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Notes from the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Rerouted-Stream

In the lobby of the Sheraton Hotel in Dhaka, Bangladesh, I’m having lunch with a couple of West African gangsters. To be precise, I’m eating a cheese sandwich while they are chain-smoking and drinking espresso.

I started off sitting at another table, but then we said hello to each other and I moved over. Because I lived in their region for so long, I always enjoy talking with West Africans whenever I meet up with them while traveling. The encounter with the guys at the Sheraton in Bangladesh, however, is a bit unusual.

They are very friendly. We talk about Obama, about Bangladesh, and so on. I ask them how long they are staying in Dhaka, and they say “We’re not sure.” I ask if they are staying “here,” meaning the Sheraton, and they say, “We’re not staying here, but we keep a room here.”

Whenever they’re not traveling, one of them tells me, they live in Brazil or Columbia. They work throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia, but never in the U.S. or Europe.

Hmmmm ...

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Bangkok Adventures

bangkok-adventures

The Japanese man sitting next to me looks back and forth between the video and me. Finally, he takes off his headphones and asks, “Wrong movie?”

Yes. Wrong movie.

The wrong movie plays for nearly three minutes before it is turned off by a flight attendant. She comes on the p.a. after another three minutes. “Ladies and gentlemen… sorry… we can’t find the arrival video for Japan. If you have any questions about Japan, let us know.”

Other than that, the 11-hour flight across the Pacific is uneventful. I arrive in Narita and quickly transfer to a Cathay Pacific flight for Hong Kong. Another five hours goes by as I fitfully sleep in the back of the plane.

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Rerouting Travel Plans

Rerouted-Stream

It’s not technically last-minute – I’ve changed full itineraries right up to the day of departure before – but two weeks before I was scheduled to fly to Ethiopia, I decided to change directions and go to Southeast Asia instead. In fact, I’m leaving this morning! Yikes – after I write this, I really should think about packing.

This post will explain both the why and how of this decision. The why part covers the details of why I no longer wanted to take the trip I originally planned. The how part deals with Travel Hacking – in this case, how I was able to change the entire trip on short notice using Awards tickets and so on.

Take your pick – feel free to read both or either parts depending on your interest level.

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How to Get a Duplicate U.S. Passport

uspassports-duplicate This post is relevant for readers with U.S. passports who travel frequently. If you don't fit in that group, feel free to skip this one – or just read it for the entertainment value.

I've mentioned a few times that I have two U.S. passports, and each time at least one person asks me how that works. Well, I'll you exactly how I got the second passport, and what you need to do if this would help you as well.

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Wrapping Up the Year of Ultimate Travel

2567692977_f2d0a78453_z As part of my Annual Review, I count up all the countries I’ve been to and look back at the visits over the year. This time, one thing was clear: I made it to a lot of places in 2008!

For those who are interested, here is the year-end roundup of my adventures, including a few statistics, misadventures, and highlights. For everyone else, enjoy the holiday week and I’ll see you on Monday.

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Advanced Travel Planning: Looking Ahead to January-June 2009

Regular Readers: Please fill out my short feedback survey. Thanks to those who have done so already! (If you’re new, just keep reading the new post below.)

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Some of you have noted that I haven’t published any first-person travel adventures lately. I haven’t been to any crazy countries, slept in airports, crash-landed without a visa, etc.

Don’t worry – I’m not getting soft. I’ve enjoyed hanging out in Seattle, trying to make a living, get my book contract sorted out, and recover from a running injury that has bothered me for a while. The extended break has been good for me, but in January I’ll resume my adventures around the world.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been planning out my trips for the first half of 2009. I tend to change things around a fair amount, but as of now, here is what I expect it to look like from January to June. If it seems overwhelming, first remember that I’ve done this a lot – I certainly didn’t begin with itineraries as complex as the ones I’ll show you here.

And of course, I’ll chronicle each trip in more detail as it gets closer. Cool?

JANUARY

In January, I’ll head to Northeast Africa, flying in to Ethiopia, then heading up to Somaliand (not Somalia; even I am not that crazy), over to Djibouti, and hopefully on to Eritrea and back out after about 12 days of roaming.

