Sometimes You Have To Ignore Travel Experts: A Case Study

venice canal

I will be the first to admit that I live in a travel bubble. It’s my job, it’s my passion and I love learning as much about it as possible. Most of the people I talk to are involved with travel and just about everything I read is travel related. As such, it’s easy to get trapped by other people’s opinions. I don’t think I’m alone though and I bet many of you not in the travel bubble have fallen prey to dubious advice from so-called experts. I want to show why it’s sometimes necessary to ignore travel advice and instead go with your gut instincts.

Let me preface this by saying that not all travel experts should be ignored all of the time. Since a lot of people take my advice I’d be an idiot to advocate that. Many times they provide some great information and I’ve learned a lot by listening to them. It’s always interesting to hear why they prefer one city over another, and I tend to trust their advice many times. But it’s also important to think for oneself, to be able to make decisions based not on how other people travel, but on how you travel.

Piazza San Marco Venice


A year ago, my partner and I visited Milan for the Christmas holidays and took several day trips to nearby regions and cities. We mapped out a great if not ambitious schedule and I was excited, for the most part. My partner really wanted me to visit Venice since I’d never been, but I wasn’t so sure. I had read so much about the city in recent months and much of it wasn’t positive. Many experts said that the city is too touristy, too much like a theme park to be enjoyed properly. I didn’t want to spend a precious day of travel to just see some corny sights. I stupidly thought I was better than that.

That’s the attitude I went into the experience with, I’m sad to say. The day got off to a rocky start due to my own inability to read a map accurately and we were incredibly late for our highlights tour of the city courtesy of Walks of Italy. As soon as I stepped onto St. Mark’s Square though all of my pompous concerns and worries melted away and I stood there gazing up, in awe of the enormity of the buildings around me. Just as foreign traders and businessmen must have been floored by the scale of the palace and church centuries ago, so was I and I immediately knew why my partner wanted me to visit.

The next few hours spent with our marvelous guide from Walks of Italy showed me a Venice I didn’t know existed, a beauty I hadn’t anticipated. Were there tourists there? Sure, of course there were. But they didn’t mar the experience, far from it. They were experiencing the same moments of joy and wonder I was. Ultimately that’s why Venice is so touristy and popular, because it’s amazing. Popular places are frankly popular for a reason.

I even had my own quiet moments in Venice, something I hadn’t anticipated. Sure there were overpriced gondola rides, but there were also quiet alleys, cul-de-sacs seemingly lost to time. There were people going to markets to pick up groceries and there were pick-up games of soccer in the narrow streets. Venice is a Fantasyland for sure, but not a Disney version. It’s the real deal and that all-too-short day spent in the land of the Doges was enough to get me hooked.

I was forced to ignore the horrible advice from others. I bent to my desire to see Venice, famous Venice, bracing for the worst, but getting the best. It was a very special day, one that I will remember forever and one that was made possible in spite of the best intentions of others.

St Thomas magens bay

St. Thomas

I recently visited St. Thomas as part of a campaign with the Marriott Resorts of Mexico and the Caribbean. Before I left I asked friends, I posed questions on Twitter and Facebook, I tried every avenue available to me to get tips and advice on cool and unusual things the do on this US island in the Caribbean. Almost everyone, and I mean everyone, said the same thing though. “Oh, skip St. Thomas and just go to St. John.” The problem with that though was that I was working with Marriott to highlight St. Thomas and not St. John. I couldn’t leave the island and so it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I set off to explore it.

Almost right away I was confused why everyone I knew, and didn’t know, advised me to skip St. Thomas. I’m sure that St. John is lovely, I have no doubt of that, but so is St Thomas frankly. Driving all around the island I was mesmerized by beautiful views in which I could see distant islands scattered around like rocks. I saw amazing beaches and tropical foliage that had me wishing for a beach chair. I even liked the town of Charlotte Amalie and spent a fair amount of time exploring the city’s streets. To this day I don’t know why everyone failed to mention any of these features.

It’s probably because they don’t know what they missed, literally. In a sad and downward spiral, travel advice can be passed down from friend to friend and generation to generation. People are told things and they do them; it’s as easy as that. Again, I’m sure St. John is splendid, but most islands in the Caribbean are. To out of hand dismiss St. Thomas as merely a place to catch a flight home is wrong and it does the island a great injustice. Yes, I visited the island as part of a professional project but I walked away with an honest and deep affection for the place.

