You’re in a foreign place, and you’re not entirely sure what it is that you’re supposed to be doing with yourself.
Fear not, veterans like Lonely Planet, Google, and Wikipedia are waiting to be consulted in order to help us get out of our dingy hotel rooms.
Getting a candid account from a local of a favorite restaurant, or the truth behind the museum that grossly overcharges people for admission is much preferred in my experience. However, travel guides and blogs are great sources for travel inspiration, if you do not have the luxury of receiving recommendations by word of mouth.
What really hits close to home are the tourist attractions listed in every book and URL that simply do not live up to the hype.
Near Carcross, there is a small, man-made suspension bridge that has high walls surrounding it, so that any curious passerby isn’t entirely sure what is behind them but is willing to shell out the cash to find out. All because they spotted it in a free pamphlet from the visitor centre.
In Argentina, I tried to be careful to avoid getting swept up in the long lines of visitors being herded towards outings that aren’t quite worth the price or excitement they stir.
We missed our step a few times, including an overpriced parilla (grill) that made each of my roommates nauseated at the thought of trying anything from the heaping pile of poorly cooked chicken, steak, kidneys, intestines, and blood sausage.
There was also our day trip to the barrio called La Boca, famous for being the origin of tango and having an apparently impressive soccer-I mean, football- stadium. Upon first look at the brightly colored houses, souvenirs as far as the eye could see and employees flagging you down to eat at their restaurants or take a $20 US photo with you and a tango dancer made me think of one thing: it looked as though every stereotype of tourism had projectile vomited all over the the small tourist-y part of the neighbourhood.
But despite a few errors in judgement, we also managed to find a few gems that turned out to be perfectly precious. A while ago, we visited the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires, Cafe Tortoni. I had been wanting to visit the cafe for a while but I was worried it would be another attraction that was anticipated in excess. Once we stepped inside the extravagant interior and were gracefully placed at a table with rapid service of Argentine hot chocolate and churros, I knew it was not about to be a fatal attraction.
So how does one decide whether to take the plunge on an infamous tourist attraction? There is no simple answer. You can put trust in a local’s word or a Lonely Planet author’s recommendation but the final decision is always in your hands. At the end of the day, when you buy into the hype you will get a success story or a horrendous cautionary tale to tell at dinner parties.