My fingers are crossed on this one, because the Eritrean embassy in D.C. has not yet given me a visa. If I don’t get one, I’ll have to scramble to figure something else out, because I already have a flight booked out of Asmara, the capital.

Earlier this summer, I learned that the Kurdish (Iraqi) government checked out this web site before deciding to issue me a visa at no charge. They even sent me a “Welcome Chris Guillebeau!” message which made me feel like a minor celebrity, at least in Kurdistan. Perhaps the Eritreans will be similarly kind – guys, if you’re reading this, please help me out. You can keep the $40 money order that I sent; I just need the visa.

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Southern Africa MapLATE FEBRUARY- EARLY MARCH

Assuming I get to Eritrea or at least get home somehow, in late February, I’ll head to Washington, D.C. for a conference, then fly out from there to Qatar to resume the Round-the-World ticket I began last year. That trip will take me to southern Africa – specifically Mauritius and Namibia. I also hope to take a side-trip to Swaziland and Mozambique while I’m over in that part of the world.

After I’m done there, the ticket takes me back to my usual Asian hub of Hong Kong, where I’ll need to figure out how to get back to the States for another four-week stay at home.

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The Three Mysterious CountriesAPRIL

One month later, I’ll be back on the road to visit Haiti and what I call the “three mysterious countries” of South America. They are Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. If you haven’t heard much about them, don’t feel bad – that’s why I call them “mysterious.” I’m not sure I’ll solve any mysteries, but I’ll try to at least get there and back.

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south-america-mapMAY AND JUNE

In May and June, I hope to wrap up the rest of South America, which for me includes Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, and Bolivia. I’m not sure I’ll get to all of them, but it would be significant to complete the whole continent, so I’ll give it a try.

Finally (are you getting tired of this?), I’ll travel to Jordan and then perhaps on to the Sudan. I say “perhaps” because Khartoum (KRT) is part of my current Round-the-World ticket, but I suspect it will be extremely difficult to get the visa. I hope I’m not disappointing anyone with this, but Sudan is not a place I am willing to attempt to fly to without a visa. As previously mentioned, I may be crazy but not that crazy.

If I don’t think it will work out a couple of weeks prior to departure, I’ll pay $150 to change the ticket – not really my preferred option, but also not the end of the world. If I have to drop Khartoum for now, I still have a couple of other options in that region that are less problematic for U.S. passport holders.

Planned Itineraries

For those who like these things, the itineraries for the trips are listed below. The parentheses are for transit stops, and the “x” refers to an overland segment.

Northeast Africa

SEA-(PDX)-(FRA)-ADD-xASM-(FRA)-SEA

By extreme travel standards, this is a fairly straightforward trip – all on Lufthansa, and the only complicated part will be the overland journey from Ethiopia (ADD) to Eritrea (ASM), assuming I get the visa sorted out. I also need to get to Djibiouti or Somaliland during the two weeks I’ll be away – preferably both, but nothing is for certain yet.

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Mysterious Countries

The next trip looks like this:

SEA-JFK-PAP-MIA-POS-???-POS-MIA-SEA

The ??? in this one is due to the fact that I’ll need to fly to one of the three mysterious countries (again: Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana) and I don’t have that ticket yet. PAP is Port Au Prince, Haiti; and POS is Port of Spain, Trinidad – the jumping-off point to get to Guyana or Suriname.

(By the way, you can use this tool to find out what any particular airport code refers to, and the mileage calculator from the same site is also useful.)

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South America

The trip to Bolivia and elsewhere looks like this, tentatively:

SEA-(ORD)-MIA-LBP-LIM-BOG-(SCL)-GYE-(JFK)-(AMM)-KRT

Here I will be resuming last year’s Round-the-World ticket from Miami (MIA). I’ll need to buy separate tickets to and from Seattle, but that’s how I break up my trips to only be away from home for about two weeks at a time.

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A Colorful Array of MoneyHow Much Does All of this Cost?

I could go on about the flights for a while, but hopefully the above information gives you a good overview. If you have specific questions, post them in the comments and I’ll respond. For now, I’ll address the most frequently asked question I get about these kinds of trips: how much does it cost?

