I’ll mention it.
In my opinion, only writing sunshine-and-rainbow experiences is a disservice to my readers. People don’t come to the blog just because they want to see photos of my cute child.
Travel advice shouldn’t be given as if you’re some sort of god of travel either, and it also shouldn’t be given solely on the basis of VIP treatment.
What are your thoughts?