Avoiding Underwhelming Travel: How to cure "travel let down"

I woke up well before daylight to meet with my group and head to Angkor Wat for that iconic sunrise you see gracing travel websites with tips on touring Cambodia. Angkor Wat is one of those attractions that is a “must see”, and the magic of photography has prepared you for an experience you have anticipated for years before arriving.  Sometimes these can’t miss bucket list sights and experiences while traveling don’t always live up to the hype because of the expectations that we have before we even arrive.

My iconic Sunrise over Angkor Wat photo

Here is the shot I was expecting and waiting for.  A serene moat around the temple, a peaceful view as you watch the sun float into the sky.  When you wake up at 3am or 4am to head to the Angkor Archaeological Complex you foolishly expect that your tour will be one of the only ones there.  Boy, was I wrong…

You’ve been up since the crack of dawn, feeling like a zombie and you stumble upon a crowd that must have slept here the night before it’s that early.  A lot of people just stay for the sunrise then leave so stick around for those iconic shots.

The sunrise was beautiful and the buildings and temples in the complex are amazing pillars of history but I have to say the start of my day wasn’t how I had envisioned it in my own mind. There are hundreds of people all there to witness the same miraculous sight and get that perfect vacation photograph, just like you.  Something as serene as a sun rising over ancient ruins can be spoiled by selfie sticks waving through the air and tired tourists shuffling about trying to sneak to the best spot for a picture.   Luckily, I was spending several days touring the temples and left feeling thankful to have taken the time to explore beyond the busy tourist sights. Here are a couple of tips to avoid disappointing travel experiences.

I did manage to weasel my way past the crowds for a photo

Don’t put too much pressure on yourself or your location

Showing up at the Parthenon and realizing that yes, a building from 400BC may need a little reconstruction...
Showing up at the Parthenon and realizing that yes, a building from 400BC may need a little reconstruction…

Expectations can be a dangerous thing. It’s hard to not put your own spin on a big trip you are planning when you are excited to visit a new place or see an attraction that has been on your travel wish list. The build up can simultaneously be the best and the worst part. The anticipation can be exciting but try to not put too much pressure on your location by creating what I call the dreaded travel let down.  When you arrive at a destination or an attraction and it isn’t anything like you had expected it.  While it can fall short in some ways, I’ve found you usually take away something wonderful that you never expected.  Go in with some ideas about what you want to see and what you want to take away from your trip but also allow time in your mind and in your itinerary to surprise you!  Don’t put too much stress on your vacation and you’ll have a much more relaxing time.


Be realistic

I’ve been to the Louvre a few times so the last visit I decided to observe the crammed crowd trying to photograph the Mona Lisa since I had planned a quieter time to view it earlier.

Did you leave half of a day to see everything in the Louvre?  Are you going to spend time an outdoor location during rainy season? Are you in town during the busiest part of the summer?  These are all things to consider when planning which helps keep realistic expectations for your location.  Are you fitting in every country in the EU during your two week summer vacation?  Maybe think about moving those quick stops in between and stick to a slower itinerary to ensure that you can visit those attractions and have enough time and not feel rushed moving from place to place.

Ever wonder how many people can actually fit in Versailles?


Do your research

The Temple of Artemis in Turkey only has it’s foundation left to visit. One of the Ancient Wonders of the World, the temple is from 550BC so no wonder there is little left!

This seems like a given but you’d be surprised how many people show up on vacation without having done much research prior to their visit and then they arrive with their trusty guidebook in hand expecting to do the research on site. Big mistake. I buy books on places that I haven’t even thought about seeing yet, I read up on places both online and in print as much as I can before I arrive at a location. I make a rough itinerary, if there are places that I know will be busy with other travelers I try and do some investigating on times or days that they aren’t as bustling and then work my schedule around those can’t miss sites.  Look on Pinterest for images of places you may have not even considered visiting and find sites you trust that will give you updated, accurate information on the locations you are thinking of visiting.  Word of mouth from family and friends is great, but make sure these people share the same travel style as you so you get a more accurate view of where you are planning on going.  On several occasions I’ve heard “that city was dirty” or “the public transportation there is dangerous” and upon doing more research and then arriving at the destination, their opinions weren’t the same as mine.

Everyone heads to the castle ruins in Oia for the iconic sunset. Crowds squeeze at the point to take in the views but I found stepping back gives you an amazing perspective!


There is always more beyond the “must see”

Don't forget you can still head to some iconic places and have amazing experiences.
Don’t forget you can still head to some iconic places and have amazing experiences.  We peppered tourist attractions in with some of our own off the path destinations on our girls trip to Italy making for an unforgettable journey.

Slow travel allows you to come for the main attraction but offers the time for you to stay and enjoy the rest.  Use those bucket list items to encourage you to explore past the main tourist locations and spend a little more time in an area you might not have thought to originally visit.  Traveling past the typical stops has brought me to places that I’ve ended up enjoying more than the primary reason for the visit.

Share your experiences!  I’d love to hear about places you felt “let down” or others that surprised you!  Do you have any locations that were on your wish list that didn’t live up to all the hype or places that you dreamt of going that met all of your expectations?

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  1. Reply

    First of all, I love your blog and I am like you, always I find something good about everywhere I have traveled. However, there is one place, a resort in Riviera Maya, that I was truly disappointed. The beach was rocky, the resort was huge and every time I wanted to get something to eat, I had to walk 10 minutes each way. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but doing this 8 or more times a day, it was hard to relax. It was all-inclusive which was nice and I enjoyed the entertainment, but probably won’t go to that type of resort again.

    1. Reply
      Speck on the Globe Post author

      Thanks Eileen! It’s always good to find out what things you like so you can have a trip you truly enjoy so you can relax and have fun!

  2. Reply

    The Palace of Versailles was definitely a travel “let down” for me. I had heard so many wonderful things about the Palace of Versailles and was so excited to finally get to experience it myself. But in all honesty, I hated it! The line to get into the Palace snaked around 5 times and then once inside the Palace it was so jam packed with people you could hardly move, let alone enjoy the different rooms. We were really disappointed with the Palace, but we enjoyed the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Estate so much more. I will definitely skip the Palace next time and just explore the gardens. I feel like if you travel enough, you’ll always encounter some “let downs” but I think the surprises and amazing sites you stumble upon will always outnumber the let downs. You should always focus on the positives, because at least we’re lucky enough to see this wonderful world we live in 🙂

    1. Reply
      Speck on the Globe Post author

      I loved the gardens too! You could spend a whole day exploring there. I agree, the surprises are the best part of travel and always outweigh the hiccups we sometimes encounter along the way.

  3. Reply

    I like travelling in a country’s ‘off-season’ because as a tourist there are few things I dislike more than other tourists…

    I live in Sai Gon, Viet Nam and it is pretty hurtful when people come to visit and spend the whole time complaining that the places they visit aren’t ‘authentic enough’ meaning that the people they meet don’t match their pre-conceived notions or the ethnic minority village they visited for a night was ruined by the recent acquisition of electricity.

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