First, read this about priorities and how it all started. I don’t own a car, I have no debt, I didn’t take out a sub-prime mortgage when you could get one at 7-11, I spend about $150 a year on clothes, and so on. I honestly believe that most people (at least, those in Western countries who read this blog) who want to travel can find a way to do so. It may require you to make changes or sacrifices, but inertia is a much greater hindrance for most of us than lack of money.

That said, it does cost money to do this kind of thing, so it's only fair to give you the specifics.

Ethiopia & Beyond

I used Star Alliance Frequent Flyer miles for the first Africa trip, round-trip from Seattle. It took a big hit to my United balance (120,000), and I now have only 60k left. On the bright side, I got the flights I wanted, it’s in Business Class (important to me for long-haul and back-to-back overnight flights), and it would otherwise be fairly expensive to purchase a ticket to that part of Africa. The taxes were also cheap -- just under $150.

Cost: 120k Miles + $150 in taxes
Countries: Ethopia, Eritrea (hopefully), and presumably a side trip to at least one additional country in the region

Qatar & Beyond

My Qatar Airways ticket, another Frequent Flyer award, was 90,000 miles and $391 in taxes – and I’m also trying to add a free stopover to Yemen or Kuwait.

I didn’t have any Qatar Airways miles (I’ve only flown with them once, and I credited it to United), so I transferred points from American Express Membership Rewards into ANA Airlines (Japan) to book the partner award. It sounds a bit convoluted, I know, but it wasn’t that difficult in practice.

Cost: 90k AmEx Points + $399 in taxes
Countries: Qatar to resume another ticket, Yemen or Kuwait (side trip)

All of the South America stops, as well as the second trip to Africa (Mauritius, Namibia, Jo’burg, etc.) are part of my OneWorld Round-the-Word trip. This will also take me on to Hong Kong at some point in the early summer. That ticket was about $5,000, and I’ve received tremendous value from it. I have no idea how much it would cost if I were to try to book everything with round-trip flights – certainly several times more than what I pay when I effectively buy the flights in book with the RTW ticket.

Cost: Roughly $350 per country, prepaid last year
Countries: Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Hong Kong, U.K. (transit only)

The only “cash money” flights I need to sort out now are the entry and exit flights to the three mysterious countries, the flights within Northeast Africa, and the occasional cross-country trek to Miami or New York. Those will probably be a few hundred dollars each.

Cost: Variable, but usually $200-400 each
Countries: None, but allows me to come home and take side trips

After I complete all the trips mentioned above, I’ll start running out of prepaid flights, so I hope to begin at least one more Round-the-World ticket in the early summer. This one may be back on Star Alliance since I've earned more than 200,000 miles with OneWorld in 2008, and therefore don’t need to worry about elite status with them for a while.

I'm not 100% sure of what I'll do about the ticket, but whenever I sort it out, I’ll let you know exactly what I decide and what the next monster itinerary will be.

Well, You Asked for It

One request I’ve heard several times now is for more detailed travel planning notes. I have a question for you in return: is this progress? Is this the kind of thing that you guys want to know?

I cover even more travel planning details in the original Discount Airfare Guide, and I’ll be coming out with a more advanced Travel Ninja report soon… but I’m also happy to post information like this on the site whenever it seems like a good fit. As long as you give me good feedback, I’ll keep doing it.

Also, remember that next month we’ll look at my version of lifestyle design and annual planning. This includes travel planning, but also creating a structure for work, fun, learning, and more. I always look forward to doing the review in December, and this year I’m looking forward to sharing the process with you as well.

If you have any questions or feedback about the 2009 travel plans, simply leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!

***

Related Entries:

Travel Hacking in an Unfriendly Enviornment
What I Talk About When I Talk About Travel (a Travel FAQ)
28 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Traveling
Why You Should Quit Your Job and Travel Around the World

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How to Get from Here to There

how-to-get-from-here-to-there
Image by TaberAndrew

As per the usual protocol, today’s essay is about travel -- but it’s also about choices, because your choices will take you where you want to go.

Last week I asked about Your One Place. This site attracts a lot of diverse people, including some who don’t travel much at all. But my theory was that even the non-travelers have somewhere in the world they’d like to see before they die.

