Travel experiences have the power to stir your soul and affirm your existence, deeply imprinting themselves onto your memory forever. They make you happy that you’ve spent the bucks or made the effort and prove themselves as being truly bucket list-worthy.
Some of “the big” travel experiences really do justify the hype, while others… Well, they leave nothing but sheer disappointment and a deflated sense of dissatisfied “meh”.
I’m sorry to break it to you, but there is a pretty good chance that several of your ultimate travel fantasies will prove to be little other than anti-climactic wastes of time.
In this post, we’re going to take a (brutally humorous) look at some of the most overrated travel experiences in the world!
The Most Overrated Travel Experiences in the World
A word about this post. You may well disagree with some of the things we say and you may even be a little offended (I mean it’s 2021, offended is now practically a mandatory state of being).
However, bear in mind that this post has been compiled & collated by Broke Backpacker writers and contributors who have offered their individual personal takes on travel disappointment. As such, we don’t necessarily even agree amongst ourselves about some of these entries!
Try to take what we say with a pinch of salt and a heavy dose of good humour (ideally, the deeply offensive British and Australian variety). We’ve made an effort to find the positives and be (at least a little) kind.
And now that we’re done with the trigger warnings and disclaimers, let’s get to it. Guys and gals, the most overrated, over-hyped travel experiences in the world are…
The Most Overrated Wonder of The World – The Taj Mahal
The poster boy/girl/person for Indian tourism and the “Wonder of the World” described by Kipling as “a teardrop on the face of eternity”.
The Taj Mahal continues to attract countless travellers from across the globe who come to admire it every year. For me though, my visit to the Taj was more “a shit stain on the arse cheek of my Indian trip”. Totally not worth the 48-hour ordeal.
To be fair, the white marble mausoleum is truthfully an architectural gem. It’s a Mughal masterpiece of master stonework and sublime curvature! It must have been utterly mind-blowing when it was first constructed in 1631.
So why is it sitting prettily in pole position on our list then?! Because as impressive as the monument itself is, the experience of visiting the Taj Mahal is nothing short of traumatic…
Firstly, the Taj Mahal is situated in the ugly, dirty and truly terrible city of Agra. To get there, you need to go through hell-on-earth in Delhi and then proceed to spend 3 hours on a sweaty, crowded train (each way).
The streets around it are thronged with pushy touts and scam artists who will do their absolute utmost to ruin any enjoyment you intend to take from your visit. Oh, and the weather… punishingly hot by summer and painfully damp & sweaty by monsoon.
I’ve met people who have broken down in tears upon seeing the Taj for the first time, and I could never bring myself to advise first time travellers to India NOT to visit it.
Do your thing, get the Taj & the trauma out of the way and then head to either the mountains of Himachal Pradesh or the beaches of Goa where the real magic of India can be found.
The Most Overrated City in the World – Dubai
The platinum oasis rising out of the desert that is Dubai is certainly striking. Well established as a playground for annoying influencers, the super-wealthy and the shamelessly vacuous, Dubai has fought hard to establish itself as a global behemoth of transient tourism.
And from the right (or wrong) angle, this impressive post-modern metropolis can almost resemble a cityscape of the future. But that begs the troubling question as to precisely what kind of future we are sleep-walking into…
Dubai is less on the side of Star Wars space-age majesty and more on the mindless-mandatory-dystopia of Brave New World. One where you can’t even drink water on the subway.
Dubai does have some good things going for it, though. It’s quite a multi-cultural society (albeit with a servant class/master racial hierarchy), the food scene is sublime and there are quite a few architectural marvels to behold.
The city is clean, safe and highly efficient – in transit, it is definitely worth a look. However, the problems with Dubai run deep, which is why we’re considering it an overrated travel destination.
Firstly, those gigantic skyscrapers were built using what critics compare to modern-day slave labour. And why is it that people with loads of money and zero imagination always seem to think building a big, pointy, phallic building is THE thing to do?!
Dubai lacks any real culture; it is rather a raft of never-ending shopping malls, tedious world records, and boutique experiences all purposely contrived to price the riff-raff out – yes, Dubai IS expensive.
