Dealing with a travel letdown

It happens to everyone at some point. You get excited to visit a place that has been absolutely raved about, and when you arrive you find it to be a complete letdown. There are different ways of dealing with this situation.



Get a change of scenery

Our first arrival to Bangkok was not an enjoyable experience. It was initially one of the biggest travel letdowns I had experienced. There were some interesting temples and some good food, but the rest was so underwhelming. I was really disappointed. When we left the country to visit friends in Malaysia, I was quite ready to be out of there.

The second time we were there, we visited after staying in Ayutthaya for almost 2 weeks. We really liked it there, and we returned to Bangkok with the hope that the second time around would be better. And it was! We stayed in a different area, and things just meshed better.

In Lisbon, neither of us was particularly enjoying the city. I think a lot of it was the neighborhood we were living in. It had a lot of rundown, decrepit buildings, and the area just felt depressing. One day we took the tram to visit a market that had been recommended, and we found a gorgeous park and a neighborhood that had a completely different vibe. It felt fresh, cheery, and inviting.

As we explored more of Lisbon, we found that for us the city’s charming areas were found on the other side of the city. I think if we had spent more time in that part of the city we would’ve had a completely different experience. For now, Lisbon is a bit of a letdown, and I’m quite eager to head north later today.

Letdown places

Sometimes it’s more difficult

I think the biggest travel letdown I’ve had yet is Bali. For years I’ve seen so many people absolutely rave about that area of Indonesia. But our experience was completely opposite. Sure, there was lots of beauty to the area, and the people are wonderful (except for the touts in the more developed areas), but everything else was just, well, meh.

We hate moving around a lot when exploring a new area, but we kept doing so hoping that we were just missing something. We were kind of stuck, too, because our outbound flight was leaving from Bali so we couldn’t just pick up and go elsewhere in Indonesia.

In 3 weeks’ time, we stayed in four different cities making sure to focus on areas that wouldn’t have quite the level of tourism we had already experienced.

In the end, we just didn’t care for Bali.

And that’s really okay. I mean, not every place is going to be liked by everyone. I know people who don’t care for Paris or Prague. I personally can’t understand such blasphemy, but we’re all different.


Calling it quits

One of the things I love about spontaneous travel is being able to just up and leave. We try to give an area more than just a first impression. We explore it, ask locals for tips and suggestions, reach out to friends, etc. Sometimes, like with Bangkok, you’ll find something to turn your thoughts around, but sometimes no matter what you do it just isn’t your place.

I think it’s silly to force yourself to stay in a city that you don’t enjoy. Give it a few days, and if nothing changes for you get out of there! This is where advance planning has screwed me before. When you’re kind of stuck in an area because of airplane tickets or something, it can make things worse.

Hopefully, you can find a nearby city that’s easy to get to so you can catch a break. If you can’t, though, try to focus on every little positive you can: “This mini market has really great oranges!”

Yeah, sometimes it’s a real reach, but it can help you keep your sanity while you endure the wait to escape.

What’s been the biggest travel letdown you’ve experienced?

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  1. Been in that situation before but like you said, it’s OK. That’s the beauty of personal preferences.

    We also find, getting to know a few locals really helps with improving a “meh” experience.

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  2. Hi Talon – we have just booked tickets to Lisbon (1st stop on our rtw with our son – yay! and yikes!). What area were you staying in? I’ve only booked a nights stay at a hotel the day we arrive, and looking at airbnb and homeaway for apts for a week. Sounds like I might want to avoid the neighbourhood you were in? Sounds a bit depressing and not a good start to our one year adventure. Happy travels!

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    • Congrats! Exciting times ahead for you. We stayed in the Intendente area which was very depressing. I would look at staying west of the Rato metro station. Those areas were much more charming and had a much better feel.

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  3. The biggest travel let down that I can think of was New York. I had bigged it up in my head after watching way too much ‘Sex and the City’. I was disappointed by how unfriendly, crowded and dirty it was. I think it may be one of those cities that you have to live in to really appreciate, although there just wasn’t enough green spaces for me. There were things in New York that I loved like the Chelsea Highline, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn Flea and Central Park but I way preferred Chicago. I would definitely give New York another chance though, all those people that love it can’t all be wrong.

