Dealing with Travel Disappointment: My Worst 5 Experiences

Dealing with travel disappointment
Dealing with travel disappointment

Expectations for traveling to a new place are similar to expectations for a first date in the sense that they are very dangerous when they’re uncontrolled since they can lead to disappointment. Travel disappointment.

Last week I visited the ruins of Ephesus near the Turkish city of Selçuk and while everything was wonderful, it just didn’t live up to the expectations that I had built in my mind after hearing the account of other visitors and reading about it beforehand.

Instead of finding the calmness of an archeological site (such as the Pergamon Acropolis in nearby Bergama), I found loud obnoxious shirtless people, monuments that while being objectively good just couldn’t compare to other ruins I’ve seen in the past and yes, tons of cat poop.

However, Ephesus wasn’t even near close to be included in my top 5 travel disappointments. Can you guess which one is number one?

Cats at Ephesus
Cats are cute until you step on their poop

Travel Disappointment #05: Christ the Redeemer in Rio

A few years ago, the Christ the Redeemer statue was voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World along with Chichen Itza, Petra, Machu Picchu, the Roman Coliseum, the Taj Mahal and the Great Wall of China so my expectations were already over the top when I visited Rio back in 2013.

The problem? While the view from the hill where the statue is located is very impressive, the statue itself is a very lousy one. Even the souvenirs of the statue being sold at the bottom of the hill are more impressive that Christ the Redeemer itself.

Travel disappointment level: 40/100. At least the views are nice form up there and it’s not too expensive.

The view of Rio from Corcovado
The view of Rio from Corcovado

Travel Disappointment #04: Angkor Wat, the Disneyland of Asia

For years I built up my expectations for visiting Angkor Wat, the largest religious complex in the world that shows the perfect blend between Buddhims and Hinduism. And while I completely loved the architecture and the feel of the place, it was really hard to believe that this is actually still a working temple.

The problem? Angkor Wat has a Disneyland-like feel in the sense that everyone is snapping photos of everyone. Yes, even the orange robbed monks use their iPad to take photos of the foreigners while foreigners take photos of both the locals AND other foreigners. It’s a photo madness.

Travel disappointment level: 60/100. At least I took some curious photos of Korean tourists doing the Gangnam style dance.

Travel Disappointment #03: Venice and how tourism has ruined it

Speaking about mass tourism and photos, no place has suffered more than Venice. Probably the most romantic city in the minds of travelers (after Paris of course), Venice has the potential of making you fall in love with it very easily. However, it most likely will not.

The problem? This charming city of canals has become a paradise of litter and pollution thanks to cruises and day-trippers during high season. Things have become so bad that the mayor is considering charging an entrance fee to the island itself to deter people from visiting!

Travel disappointment level: 80/100. At least I will visit it this October during low season and see how different Venice is without the mass tourism. Hopefully I’ll fall in love with it. Maybe.

Bridge of Venice
Under this bridge you will find litter, junkie needles and probably a dead body if you look hard enough

Travel Disappointment #02: Marrakech, the city of hassle and scams

When I was studying back in France in 2012, all of my Moroccan friends recommended me to visit Marrakech during my travels. I finally did it this year and well, let’s just say that my friends forgot to mention the constant scams, hassle and sexual harassment that one can find in this city.

The problem? People in Marrakech have become very dependent on tourism in order to succeed in life and they will do whatever they can (including lying all the time) in order to part ways with your hard earned money. If you ever visit, make sure to learn how to haggle and to always mistrusts people who approach you out of the blue.

Travel disappointment level: 100/100. At least the food was nice. And that’s pretty much it.

“Come on, it’s only 10 DH per hour”. And of course, 10 DH for your luggage, 10 DH for a mandatory tip and 10 DH for the right to breath air.

Travel Disappointment #01: Egypt’s Pyramids. Hell, El Cairo in general

When I was a little boy, traveling to the Egypt Pyramids was an impossible dream. Back in October 2012 I finally accomplish it and well, disappointment cannot even begin to cover everything that’s wrong with this once magnificent country. And yes, that was two revolutions ago!

