Six Ways to Make the Most of a Disappointing Destination
It’s bound to happen sometime: you’ve researched and planned your upcoming travel, and you have several days dedicated to exploring a new city or region that others can’t seem to get enough of. The excitement of your next adventure, however, quickly dissipates once you arrive at your destination and come to the disappointing conclusion: this is not the city for you.
Sometimes, you can’t know until you get somewhere that you won’t like it. Despite praise from friends, family, or the internet, it’s just not the right fit and you find yourself dreading the remaining days of your trip.
It’s important not to get discouraged and let your dislike of a place ruin the vacation for which you’ve worked so hard. There are better solutions than shutting yourself up in the hotel or throwing in the towel and heading home early. You can still enjoy the rest of your trip! Here are six ways to make the most of a disappointing destination.
Embrace the People
If you’ve decided your destination is less than stellar and you don’t enjoy your surroundings, it may be an excellent time to shift the focus of your trip away from the sites and onto the people. Strike up a conversation with your hotel receptionist or the waiter at the nearby café or a local shop owner or a street artist—anyone who calls your host city home. Many people in these service industries enjoy conversations with others, especially when you are curious about them or their city. Not only can you learn a little more about their culture, they may be able to steer you in a new direction. Getting to know the people of the city can help you see it in a new light and maybe help you to appreciate some of the things you may not like about it.
If you’re having trouble finding others who speak a shared language, keep searching. Even if you have a conversation in broken English (or whichever language), you can still have a fulfilling experience. Many times, locals who speak some English love the opportunity to practice the language, or you can use this as a chance to expand your knowledge of the local language. Think of some information you would appreciate having—favorite sites, favorite restaurant, favorite meal, etc.—and ask around. Some of your questions may lead to deeper conversations and a greater understanding of the culture.
Be aware that there may be some people who are not interested, who are busy, or simply aren’t comfortable with the attention. If you’re a respectful traveler (which, of course you are!), then you’ll be able to sense whether or not your attempts at conversation are well received. If not, simply say your goodbyes and move on to someone else.
Find an Oasis
So, you’ve decided you don’t like the sites, museums, or attractions you were excited for, and that’s okay—it happens. But maybe there’s an interesting café, greenspace, plaza, boardwalk along the water, or some spot where you can get a beverage, find a place to sit (maybe with a book, notebook, or sketchpad), and simply be. Even if you’re just people-watching, placing yourself in more calming surroundings can help to relieve some stress and allow you to relax during your vacation. It might even help you view the city differently or spark an interest that you couldn’t see when you were focused on your itinerary.
When I visited Manila, the capital city of The Philippines, I did not have a great time. We were there for much longer than I’d recommend—the result of us not planning as well on the front-end—and I just did not enjoy the local sites as much as I usually do while traveling. Since I was with a couple of friends, I couldn’t really go off on my own; and to be honest, I didn’t realize this would have been a good option for me at the time. But I loved when we were along the water, and I think that would have been a great place to spend more time. There was also a serene little area outside the hostel we were staying in, filled with greenery, which would have made an excellent oasis to forget about my less than inspiring surroundings. It would have been a great place to mix and mingle with other travelers. That’s an important part of any sort of oasis: the chance to talk to others and learn about their experiences and travel within the city or region. They may have ideas or other options that you hadn’t thought about and that can help spur your next move.
Get Off the Beaten Path
Maybe it’s not really the city. Maybe it’s your itinerary. True, you’ve researched and come up with a list of sites and museums that you thought would be awesome. But sometimes an itinerary can hinder the experience—whether you have too much planned or you just aren’t interested. You could easily burn out. If you find your itinerary isn’t inspiring your wanderlust, throw it away. Ask around for hidden gems or local recommendations, and listen not just for sites but for neighborhoods where you can wander around. Don’t be afraid to take a long walk and maybe even get a little lost. It could lead to a truly wonderful experience.
Tokyo, Japan, is not among my favorite cities. There is a lot to see and do but, for me, it wasn’t exciting the way other cities are. Whether that was because there was so much to do it was a little overwhelming, or maybe because I was looking for a different experience, I was just tired of Tokyo. However, our last night in town, we decided to take a walk from the Meiji Shrine in search of food and to see if we could find a temple we had read about. Along the way, we saw many groups in some sort of traditional dress, clearly either coming from or going to some sort of festival. We found a great little place to have dinner, and then as we continued walking, we found the Asakusa temple and shrine near the middle of the city and discovered that all those people we saw dressed up had been there, as they were in the middle of an annual festival. For a couple of hours, it felt like we had left the bustling, crowded city behind and experienced a bit of the local culture and community.
Focus on Food
Who doesn’t love to eat? No matter where you are, you’re likely to be surrounded by various restaurants and—if you’re lucky—street food. Stop focusing on the lack of interest in your host city’s attractions and rebrand your visit as a culinary adventure. Do some extra research, query the staff at your hotel or hostel, or talk to the locals about the restaurants, hidden gems, and local dishes you must try and then come up with a new itinerary. The times in between meals and snacks will be much more bearable because your next exciting destination is only a few hours away. You can even combine this option with some of the others and use the downtime to find your oasis or make friends with the locals.
And if you’re not a big fan of the local cuisine, this is the time to expand your palate and find different dishes to satisfy your taste buds. Don’t just limit yourself to local cuisines—check out the international restaurants as well, especially if you are in an area known for immigrant populations. Find out who historically settles in your host city and then find their food; it’s bound to be authentic. For example, Melbourne, Australia, is home to the largest Greek population and one of the largest Italian populations outside of their respective countries. Sounds like an excellent place to seek out Little Greece or Little Italy, and try their international fare. (I can personally vouch for Italian food in Melbourne!) Or take Vancouver, Canada, which has the largest Chinatown in Canada and the third largest in North America; it’s a great city to find more authentic Chinese food. The point is, when it comes to food, there is almost always something for everyone no matter where you are.
Discover Day Trips
One thing that’s great about staying in a city is that it can be an excellent home base for day trips. Use the city you may not be crazy about for sleep and start organizing some trips out of town. Whether via public transportation or car rental, it can usually be easy to get around. And if you’re staying at a hotel or hostel, they may be able to take care of the planning for you. Many times they have partnerships with tour companies and a variety of day trips to choose from, generally available at a discounted rate.
I’ve found this to be especially true of hostels. I loved everything about my experience in Vietnam, but my friends and I took advantage of several day trip opportunities offered by our hostels in Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi—and none of them disappointed. In fact, the day trip I took to the Mekong Delta may be the most inspiring and unique, culturally-enriching experience I have ever had while traveling.
Taking an organized day trip or planning one yourself can be a great way to salvage your disappointing destination and help you explore more of your host country. Because many cities are centrally located, you will probably be within a variety of locations—from nature to small towns to another city (or even country)—and there will definitely be something to help satisfy your wanderlust.
Pack Up and Go… to Another City (Not Home!)
If cancellation fees aren’t a concern and you can get out of the rest of your hotel reservation, find your way to another city for the remainder of your trip—just don’t go too far from your departure airport. Even if it’s only a couple of days, you’ll be able to more fully experience a different location. As much as research and preparation are important, sometimes spontaneity can lead to incredible opportunities. If you’re open to learning about the people of your new destination, then you can fit in and find a truly immersive experience.
Have you had a negative experience in a city you’ve visited? How did you make the most of it? Share your advice with our fellow travelers below!