I think I was on to something. Here are some of the answers readers shared:

Matthew: Island hopping on a sailboat Daniel: The moon (or Ladakh in northern India) Dwight: Bicycle tour of North America for a year Coral: Macchu Pichu, Peru Reese: Tuscany Mike: England, Tuscany and Sitges (Spain) Justin: Tuva Tee: Any of the northern fjords of Iceland Kazari: Kenya PizzaDream: Greece on a Mediterranean cruise Kiri: somewhere in Asia, maybe southern China Jen: South America, or maybe the Trans Siberian Railroad Frugal Bachelor, Graham, and JKG: Antarctica The Wyman: Australia Jessica: Vegas Jody: The moon Kat: Patagonia Kristian: Turkey Michael: Japan NewWorldYankee: Mauritius and France Katherine: Lake Victoria Gretchen: Ireland Alan: Nepal Mogs: Socotra, Yemen Linnea: Florence, Italy Robyn: Egypt, and after that, Pompeii and Herculaneum Chris N.: Alaska Crystal: Buddhist statue tour of Asia Danny: Iceland Guiness: Bhutan

Others sent emails: Chile, train from Moscow to Beijing, “somewhere in Africa,” Lithuania, more votes for Alaska, etc.

My take: all good ideas. Nice job, everyone. I am not one to hold anyone back from heading off somewhere, and I heartily endorse anyone going out of their comfort zone at any time. Here’s wishing you good luck with the $2 savings funds and bon voyage.

BUT… before we all pack up, I have to rain on the parade a little. Sorry about this, but it will be worth it in the end. The thing is, I learned a long time ago that everyone has a dream, but most people never take action on it.

This is true with travel, work, life – pretty much anything. Everyone has a long list of things they’d like to do or places they’d like to go, but for most of them, the list remains a list.

What’s wrong with dreaming? Nothing, at least by itself. If all you want to do is dream, then dream away.

If there’s a problem, it’s that many of us want more than the dream. We actually want to go to the one place on our list. Accomplishing this, or any goal, is not usually that difficult, but it won’t happen by itself.

At some point you’ll have to make some choices. The choice of giving up $2 a day doesn’t seem that much, but sooner or later, you’ll probably want the money for something else. You’ll get busy, like everyone does, and time will go by.

sign-confusionThe Dream and the Realization

I started a limited consulting service recently. I only do two sessions a week, and I don’t schedule anyone who I don’t think is a good fit. This decision comes from my own healthy paranoia that I want to make sure I can really provide good value to someone who pays me.

As I was talking with Sike the other day (just like “Mike”, but with an ‘s’) I realized that my motivation for doing this was to help people avoid getting stuck between the dream and the realization. Sike is a very motivated young guy (just 23 years old) who is worried about doing what everyone expects him to do next year when he finishes college. His parents have one idea about his future and he has a completely different one. It sounds like he’ll be just fine.

After talking with Sike, I went out to have drinks with Dave and Breanne, AONC readers and new friends who happen to live in my Seattle neighborhood. They talked about their own choices and how their perspective had shifted over the past year. Dave was on track to be a CFO in corporate America when they decided to quit their jobs and travel through Latin America for six months. Coming back to the States recently for an indefinite time, Breanne said they felt conflicted over returning to “the American dream” after having learned so much more about the world.

I told them the same thing I told Sike: it’s probably a good sign that you’re concerned about that. When you feel no tension over living an unremarkably average life, that’s when you should worry.

As I said, turning your dream into a goal is not necessarily difficult, but you will need to make some hard choices at some point.

Back to Your Place

If you played along and selected a place (it’s not too late), you’re going to need to make an effort to keep it in your mind over the next three years or however long it takes you to get there. Your goal doesn’t need to be constantly in focus, but it needs to at least be in your peripheral vision.

By the way, you don’t owe it to me or anyone else to do this. You do, however, owe it to yourself.

OK?

Many will dream. A few will go.

Which group are you in?

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Your One Place

Here’s a fun game to play: think about one place in the world that you’d like to visit someday. You don’t have to make a long list, just think of one single place.

