“Tacky” to “Demoralizing”: Travel writers share their biggest “bucket list” disappointments
So-called bucket list goals have high expectations – and often also large crowds.
While overtourism can ruin some vacation destinations, it’s not the only reason vacations miss the mark. This is where travel writers contributing to CNBC’s Global Traveler share the worst disappointments of their careers.
“Although I may have taken my passport away for saying that as an Englishman, I found Stonehenge decidedly overwhelming.
“It didn’t help that I was a college student working as a tour guide at the time [I] Forty-five Americans on our bus had to be convinced that they were going to have a life changing experience: to see up close a 4,500 year old testimony of incessant creativity, brilliance and spiritualism.
Travel writer Chris Dwyer.
Courtesy Chris Dwyer
“What emerged from the rain was a slightly abandoned cluster of large gray stones about 30 meters away – as close as possible. A broken truck on a busy road that passed the construction site didn’t exactly help the mystical reveal.”
– Chris Dwyer, United Kingdom
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
“The karst-strewn seascape in North Vietnam is one of the undisputed visual highlights of the country, but the reality of visiting is not always so enticing. I’ve been there several times – first as a tourist and then on assignment – and I’ve struggled to keep its charm of the target despite its obvious beauty.
Vietnamese tourists pose for photos on a boat touring Ha Long Bay in May 2020.
Linh Pham | Getty Images
“From the identikit junk boats blocking the water to daunting trips to unremarkable caves and floating communities selling sticky souvenirs, it’s a tourist experience that requires an upgrade.”
– Duncan Forgan, United Kingdom
“Curious and intrigued by the stories about the ‘land of the thunder kite,” I went [to Bhutan] Explore the culture and country and take photos of the Paro Tshechu Festival. These religious dance festivals started in the 17th century and are indeed well worth seeing. The celebrations take place every year in monasteries across the country and last for five days. Buddhist monks perform 1300 year old dance rites in exquisitely embroidered costumes and colorful masks.
Although Bhutan performs well on its own internal Gross National Happiness index (a measurement coined in Bhutan in the 1970s), the country ranked 95th out of 156 countries in the United Nations’ 2019 World Happiness Report, a discrepancy that the Bhutanese media have argued based on different survey criteria and methods.
Courtesy of Petra Loho
“When Bhutan banned independent travel, a local guide and driver accompanied me on my journey through the country. Conversations with them showed that the younger generations in Bhutan have no prospects – restrictions on education, no jobs, no money.
“I knew that it was not allowed to roam freely between cities and change the route ad hoc. My two supervisors even tried to prevent me from straying from the main streets of the city. I ignored their protests and pushed myself onto the back streets. Life there revealed the sobering truth of an image carefully crafted for the outside world. Instead of happiness, alcoholism, poverty and violence drive the fate of many Bhutanese. “
– Petra Loho, Austria
Machu Picchu, Peru
“It was a place I’d always dreamed of: a lost city high in the Andes, hidden from the rest of the world.
“I knew there was no road connecting this Inca kingdom to the outside world and that to get there you had to take a train and then a bus or hike the rugged Inca Trail for up to 10 days. Lacking that time, I decided to take the train from Cuzco, and the locals selling overpriced trinkets in the aisles may have been a signal for me to adjust my expectations.
Tourists visit the Machu Picchu complex on April 24, 2019.
PABLO PORCIUNCULA BRUNE | AFP | Getty Images
“The buses were full of people who looked just like me. They were barely able to maneuver around each other and sneaked around hairpin turns – choked by other vehicles – to the top of the mountain. A crowd of vendors surrounded the front gate to Machu Picchu.
“For a moment a breathtaking view of the grandeur unfolded before me, as if I had just woken up from a dream – until a long line of people, led by a red flag guide, descended the rocky staircase on which I was almost throwing myself aside.
“Wherever I went, wherever I looked, there were people in crowds, hugging each other tightly, waiting to squeeze into an archway or corridor to get the perfect selfie. Mixing people was slow and tedious and all I wanted to do was jump off the narrow path we all had to follow.
“I managed to move away from the crowds, just for a few minutes at a time to look at the remarkable sights and views before others came and tried to do the same. It was exhausting and demoralizing. When I finally got myself back in.” leaned back on the train I was relieved not to be in the crowd, but unfortunately dissatisfied with the fact that I had hardly experienced the sacred ‘Lost City of the Incas’ and had not even seen all of them. ”
Kevin Cox, United States
“The unique sharpness of the atmospheric canals, medieval bridges and crumbling palaces of this floating city make Venice a permanent fixture. Admittedly, sailing into the port of Venice on the last leg of a memorable cruise with the Adriatic antiques from Crystal Serenity was a dream True, once disembarked in the oppressive August heat – nostrils infested with the stifling stench of old canals – and reality set in.
Increasing numbers of tourists in Venice caused the local government to control ticketing for the city’s famous “vaporetto” or water buses.
Marco Secchi | Getty Images News | Getty Images
“Long lines of hot and sweaty tourists waited for overpriced gondolas and vaporettos manned by irritable tourism workers (not the Venetians themselves – hardly anyone actually lives in Venice). It was a healing reminder that I was against a basic European rule “Don’t go to the big cities in summer! Choose April, May, or even June. Or wait for things to cool down in September or October.”
– Vern Maree, South Africa
Arashiyama bamboo grove, Kyoto, Japan
“The bamboo forests of Arashiyama have been severely weighed down by their insta-worthy fame. Because anyone who wants that perfect social media moment waits for the groups to clear before taking their pictures there, the crowds never disperse the green routes.
Another reason to go to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove – the area around Gioji Temple.
Courtesy Morgan Awyong
“To be honest, I’ve seen similar bamboo strips in Vietnam and China. But those looking for a dose of peace and quiet in Arashiyama will find it at the end of a path: Gioji Temple has a moss garden, maple trees and undisturbed bamboo groves.”
– Morgan Awyong, Singapore
“We were in Peru, a land of immeasurable treasures. Even Machu Picchu, which is so hyped you might think it could never live up to expectations, was absolutely amazing. Our last adventure was a hike to Choquequirao, another ancient Inca -Place.
“When we told the locals where we were going, they greeted the news in disbelief. Little did we know this was a difficult journey. [It’s] all uphill to get there, although normally the mountains would be covered in clouds. Not this time. It was hot; The sun was intense. Its rays bounced off the slate on the serpentines that burned our eyes. And it got even hotter. Also, there was no time to linger as we were on a short timeline.
This is the “only surviving picture” of Carrie Hutchinson’s trek to Choquequirao after her computer “died” after returning from Peru, she said.
Courtesy Carrie Hutchinson
“At sunset, after two extremely challenging days, we reached Santa Rosa. In the distance we could see the gates. Then the guide told us we had no time to go to the ruins. It was another two hours on foot, and he had to have us back in Cusco in less than 48 hours.
“Disappointed? Oh, just a little. It would be great to return one day, but this time I would make sure there is enough time to enjoy it.”
– Carrie Hutchinson, Australia