The problem? Modern day Egyptians have nothing to do with the Ancient Egyptians that built the Pyramids and Temples. Modern day Egyptians. Plus, if you thought that the scams, hassle and sexual harassment of Marrakech were bad, a visit to El Cairo will certainly shatter your faith in humanity.

Travel disappointment level: 9000/100. At least…sorry, I just don’t see it.

Egypt Scams
Surviving Egypt Scams at the Giza Pyramids

How to deal with travel disappointment and high expectations

The best way to avoid travel disappointment? Do your research beforehand.

If I had done so I would probably already know how unimpressive the Christ the Redeemer statue is, how the best Cambodian temples are mere meters away from touristy Angkor Wat, how it’s better to visit Venice in low season, how to avoid being scammed in Marrakech and how Modern Day Egypt is absolutely nothing like the one we see in movies and books.

In the end, it’s up to you to manage your own expectations and to enjoy every step of the journey and yes, it’s those little disappointments in life the ones that teach us lessons of how to truly seize the moment and live life to the fullest.

Thoughts? What has been you biggest travel disappointment?

Dealing with travel disappointment
Dealing with travel disappointment

54 Comments

  • I can definitely see how Angkor Wat can be a disappointment. When we were there we missed the 9gazillion people lining up to take the sunrise photo because we were in the wrong spot. I am actually glad we were though because the sun did not even break through the cloud cover that day. Instead we decided to walk to the different temple groups and explore some that were barely on the map. This was an awesome way to get away from all the chaos that breeds around Angkor Wat. I am so glad we spent the morning that way and then later we took a tuk tuk around to some of the larger temples too.

    Sad to hear about Egypt; I also have always wanted to go so hopefully things change? Unfortunately high expectations can lead to some serious disappointment but hopefully there are some places you had no expectations about that were some of your best experiences!

  • Sorry, totally disagree, Egypt, Morocco and Ankor Wat were magnificent experiences. I don’t care if there are a few rip off merchants about, it can’t detract in any way, shape or form from the magnificent history and culture of the place.

    • Have to agree with you – it’s possible that Alex just had bad luck, or didn’t prepare for the trips well-enough. Egypt and Morocco can be disastrous if done poorly, you definitely need to prepare, take the time to make local, English-speaking contacts beforehand, and engage them in your travels, or else you’re going to be hassled non-stop.

      • I hardly think that “making local English-speaking contacts beforehand” aligns with my definition of having an authentic travel experience. I do know basic Arabic (and I’m fully fluent in French in the case of Morocco) but it didn’t help at all.

        Jordan, on the other hand, was paradise: No hassle, friendly locals, great hospitality.

      • And in Jordan, I was hassled, chased by a group of boys, and had stones thrown at me. But I also met very nice people. I had no trouble in Morocco and only “backsheesh” issues in Egypt. I found Angkor Wat to be magical and I want to go back again (and again) Venice has been a delight every time I have been there, but I am not there in the summer. I have not seen the statue, and it appears nowhere on my list of places to go.

    • I have to agree with World Travel Family here. I’ve been to 4 of these 5 places and they rank among my very favorite travel experiences of all time. (The one I haven’t been to yet is Angkor Wat, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing it in person in January 2015). The Pyramids, for example, were absolutely spectacular, and having to fend off some “ali babas” (as my guide called them) in no way detracted from the impact that visiting those ancient Egyptian monuments had on me. I also don’t mind if a particular site is teeming with tourists. That just means that lots of other people want to see this site too (probably for good reason), and I don’t begrudge them that. And has been pointed out, at many locations if you really don’t like crowds you can go during off-season.

    • I have to agree with World Travel Family here. I’ve been to 4 of these 5 places and they rank among my very favorite travel experiences of all time. (The one I haven’t been to yet is Angkor Wat, but I’m very much looking forward to seeing it in person in January 2015). The Pyramids, for example, were absolutely spectacular, and having to fend off some “ali babas” (as my guide called them) in no way detracted from the impact that visiting those ancient Egyptian monuments had on me. I also don’t mind if a particular site is teeming with tourists. That just means that lots of other people want to see this site too (probably for good reason), and I don’t begrudge them that. And has been pointed out, at many locations if you really don’t like crowds you can go during off-season.