Even including people who don’t travel that much, most of us can think of somewhere we’d like to see before we die.

There are a couple of easy rules for this game:

1) You only get one place

2) It has to be somewhere you haven’t been yet

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7 Beautiful Places in the World

La Gomera, Canary Islands
Image of La Gomera by Leo-Seta

On a bus into downtown Seoul from ICN airport a couple years ago, I chatted with a French-Canadian guy who was interested in my travel experiences. He asked me a question that has always stumped me: “What is your favorite country?”

I never know how to answer that one, because I honestly have no idea. When I started traveling years ago out of a search for something indefinable, I think I expected that somewhere along the way I would find the perfect place. As long as I had that expectation in mind, I was continually disappointed throughout the journey – or if not disappointed, I was certainly unfulfilled.

Since then, I’ve heard the “favorite country” question countless times. Now that this site has a fairly broad readership, I do interviews for other blogs at least once a week. Whenever the interview is with a travel-related site, I can always count on that question coming up.

My favorite country… my favorite place... hmmm.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that I simply don’t have one favorite place in the world. There are still a lot of countries left on the list, and of course many places in the countries I’ve already visited that I haven’t been to, but as of now, I’m no longer expecting one clear favorite to emerge.

Instead, I’ve developed a larger perspective, where I have not one but several favorite places in the world. Maybe it’s a cop-out, but I think it’s also a reflection that many of us enjoy different things about different places. No single destination is the best.

Here are some of the most beautiful places I’ve been to since I got serious about travel.

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ohrid, macedonia
Image by Ewa
Ohrid, Macedonia – In the summer of 2007, I toured the Balkans by flying into Sarajevo (Bosnia) and out of Belgrade (Serbia). In between I took the long way around, traveling around through Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia. In Macedonia I stopped for three days in the small town called Ohrid. I loved it.

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Image by Slack12
Cape Town, South Africa – On this I am fairly conventional: Cape Town is my favorite city in Africa. I have good memories of spending three weeks there in 2006. I usually return to Jo’burg at least once a year for transit, but I haven’t been back to Cape Town yet. I miss it.

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eugene-oregon-pacific-northwest
Image by d70focus
Pacific Northwest (U.S. and Canada) – Hey, I live here now – but I can still count it, right? I love Seattle, Vancouver, and Portland. I haven’t spent hardly any time at all in the interior part of the region, so I can’t comment on that yet. But here on the coast, life is good. I like the culture, the coffee, and the nature.

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Image by Leo-Seta
La Gomera, Canary Islands – I’ve been to Tenerife at least six or seven times (I lost count) in between sailing from Europe to West Africa over the course of several years. It’s not a bad place to go, especially if you’ve been hanging out in Sierra Leone for six months before you visit. But one time Jolie, me, and a couple of friends took the ferry off to La Gomera, a much smaller and less inhabited island an hour away. We rented a car and drove on every road of the island, climbed to the top of the mountain, and watched the ocean.

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torshavn
Image by FDVG
Faroe Islands – North of Scotland and technically governed by Denmark, I spent five days in Tórshavn, the capital. I flew in from London via Iceland and almost didn’t make the connecting flight due to it departing from a different airport. (I had no idea until I was on the plane.) Once I finally made it, the Faroes were as breathtaking as reported.

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Image by RahelSharon
The Old City in Jerusalem – I wasn't sure what to expect before I went, but this is one place that lives up to the hype. Wow. I enjoyed visiting the Western Wall and walking through the streets at all hours. It’s definitely worth a trip, especially if you are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim.

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damascus
Image by NM
Damascus, Syria – Even better than Jerusalem, but naturally more difficult to get to. As a U.S. citizen, I had a hard time getting a visa to Syria, but when I finally made it to Beirut, Lebanon, getting over the border by land was easy. My stop in Damascus was fairly short, and I wished it had been longer.