Dubai feels like such an empty “non-place” that it almost acts like a mirror – stare into it and you will see yourself reflected back; how you perceive Dubai tells you how you perceive the wider world.
The Most Overrated Ancient Monument in the World – Stonehenge
From the hyper-modern to the neolithic – Stonehenge is, in many ways the United Kingdom’s true-spiritual epicentre, as well as one of the most unique pre-roman sites in the world.
The problem is that it’s just not that good. It was built roughly around the time of The Great Pyramids in Egypt (give or take). And whilst the Pyramids are essentially pointless piles of big, ancient bricks surrounded by aggressive hustlers, they’re VERY impressive.
Stonehenge, on the other hand, is what Pharaoh might have built had he lacked both imagination and an abundance of slave labour.
It consists of a few biggish stones arranged in an imperfect circle – it isn’t a “monument” in any sense except for being monumentally underwhelming. If nobody pointed out its antiquarian significance, you would probably drive right past it on your way to Burger King.
We (the people who now inhabit the Isles of Britannia) still don’t know what the significance of Stonehenge is or why it was built. This is partially because the Druids who built it didn’t use the written word, and partially because we just don’t care all that much.
I must confess, though. Whilst the 5-hour round trip to Stonehenge from London is deeply disappointing for most, it has earned a symbolic place in my heart as my interest in pre-Roman Britain grows. Prior to 1992, it was also a symbolic meeting place for the New Age travellers who used the site for epic, free raves which I am very sorry to have missed.
If you’re around for either the Solstice or the Equinox, the neo-Druid celebrations are wonderful. If you’re visiting at any time other though, I would probably skip it altogether – there are plenty of epic places in the UK that you can visit instead.
The Most Overrated Party Destination in the World – Ibiza
The Balearic island of Ibiza has become irrevocably synonymous with partying, hedonism and dance music. It is perhaps THE definitive global clubbing destination and has even become a byword for electronic music.
And I have little doubt that, once upon a time, its reputation was entirely justified. After all, this is where it all began and the Balearic Beat that emerged in the late 80’s co-spawned acid house, trance and chill-out. The legendary 90’s Ibiza sets played by Paul Oakenfold, Sasha and John Digweed still sound fresh and exciting even in 2021.
But that’s all in the past and the present-day reality is quite different.
Firstly, Ibizan hedonism has mutated into decadent, debauchery. Ibiza no longer offers transcendence so much as escapism aided by every dodgy designer-chemical known to man.
Sadly, the old-skool ravers and hippies have been forced out by boozed-up Brits and those perma-orange, disco-muscled guys you see down the gym. The “superclubs” routinely charge a 50€ entrance fee, 8€ for a bottle of water, and then (GET THIS!) vindictively add saline to the tap water to stop revellers drinking it!
And don’t even get me started on the music – Martin Garrix’s painful, squealy brand of “EDM” is dance music made for smartphone speakers.
I’m searching hard for positives here. The Ibizan sunsets are sublime and quiet corners of the island do remain but overall, there are simply better places to go for your European summer party fix.
The Most Overrated Cuisine in the World – French
Somehow, the French have managed to cultivate the illusion that they alone are the global masters of all things culinary. French chefs are highly sought after across the world and haute cuisine & a-la-carte are quite literally French concepts.
Yet in reality, I have never struggled so much to find something decent to eat as when I was travelling in France. Firstly, the basics of French food is meat + veg + a little drizzle which is essentially the same formula as British food – a cuisine the world correctly agrees is utterly shit. The famous tartare is just raw meat and the famous fondue is just melted cheese. How is any of this even remotely impressive to anybody?!
However, French cuisine really gets complicated if you’re a vegetarian, a vegan or gluten intolerant. Bucking a very welcome global trend, the French have doubled down on their munching traditions and decided to make no effort to cater for alternative diets whatsoever – some traditional restaurants do not offer a single meat-free option.
Of course, it isn’t all bad news. The bread, cheese and wine are sublime, ubiquitous and very affordable. The big cities are also pretty multicultural so you can find decent Middle-eastern, Asian or even African food without too much of a headache.
The Most Overrated Hometown in the World – Byron Bay
The following is a spicy addition from one of the resident Broke Backpacker team. All those overtouristed places you visit? You remember that they have locals that have to grow up there, right?