      (Sorry for the double post BTW, I was having trouble figuring out this disqus thing)

  • I’m always surprised by how the more I except something from a place, the else I like it. With that said, I loved Ephesus, Christ the Redeemer, and Angkor Wat. My biggest disappointed was probably the city of Chiang Mai in Thailand. I headed there for a month after hearing such good thing about the place – the vibe, the food, the people — but I was really to leave after a week. Headed to Morocco next month, but now you’re making me having second thoughts!

    • Ah, Chiang Mai, the expat paradise of travel bloggers! I visited it in 2013 before I became a travel blogger and I neither loved it or hated it. What I did love was the sites that are a few minutes away from Chiang Mai, especially the golden pagoda located on a hill!

  • My boyfriend and I were talking about this same thing in SEA. In Thailand for example, we were so disappointed at how filthy the beaches were. I’m talking about piles of syringes, baby diapers, bottles, cans, etc and this was Koh Lanta, which has remarkable reviews by so many people and that’s just one example.

  • Living in Thailand, I’ve been really disappointed overall. Yes it’s cheap to travel, but overall it’s just so dirty. I think the beaches in most parts of the Caribbean are nicer. And I was also very underwhelmed after visiting Angkor Wat. I haven’t been to any of the other places on your list yet, but I will try to keep my expectations in check.

  • For me, the biggest disappointment was the Manneken Pis Statue in Brussels: you are presented it as THE Belgian symbol and you see at a street corner this little statue, not bigger than 50 cm.

    Fortunately, it is not the only thing to see in Brussels, which is, beside that, a very pretty city!

    • Many people have compared the Manneken Pis with the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen: It’s just there. But there’s nothing special about it. Frankly I prefer the Atom building in Brussels as the symbol of the city, sure it’s a little bit tacky but it’s an architectural wonder :D

  • Having just returned from Italy, spending several weeks around Venice during the height of the summer season I do have to disagree with some of your comments. Yes, by the Rialto Bridge and in St. Mark’s Square you will find tourists, however, further outside of the main tourist traps you can easily be the only person wandering the canals and enjoying the peace and quiet. A two minute vaporetto journey and you can easily see the charm of this wonderful city.

    The other question to ask is – how many UNESCO world heritage sites now charge entry? This is often put aside for upkeep and maintenance and that is what Italy’s undersecretary of culture, Ilaria Borlett, is proposing. Many day trippers come in on huge cruise ships that are potentially harming the city and therefore maybe a fee, which would include entrance to a museum, would not be such a bad thing – maybe cruise operators would choose somewhere else to dock.

    If you are after peace and quiet away from the tourist hub in the height of summer can I suggest that you visit Cannaregio, Dorsoduro or Giudecca.

    • I actually fully support charging money to visitors of Venice (I hope my comment in the article itself didn’t imply the opposite) with an extra “pollution tax” applied to people that come in cruises instead of train/car/airplane.

  • Thanks for sharing your experiences Raphael – it’s always going to be different for different people; and your expectations truly can ruin an experience for you. I try to travel with absolutely no expectations so that a place is not overhyped in my head or I find it too far from actual reality.

  • I have had my share of travel disappointments, but I think that the internet does a good job at showing only the best parts of ruins or experiences. I agree, you really have to do your research. It works both ways though. I was overly impressed by New Zealand and Iceland. I didn’t do too much research outside of travel plans since my boyfriend was planning those trips. However, those are some of my best trips because I didn’t have too many expectations :)

  • Totally agree with Tamason there. Venice is amazing. Just get away from the tourist hordes and you’ll see what I mean. Walk to Dorsoduro or catch a ferry to Giudecca and you’ll have the venice of your dreams. As for the other places… let’s see beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    • That’s true. This isn’t a list of the “5 worst places”, just a list of “5 worst disappointments”, I’m sure a second visit to those places (with already manageable expectations) is going to be awesome!

  • I was shocked to see Venice on your list, but then I read on and I can see how visiting during high season would be annoying! I’ll be going in May next year which is a shoulder season, hopefully it isn’t too crowded and we’ll be able to enjoy it!

  • I haven’t been to any of those places so I can’t comment if I was disappointed or not but it’s usually the amount of tourists (too many) that can ruin a place. It takes away the true beauty of it sometimes when you have people pushing and shoving you to get a picture! But you just have to learn how to appreciate the place in a different way and see the wonder beyond the millions of people and cameras.

