We hate to burst your bubble, but sometimes travel fantasies are a bit out of touch with reality. You may have a preconceived notion of what a famous landmark, location or attraction will be like, inspired by scenic postcards, glossy brochures and carefully curated websites that fuel your wanderlust. But when you actually go there, it’s a bit of a let down. When hitting the world’s hot spots, it’s best to keep grandiose expectations in check.
1. Gazing at the Mona Lisa
On the must-see list of every tourist in Paris is the Louvre Museum and its famous da Vinci masterpiece, The Mona Lisa.
The trouble is, it’s a lot smaller than most people think, and the mosh pit of other tourists pushing to get their token glimpse kind of takes the grandeur out of the experience.
2. Enjoying a Romantic Gondola Ride in Venice
The reality is that it’s more like bumper boats along these waterways, as the canals are clogged with these pricey vessels. It costs about €80 for a 20-minute ride, and even more if you want a song. No local Venetian would ever be caught in one of these tourist traps.
3. Strolling the Great Wall of China
The breathtaking Great Wall of China is on many a traveler’s wishlist.
The truth is it’s more Disneyland than Ming Dynasty these days. The Badaling section closest to Beijing gets up to 70,000 visitors per day, and is complete with cable cars, pulley rides, tchotchke shops and snack bars. The less crowded Mutianyu section has cable cars and a slideway down, which may sound like fun to some visitors but it really takes away from the majesty of this historic site.
4. Soaking In an Idyllic Beach in Thailand
Stunning Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Lay, in particular, is the fantasy setting from The Beach that many travelers dream of escaping to.
The problem is hordes of travelers descend upon this bay, and its very popularity is what makes it less than idyllic.
5. Being Transfixed by the Taj Mahal
You can’t go to Agra, India without seeing the Taj Mahal, the marble mausoleum built by Shah Jahan in 1631 in memory of his favorite wife.
However, like most must-see attractions, you’re not going to be able to snap a selfie here without masses of other selfie-snapping tourists clamoring in the background. That and the air pollution kind of tarnishes the romance of the place.
6. Perusing the Pyramids of Giza
The reality is there’s a Pizza Hut and KFC about 300 yards north of the Sphinx. It’s also not quite the serene desertscape of your imagination. It surprises a lot of people that the Pyramids of Giza are right on the edge of a bustling, congested city. What would Tut think?
7. Tossing Coins into the Trevi Fountain
When in Rome, you simply have to stop by the Trevi Fountain to toss your coins in, just like in the movies Roman Holiday, Three Coins in the Fountain and La Dolce Vita. Bernini’s Baroque masterpiece beckons.
You’ll definitely be rubbing shoulders with masses of other coin tossers, though. With great crowds come great pickpockets, so keep your guard up while rummaging for change here. Note, gelato sellers jack their prices up around touristy places like this, too, so you might want to get your fix elsewhere.
8. Trekking to the Top of the World in Everest
Many intrepid adventurers set their sights on conquering mighty Mount Everest, or at least trekking to basecamp to see this pristine Himalayan peak up close.
Sadly, it’s not all that pristine around the world’s tallest mountain. In fact, it has the unfortunate nickname of “the world’s highest garbage dump.” Climbers often leave litter, empty oxygen bottles, shredded tents and other materials out there in their quest to make it back alive. And speaking of, there are quite a few dead bodies up there from the poor souls who didn’t make it. They say the average climber generates around 18 pounds of garbage, and they are starting to crack down on those who don’t bring back what they took up.
If you think you’ll be relatively alone at the top of the world, think again. These days, summiting Everest is a big business, and there can be traffic jams of climbers snaking their way up the peak.
9. Soaking in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon
Iceland is no longer off the beaten track, and their tourist boom has encouraged many travelers to discover it’s natural wonders like the geothermal mineral baths of the Blue Lagoon.
Located a short drive from the airport, lots of tourists are bused here during layovers, so the waters are usually pretty thick with other travel-weary bodies. It’s still pretty impressive, if you don’t mind soaking in “people soup.” Ask a local for a recommendation of a less-touristy hot spring or thermal pool if you are seeking a more authentic, less crowded mineral dip. Iceland is full of them.