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Update: Before I published this post, I asked on Twitter for other recommendations. Here’s what I heard in the initial replies:

Itpodcast: Cathedral cove, NZ. recently featured in Narnia: Prince Caspian

zoewesthof: Merzouga, Morocco and anywhere in Galicia (Spain)!

obsalah : Petra in Jordan, one of the 7 wonders of the world (the new ones) not much known kind of hidden away

eighteyes : Canyon Dechey, Sighisoara -> Romania, Mono Lake, Lost Coast

theo_chiari: Québec City

ElasticMind : White Desert, outside Bahariya Oasis, Egpyt

Earl52 : Hatteras Island, Outer Banks, North Carolina. Absolutely remarkable.

melissamcd: 2 of My Favorite Places: Camp Leaky (Tanjung National Park, Borneo); Bonaire National Marine Park

amoir : I adore ShinSekai in Osaka. ShinSekai is Japan at its most accessible, alive, vibrant, humble and real.

rose_w:The drive from Fairbanks, AK to the Artic Circle, desolate, breath taking and cool to say you've been there

krippl : Puerto Pinaso, Mexico. Better known as Rocky Point.

TheGirlPie: We LOVED our month at Ein Bokek at the Dead Sea in Israel in 10/01. No one else would though... it was beyond dead.

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I’ll add to my list as I keep traveling. Early in 2009 I’ll be heading to a big part of Africa that I’ve never visited before – the region around Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. In the spring I’ll resume my OneWorld Round-the-World trip with visits to Haiti and South America. After that, I’m not sure what comes next.. but my journey will still be far from over.

But wait, what about you?

A couple weeks back I told you about 9 Overrated Tourist Destinations (and 9 great alternatives) and asked for your feedback. Is the Grand Canyon more than just a Not-Bad Canyon? Is Dublin worth visiting? I don’t think we ever came to a consensus, which isn’t too surprising considering how passionate people can be about travel.

Well, here’s your chance again – what would you add to the above list of beautiful places? Is there anything you’d take off? Let me know.

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9 Overrated Tourist Destinations (and 9 Great Alternatives)

overrated-tourist-destinations
Image by JasonRogers

In my trips around the world, I’ve been to a lot of conventional places and a lot of off-the-grid places. Among other things, these experiences have led me discover that some of the best destinations for travelers are not always “undiscovered.”

Many places have a well-deserved reputation for being cool, and some other places you’ve never heard of maintain that status for a good reason. Still other places have gained undeserved reputations for being somewhere you “must’ visit before you die – but whenever I’ve gone there, I’ve felt a bit disappointed.

I’ll tell you about 9 of those here, but…

I don’t like to be overly-negative, so in addition to telling you what’s wrong with these overrated destinations, I’ll also give you an alternative for each one that is worth visiting. Then if you’ve been to either the overrated one or the alternative, you can tell me if you think I’m wrong, and also add your own overrated destination for everyone else to consider.

Ready? Here we go.

Niagara Falls. Niagara is nice to see once, but you don’t need to stay long. Whether you’re on the Canadian or American side, it’s overrun with kitsch. Yes, it’s a big waterfall. Wow. How much longer until we go home?

The Alternative: If you really want to see the world’s best waterfalls and you can go anywhere, then head to Zambia and check out the great Victoria Falls. I was there in 2006 and can confirm that it is indeed one seriously big waterfall. Afterwards, head over to the Victoria Falls Hotel on the Zimbabwean side and pay $1,000,000 for a Diet Coke.

If you can’t easily hop off to Southern Africa, then just go somewhere else in Ontario or Quebec. There's lots to see in that part of Canada that is definitely worth checking out.

The Grand Canyon. Like Niagara, the same holds true for the Grand Canyon—it’s nice to see once, but there’s not much to stay for. I went there with my family last year, and my 16-year old sister and I had fun coming up with alternative names for the Grand Canyon. Our top choices were:

  • The Decent Canyon

  • The Not-Bad Canyon

  • The “If you’re 10 miles away, go and see it” Canyon

You get the idea. Technically speaking, the Grand Canyon is impressive, but there’s so much hype about it that it’s hard to live up to your expectations upon arrival.

The Alternative: Sedona, Tucson, Santa Fe (New Mexico), or elsewhere in the area. The American Southwest can be a fun place. I liked hanging out in Sedona, where we stayed before driving to the Not-Bad Canyon. It does get pretty hot there, but it is the desert, after all.

