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.
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.
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?