Alright, so I want to preface this post by saying I am overwhelming GRATEFUL. Grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to so many places, grateful to have seen in person so many things that I used to only see on screens & dream about, grateful to have interacted with and learned from every single culture I’ve encountered…
BUT, I’m a human being. I come wrapped up in my own individual identity and culture and preferences and likes & dislikes and anxieties, and that means sometimes you arrive in a “hit list” location and are just NOT wild about it. This has thankfully been the exception and not the rule when we travel, but I think sharing those exceptions, talking about a few places a whole lot of people are dying to get to and why I would swap in somewhere else, is almost as important as talking about the places we loved. Why? Because this is the info that most bloggers would share with a friend or a casual acquaintance in person, but avoid announcing “on the line.” And considering how much money one typically has to shell out to get to a lot of these places, I feel obligated to add a few drops of tepid water into the sea of exclusive positive commentary on each one.
Thanks to GOT, Dubrovnik has become more popular than ever. So, I’m sure if you’ve been and you’re starting to read this you’re thinking, “They’re going to say it’s overcrowded and that’s why they didn’t like it,” but you’re only fractionally correct…The real reason we didn’t love Dubrovnik wasn’t that it was drowning in tourists and considerably smaller than we expected, making one feel somewhat like a yolk in an egg collapsing in on all sides. No, our beef with Dubrovnik is something many people I’m sure will classify as petty:
The Service Culture.
Croatia is the first country I’ve ever been to where I genuinely felt like when I would sit down to dinner and order a meal the waiters reacted as if I had pulled them away from watching a Superbowl that only happens once every twenty seasons and was tied with three seconds on the clock…The energy from the locals was, for lack of a more articulate adjective, negative.
And look, I get that. It must stink to the highest degree to have that many tourists tromping through what likely used to be a haven, but I’m also a big believer that a smile goes a long way, that people have an obligation to at least try to be kind to one another, that we should resist making assumptions about others until we’ve gotten to know them, and that kindness should be every person’s default mannerism. We didn’t love Croatia because time and time again, something as little as going to get coffee felt like being forced to irritate someone. At first it felt like we were just gong to the wrong places or having bad luck, but after three days and exploring all over we were very, very ready to leave.
Where To Go Instead: Athens
Porter and I both are 50% Italian, so when we got to spend about three weeks in Italy this fall, we were ecstatic. One of the places on our list was Pienza, a walled city in the centre of Tuscany. While it had charm in spades, and adorable restaurants, a lovely hotel, and the sweetest Italian nonnas wandering up and down the lanes talking to anyone they’d come across, it was just kind of, a little bit, a teeny tiny drop
If you’re going to Pienza, there’s likely one reason: to drink wine. And while Port and I knew this was the main activity, we figured there were at least a handful of other non-wine related activities. We figured wrong. Most people heading into Pienza fill their schedule with vineyard tours and tastings, and while Port and I could probably have done one of these, the idea that people were doing them every single day just isn’t us. We love Italian wine, but we aren’t huge drinkers, and generally like to spend daylight hours sober. Puritanical, I know.
Also, this city was overwhelmingly smaller than we thought. Quite literally, the size of your average high school grounds. Five days was way too long, so we’d suggest passing through en route to another area, and, at most, spending one night.
Where to Go Instead: Burano
I have to be honest with you, it took me awhile to process some of my bitterness about our experiences in Bali. I’ve shared a good amount of these thoughts on Instagram, but it’s just one of those places that I think about and have this anger in the pit of my stomach that I’m still trying to work out. So, I’m just going to say what I often felt like shouting during our time there:
Indonesia is the most irresponsible polluter of our Earth I’ve ever witnessed!
When you think Bali, if you’re from America or Europe, you likely think yogi and hippie culture, green smoothies and acai bowls. And Bali definitely has all of that. The restaurants are awesome. The going out scene is great. What doesn’t line up with the ethos behind those sub-cultures though, is the way both tourists AND locals treat this patch of planet.