Here is one such local’s perspective.
Ahh, Byron Bay – the Southern Hemisphere’s prettiest cesspool.
I remember the Byron Bay of the 90s – a place where van-lifers still camped at Main Beach for days at a time, a drum circle and a doob was never far away, and parking your car in town was… well… well, it was possible.
That was more than twenty years ago now. I spent seventeen years of my life growing up in Byron, and now I haven’t been back home in another ten. I don’t get to go home because my home is gone.
Byron is dead and in its place we have a vapid husk of unrelenting Instagram culture, overpriced wankacinos, and A-list Yankee celebs building 50-million dollar holiday homes on already overdeveloped coastlines, decimating every bit of affordable housing in the area.
Do backpackers still love Byron? Some do, yeah. And tourists still love Byron for the vibe, mannnn. But there is no vibe – not since the bourgeoise yuppies descended on the town.
Byron Bay is for people who couldn’t make their own vibe no matter how they tried. “It’s a place rich people go to pretend to be poor.”
Oh! And don’t try parking up at any of the beaches or outside any of the overpriced luxury campsites. The rangers will get ya.
The Most Overrated Natural Phenomena in the World – The Northern Lights
“Is nothing sacred, you filthy heathen?” I hear you ask. “Picking on nature now, are we?” you may well yell into your screen.
It is true that the natural world boasts some wondrous phenomena that one can scarcely even comprehend. And if you have seen the stirring, celestial photos by Chris Burkard (amongst others) you probably think the Northern Lights qualify as one of, if not THE definitive example of nature’s majesty.
But the cold reality is that the Northern Lights consistently rank amongst the most overrated and underwhelming travel experiences conceivable. I shall explain why.
Firstly, the truth (and a heartbreak warning). The Northern Lights don’t really look anything like they look in photos. The camera is infinitely more sensitive than the human eye and enjoys a much wider and deeper colour spectrum.
More often than not, those divine hues of misty green magic swirls actually resemble morose grey little clouds to human onlookers – if you didn’t know you were looking at Northern Lights, you would never know.
It gets worse. They refuse to follow a set performance timetable and don’t always turn up when you want them to. As such, you may not get to see them at all. Many Light spotting trips return thoroughly disappointed when cloud coverage or low solar-particle activity renders the Aurora Borealis “out of order” for the evening.
In order to give yourself a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights, you need to set aside 2 or 3 nights. If you want to see them at full power (ie, when they may actually look green), then budget a few weeks of night sky spotting. This will, of course, cost you an absolute fortune as the Nordic countries are some of the most expensive places on earth.
Unless you have cash to burn, it may simply not be worth it.
The Most Overrated Weekend Break – Prague
If you’re looking for a romantic little getaway, a boozy bachelor party or a cultural weekend then there is a pretty strong chance that you will be considering a visit to Prague.
The classical city of Prague, weaves together the story of 1000 years of European culture, from the medieval to the modern. It boasts art galleries, castles and some fine ass beer. Sounds good, right?
Well, it is good. Too good. To the point where its many charms have now become its downfall.
Having survived both bombardment by the Nazi’s and the Soviet occupation, it is somewhat surprising to see that the city has fallen to a new more benign invader – but fallen it has, as Prague is now sadly a city ruined by sheer over-tourism.
During the weekend, expect hordes of boozed-up Germans and Brits vomiting into gutters. If you go sightseeing, expect to fight and jostle against coach loads of tourists to catch even a glimpse of the big famous Astrology clock thingy.
The over-tourism has clearly taken its toll on the native population who can hardly hide their disdain for visitors and win the prize for the least welcoming locals I have ever met.
After a few hours exploring Prague one August afternoon, I honestly retreated-defeated back to the wonderful Elf Hostel and stayed there for the rest of my trip.
Are you still with me?! I hope you found our run-down of the most overrated travel experiences in the world to be thought-provoking, insightful and just a little bit horrifying. Perhaps there are some items on our list you agree with and maybe there are a few that you wholeheartedly disagree with.
As always, let us know in the comments below, we are especially keen to hear if this post has caused you to reconsider your travel plans.
Until next time!
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