Advice is a great thing, I dispense it every day and I sincerely am honored when people follow it. But I recognize that 1) I am not infallible and 2) travel is personal. Just because I like something doesn’t mean everyone will and it’s that subjective nature to the experience that we all need to keep in mind. So next time your gut tells you to visit a place because you honestly think you’ll like it, listen to your instincts. Almost always they’re right and almost always you’ll have a wonderful experience.

Where are some places you visited that people told you not to?

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

14 thoughts on “Sometimes You Have To Ignore Travel Experts: A Case Study”

  1. I can’t agree with you more when you say, ‘Popular places are popular for a reason’. I went to Prague in July and it was teeming with tourists but it didn’t stop me from enjoying the city. Granted I do plan to return at a quieter time of year.

  2. I think the problem is that people often fail to look past that singular bad experience that they have had in a particular location. They fail to see all the positive all around them simply because one thing went wrong. This is, in my opinion, how much of the ‘bad’ travel advice comes about. When I lived in Texas, I despised it and told myself I would never go back. As luck would have it, I found myself back in Texas only a year later and absolutely loved it (btw, Austin, TX, USA, HIGHLY recommended). In the end, it is all about perspective.

    1. That’s absolutely right which is why I’m very careful never to completely bash a place or activity. I recognize the fact that something I didn’t enjoy, someone else would. So instead I carefully explain why it just wasn’t for me and let people draw their own conclusions.

  3. Many people “do” Bruges in a day but they are missing the magic when all of the daytrip buses leave. We’ve been 4 times in the last 7 years. Certainly crowded during the day, but spring or fall is wonderful.

  4. Oh Matt, we would never ignore your advice!

    I hang my head in shame since I was one of those who advised you to go to St. John. You are right, St Thomas is lovely and it is on my 2015 winter break. In addition, I always wanted to go to Venice but my travel buddy has talked me out of it for the reasons you mention. Hell, the gloves are off and we are going! We prefer to go in the fall/early winter, is that OK for Venice?

    Donna M.

    1. LOL, no shame is allowed here! Glad I convinced you and yes, the fall is a lovely time to visit. Hell, we went in December when it was FREEZING and still had a blast. :) Travel well

      1. December, that’s the key I think. I went in June.

        I didn’t hate Venice – far from it – but I didn’t fall in love with it the way I expected. I did love the little back alleys and I loved the quiet of the city late at night or early in the morning before/after all the day trippers took over, but in the day in any area near a tourist site, it was just too overrun with hordes of people. I would never tell anyone to skip it but I would say to go outside of cruise season and to brace yourself for the masses.

  5. Agreed. We all have to make up our own minds about a place or experience. For me that was the Vancouver Neighbour hood I moved into when moving to this city. Mnt. Pleasant, as I was repeatedly told, had nothing pleasent about it. Turned out to be an amazing neighborhood and has boomed since.

    Thanks for the read.


  6. So true! I recently experienced this in Venice myself. I asked around for tips there and lots of people said to skip the gondola ride and just take the Vaporetto for the same experience. I ended up taking a gondola ride anyway cause someone in my group wanted to and it was a highlight of the trip! And it certainly was much nicer than the crowded, smelly water bus!

  7. Thanks for this article, it is a great reminder. We are passing through St Thomas on our way to St John, and I’ll have to remember not to be so quick to dismiss it.

  8. I was advised to skip Hiroshima – but I had visited almost very other WWII site and this was important. And yes I realized it was out of the way, hotels were scarce. Very moving and incredible to be standing in that place.

  9. Good to hear about Venice – I’ll be there in a week! But it’s true …you really do have to explore a place on your own and form your own opinion. I was told to NEVER visit Greece in August. I did it anyway and yes, the islands were crowded but I loved the bustling cafes, the flaming saganaki and waiters dancing with shot glasses of ouzo on their heads. If I’d gone in the low season, everything would have been closed up. Quite a different experience.

  10. So true about Venice, one of my favorite places in the world. The cruise ships have brought huge hordes of tourists, weighing the city down, but there are many islands to escape to and quiet places to contemplate.
    BTW that is a gorgeous (and pin-worthy) photo of St. Thomas. It has never crossed my mind to go there but this photo has made me want to visit.

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