I know this is in large part not due to individuals, but due to a government that doesn’t have a proper waste disposal system in place or even the infrastructure for one started. AND I know there are a lot of good people in Bali and abroad working hard to reverse these effects and get non-plastics into the hands of users, and do their part to change just how polluted it’s become, but at the same time, a whole lot more can be done on the individual level…
It irritated me to no end to see self-described “surfers” and yogis” burning their trash (a common practice here, as it’s really difficult to get it to a proper trash pit), stepping over discarded beer cans and bottles, and bobbing through debris in the ocean with no thought of bringing a piece or two onto the shore when they’d finished up to throw away properly.
I was constantly feeling like I was about to come across the “real” Bali I had seen in photos. Long stretches of beautiful coastline and clean sand. It never happened. We were there for a month and I saw everything from syringes on the beach to diapers to plastic bags floating like phantoms under the sea while fish swam precariously around them. Somebody even commented on one of our Instagram’s that while she was there her husband asked where he could throw his can away, and a local replied, “It’s Bali. Just throw it on the ground.”
Whether it’s cultural or tourism-related or governmental or a mix of all those things or none of them, Indonesia is the third biggest polluter on Earth right now, (after China and India) and I feel like that fact alone should be affecting tourists’ decision to travel there. I guess I feel like (probably naively) if tourism dipped because of this, the government would be financially incentivized to make a change and then some real rules might actually be put in place. Idealistic? Probably. But I still feel like it’s a place that should send people into fiery debates.
Where To Go Instead: Sri Lanka
This one is definitely going to have people saying, “hang on,” but I feel strongly about it, so I’m including it. Santorini is stunning, I’m not arguing that. It’s unlike any other place on earth, and I totally get why it’s so high on so many people’s bucket lists. The churches, the small streets, the incredible Greek food and five star hotels. It feels like the place that invented luxury. But, unfortunately, Santorini is kind of at a crossroads right now, and if you’ve been recently, you probably witnessed it yourself.
The Instagram age has made this haven the hive that people of all ages and cultures swarm to. Santorini is having a rough time. Local governments and patrons are fed up with the thousands upon thousands of people that arrive into the tiny villages of Oia and Fira every day. Every gorgeous photo you’ve seen on social media was likely taken by a phone or camera surrounded by dozens of other phones and cameras just inches behind it. Unless you go out at the absolute crack of dawn (and even then, sometimes) there’s no such thing as a quiet street, or even a semi-quiet one.
Like Bhutan, Santorini’s local officials have been discussing a new tourist cap per day or per season to bring back some of the old charm. I have a strong feeling because of the high-end clientele that travels there, it has a good chance of happening, and I would maybe sit on heading there until it does. We went in the off-season, and even still the crowds were suffocating.
Where To Go Instead: Mykonos
If I could pick one word to describe downtown Marrakech it would be
I remember reading before we arrived there a popular blog post by the Instagrammer @doyoutravel where he said it was the one place he swore he would never go back to. I now understand why. While the hotels and riads in Marrakech are out of this world, going into the actual city and experiencing it as a tourist was not fun in any way, shape, or form for us. I’m all for people trying to sell you things. They’re trying to make a living, after all, but the methods of the locals in Marrakech made me, well, exceedingly uncomfortable.
If we so much as made eye contact with a local vendor, we were instantly set upon, and if we shook our heads to continue on our way and said, “no thank you,” we were cursed out like you wouldn’t believe. Don’t even get me started on if we dared to take a photo of the stalls without purchasing something…As a woman I’m going to be blunt and say I, personally, as someone who looks very very not Moroccan (blonde hair and blue eyes over here) would not have felt safe traveling there alone. Stall keepers shout after you, and even put their hands on you and arms around you trying to nudge you in the direction of what they’re selling. This can definitely create a hostile experience for someone who is not at all used to those kinds of sales tactics.
Where To Go Instead: Dubai
I’m starting to realize this is probably going to be the most negative blog post I’ve ever published, but I’m also realizing that I’m kind of proud of the fact that, despite the inevitable backlash I will likely get in the form of angry DMs on Instagram, I haven’t sugar-coated anything. I’m telling it like it is. My reasons for not loving these places might not be your truth, but it is mine, and I felt compelled to share it.