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    • I never thought of that. You’re right. Many movies present a really sanitized version of the city to people. We haven’t been to NYC yet. Still on the list.

      I very much liked Chicago. Wouldn’t want to live there, but it was a great city to visit.

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  4. I agree that travel letdowns are one of the things that make preplanning such a pain—if you love a place and don’t have enough time, that’s never so bad as getting somewhere and feeling stuck. After all, you can always return to places you didn’t get to fully explore, but it’s horrible feeling like you have to spend time somewhere when you’d really rather be anywhere else.

    We’ve had a lot of travel disappointments on this trip, truth be told. It honestly seems like the places I’m most excited for are the ones I wind up liking the least, which has kind of been an frustrating position to be in since I know get scared whenever I am legitimately excited for some place in advance. Two big disappointments that come to mind, however, are China, which was somewhere I never anticipated not loving and is still probably my least favorite place we’ve been on this trip. Second would be KL, but that was a lot like your experience with Bangkok (which, ironically, I loved a first sight!)—I really didn’t care for it much at all on our first visit, but on our second visit, we stayed in a different area and really liked it a lot more.

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    • So true about how feeling stuck is just so horrid. When you love a place, you have somewhere to be excited to return. When you despise or dislike a place, almost every little thing can really get on your nerves.

      I have heard that about China from so many people it’s really put me off visiting.

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  5. Great post Talon! We had this problem with Paris of all places – because it’s so expensive we ended up staying in a crummy neighbourhood and never really felt a connection with the city. I’m hoping we can return one day and give it another chance.

    I’ve heard so many accounts of people being underwhelmed and disappointed with Bali. I blame it on Eat Pray Love 🙂 Hope you two are doing well!

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    • Calli – I actually had it with Paris as well! I went there right after I went to Greece and Turkey and it just didn’t wow me like I expected it to (or like those other places had). I look forward to going back someday and maybe getting a new perspective on Paris.

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    • I hope you can go back and have a better experience, too.

      I haven’t read or watched EPL so perhaps was doubly underwhelmed! lol We’re doing great. Hope you’re planning the next adventure!

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  6. Our biggest travel letdown was Bruges as we’d heard so much about it and were keen to experience it ourselves. While the architecture and city was beautiful, it was waaay too tourist-oriented for our liking and we felt it was trying too hard, instead of just letting it talk for itself.

    We also hated Bangkok when we were first there but, after getting recommendations from friends, ended up loving it and going there many times from our home in Cambodia.

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    • I was surprised by some of your photos from your time there. Really disappointed. It had been on my list for awhile, but after seeing so many similar comments I may go there if I’m in the area but won’t make a special trip.

      For some people I think Bangkok just has to grow on you.

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  7. I think it has to do with the place where you are located in the town. If you are in the suburbs and you have a long walk to get to the touristic areas you will probably encounter the “low life” of the town with lots of things that could be better. Also I think the key is the first contact with the people … they can make you love or hate the place…

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    • Probably depends on the person and the area. We usually end up in the burbs and end up really liking it. The people can really make or break a place sometimes. In Bali and Lisbon, the people weren’t the problem, though.

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  8. Yea, this can really suck. I experienced this somewhat in Lima, Peru, while my partner was much more enthusiastic about the city. Unfortunately, we had already commited to (and paid for) an apartment there for six weeks. We made the most of it, but now I look back and just think “why?!”

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    • One of the reasons I don’t pay in advance for a long stay. Too many times I’ve ended up in an area and needed a new neighborhood or something.

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  9. I don’t think we’ve really had a travel letdown like this yet. But I have to admit I’m worried it might happen when we finally get to Bali. I have it built up in my brain to be an awesome place and all my friends at home who have visited love it. Maybe your next visit there will be the one that helps you like Bali?

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    • From what I’ve seen, read, and through discussions with people after, I think if one goes to Amed and up north they’ll have a much better experience of Bali.

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  10. I think the biggest travel letdown we experienced so far was whilst in Bilbao. We heard so many lovely things about it that our expectations were probably too high and we end up being disappointed at the end, but as you said we don’t have to like every place we visit.

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    • I’m now naturally cautious when people rave about an area. I’ve had too many experiences where it just didn’t live up. I’m just a different type of traveler than many of those people. Hoping Barcelona doesn’t disappoint.

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