The Bahamas. Just a few miles off the coast of Florida, the Bahamas are a sovereign country with a primary industry of tourism. It’s not a bad stop on a cruise (usually just before returning to the U.S.), but if I wanted to go to the so-called “real” Caribbean, I’d look elsewhere.

The Alternative: There are plenty of other nice islands in the Caribbean not yet overrun with visitors. St Kitts & Nevis is nice, for example, as is Dominica. Also, Barbados has a lot of visitors, but they do a better job with planning the overall development and culture of the island.

Paris, London, and Rome in the summer. These are all great cities, but not in the summer. Most Parisians leave their city in August, and they have the right idea.

The Alternative: For anyone traveling with U.S. or Canadian dollars, these aren’t great places to go at any time of the year, but for everyone else, going in the winter can be nice. And even if you do pay in dollars, lodging will usually be cheaper in the late fall or winter.

Las Vegas. What can I say about Vegas? It’s pretty much everything you’d expect, so if you like that kind of thing, you won’t be disappointed.

The Alternative: The best alternative is to keep your money and go anywhere else, but if you really want to gamble, head to an American Indian casino so that the money you lose will at least go into tribal education funds.

dublin
Dublin, Ireland. Dublin is now #3 on the world’s most expensive city list. There is definitely a fair amount of culture there (check out the library at Trinity College, for example), but the best of Ireland is found elsewhere.

The Alternative: Dublin isn’t a bad jumping off point - so head there first, then quickly go out to the other cities and smaller towns of Ireland. Chances are you'll discover that they are more fun for visitors who want to experience the Ireland they've always imagined.

The Pyramids, or almost anywhere in Egypt. I just went to Egypt and the Pyramids, and I actually enjoyed the trip more than I expected. However, if you can only go to the Middle East once, Egypt would not be at the top on my list of recommendations.

The Alternative: Egypt’s neighbor, Jordan, is a better place to visit overall. You won’t be hassled nearly as much (some people will even give you rides for free or otherwise extend hospitality without taking anything in return), and the ancient city of Petra is simply amazing. If you’re interested in visiting Israel or Lebanon, you can get there easily from Amman, and overall you’ll likely be much happier in Jordan anyway.

Singapore. Personally, I like Singapore just fine, except for the glass doors at Starbucks. Watch out for those! But on the negative side, Singapore is somewhat of a manufactured city and a bit uptight for many travelers. As such, it has become the Asian city most travel writers love to hate.

The Alternative: Just half an hour away by bus, Malaysia offers a better presentation of Asian diversity. The cities are edgier (not necessarily a bad thing, when compared to an overly-sterile environment), and nearly everything is cheaper. You can also head down to Bantam Island (Indonesia) by ferry, although I found the experience a bit strange when I was there two years ago.

***

The Most Overrated Destination on the Planet

All of those destinations are somewhat overrated - which doesn't mean you shouldn't go there. You should do exactly what you want; just try to keep your expectations in check. There’s one place over all the others, however, that wins the prize for being the most over-hyped city anywhere on the planet:


Image by Sharam Sharif
Dubai, UAE. I enjoyed driving around the Emirates a couple years ago (there are seven of them – Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm Al Qwain – naturally, I went to each one), but my time in Dubai was surreal.

This is not actually that unusual, because most travelers end up thinking that Dubai is odd when they get there. The majority of the people you’ll interact with in Dubai are immigrant workers (English surpassed Arabic as the common language a while back), and seemingly permanent construction cranes fill the city. Yes, you can get anything you want in Dubai, but since sheiks and Russian billionaires use Dubai as a playground, it won’t be cheap. As for entertainment, there are shopping malls, shopping centers, shopping areas with fake ski resorts, and hotels with shopping malls enclosed within.

The Alternative: Oman, a nearby Persian Gulf country, is much more fun and a thousand times more authentic. Qatar is also OK, but seems to be on track to become another Dubai as soon as they can build a ski lodge and fake islands with huge hotels.

***

And Now, Your Turn

I need your help with this one. What other places are overrated, and what’s a better alternative? In other words, what did I miss?

Also, whenever people talk about their favorite places, someone usually disagrees – and that’s fine. Would you change anything in the above recommendations? Let me know.

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