    • I don’t mind about tourists (actually, Costa Rica has some of the BEST tourists in the world since most of them care a lot about the environment, at least in Manuel Antonio). What I hate is irresponsible tourists that just litter places and don’t care about respecting the locals.

  • Great article, Raphael! I must agree with you on Angkor and Venice at least. One of the biggest disappointments for me was Cambodia in general, where there was not that much to see, locals were not that friendly and hitchhiking was nigh on impossible! On the contrary, we hadn’t expected much of Laos and were very positively surprised! Win some, lose some ;)

  • It’s always frustrating when a place doesn’t quite live up to the expectations you have for it. I haven’t been to any of these spots, but there are a few I definitely want to visit! Looking forward to checking them out some day to see what my thoughts are–always interesting to get different points of view!

  • I appreciate your honestly. Even though others don’t agree, it is your opinion and I enjoy reading everyone’s take on this topic. I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids and hopefully will someday.

  • I’m glad you are visiting Venice in off season because I think you will have a completely different experience. I’ve been twice now, both times in early April, and it’s my favourite city- it wasn’t too crowded, there was no smell ( Florence was the stinky one), and when all the day trippers cleared out at night it was incredible. Hopefully you will get to experience what I’ve experienced!

  • I totally agree with you when you say what you hate is irresponsible tourists that just litter places and don’t care about respecting the locals. I hate that, too. But usually I am still always able to find something positive to focus on when I come away from a certain place. It’s a shame Angkor Wat disappointed you :( I absolutely loved it.

  • It seems like a lot of the disappointment comes from envisioning some “authentic” location or experience only to visit and find it has been ruined by tourism. The best ways to avoid a let down is to 1) Stop visiting “must-see” sights and spend your time at slightly more boring but also more authentic off-the-beaten-path locations; and 2) Enjoy the tourist kitsch for what is it and really pick and choose how/where you part with your money.

    Our biggest disappointments so far have been Castle Bran in Transylvania and Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, but in the case of the former we had a good laugh, and the latter was still a memorable learning experience so I think we came up on top.

      • Yep it is! The castle itself was nothing special but the entry is only about €6. It was nothing special, but we got a funny post out of it for our website, and the kitschiness of the small little town is something to marvel at.

        Far more impressive and beautiful is Peles Castle, about an hour south of Brasov. The Transylvanian landscape is really beautiful, the end of October would be a great time to go!

      • Peles fits the definition of kitsch accurately. Imitation of south German castle built in Romania, and decorated with imitation of roman sculptures. Bran castle is a lot more authentic. Medieval places are not as flashy as royal residences built 100 years ago.

  • The only place I have been out of the five was Angkor Wat. I completely loved it, but I had absolutely no expectations as I visited pre travel blog world, so I knew nothing about it. I can see why you might be put off by the crazy tourist build up. There are also the screaming kids trying to get you to buy stuff from them. That was annoying, but the temples themselves were amazing.

      • 10???????????????? did you even go there…after cycling around the ankor complex several times and clocking up 100’s of kilometers.. I take issue with your claim of 10 temples.. the area across from the elephant walls has 10 on its own.. I actually find this list to be lazy writing and am surprised you got so much interaction… Maybe you have achieved a bloggers dream.. style over any substance.

  • I think Venice’s main island has banned large cruise ships now? About a year or so ago? Due to the problems that you mention. I’ve also heard the Rio problem before, too, and that it’s better to view Christ the Redeemer around the city rather than actually travelling up to it. Plus I already took Selfie’s with Jesus in San Sebastian ;) and it was muuuch quieter :)

    I really want to to see the pyramids and Morocco , also but I am more than aware of the attitudes (or cultural differences) and won’t be doing it alone. For. Sure.

  • Thanks for the tips Raphael! If anyone on here has thought about driving from France to Andorra through the Pyrenees, then just do it!! I think my drive through there was one of the best experiences of my life!!

  • If you are fan of history, Greece is one the best places to visit . Delphi, Mycenae, Epidaurus, Meteora, Olympia or Mystras & Sparta , this places you have to see .

Comments are closed.