It can seem like there are two types of travelers: those who pride themselves on ticking off every tourist attraction and site, and those who pride themselves on skipping them altogether.
But in this dichotomy, either traveler misses out. The former may spend an afternoon waiting in line for a generic experience, while the latter may miss a transformative or enlightening experience just because it happens to draw other tourists.
In a recent post, the Bangkok-based travel blogger and independent designer Sabrina Majeed succinctly laid out how she decides whether a tourist attraction is worth going to when she’s traveling:
Ninety percent of travel writers are going to tell you to skip any popular tourist attractions on the basis of it being too crowded, or “ruined”. I actually have an issue with this hipster approach to travel. Some places are popular for a reason and you shouldn’t deprive yourself of an experience just because other people want to experience it too…
My rubric for sussing out what’s worth it usually comes down to: is this a place I can experience beyond just looking at it? Do I have some understanding of the history and context of the place I’m visiting, or is it interactive in some way that makes physically going there different from looking at a picture or admiring it from afar?
It’s an easy-to-remember criteria, and one that can be applied to everything from historical and sacred sights to museums and markets. For example, there’s no need to fight the crowds on Liberty Island if all you want is to look at the Statue of Liberty—it looks great from a ride on the Staten Island ferry. But if you have a personal connection to the iconic statue, Majeed notes (if your immigrant ancestors glimpsed it when arriving in America, for example) that might make “physically going there more meaningful—So what’s ‘worth visiting’ is really a personal question.”
Majeed uses another example of two islands in Phuket to illuminate her criteria:
Another example is James Bond Island near Phuket, which is popular because of the film The Man with the Golden Gun. I’ll admit, I experienced FOMO over this one after seeing stunning photos of it on Instagram. Then I realized that this place is packed all day long and you can’t really go up to the island, just look at it from the nearby beach. To me, this experience was the equivalent of looking at a photo. Instead, we chose to go on an evening tour which purposely by-passes James Bond Island. We didn’t choose the tour for this reason but as a bonus it did take us to “James Bond Island 2” which may be less gravity-defying but also less crowded and allowed us to kayak right up to it. As a part of that tour we also got to see (and wave our hands through) bio-luminescent sea plankton, an experience you can’t get from a photograph.
(Majeed’s delightful weekly newsletter and blog, The Innbox, focuses on reviews and recommendations of accommodation options under $300 across the world, from Busan South Korea to Asheville, North Carolina.)