In the age of Instagram and TikTok, it’s possible for a travel destination to go from zero to hero in a matter of moments. One perfectly framed selfie at the right angle and viola: You’ve got the next Bangkok, the next Hawaii. But, as this list of the world’s most overrated travel destinations will reveal, the hype isn’t always warranted.
In fact, the hype is sometimes downright OTT, plumping up a place to make it seem like paradise only for new arrivals to realize that it ain’t. It ain’t even close. Instead of glorious runs of sand, there are patches of pollution. In place of romantic streets of cobblestone, there are chewing-gum-covered flagstones and crowds.
Here, we focus in on just five of the most overrated travel destinations on the planet. They are the places that we think have a rep that far outstrips their weightiness, or a side to them that would-be globetrotters should be made aware of before booking. Let’s dive in…
Any regular readers of JTG will know that we are actually big Bali fans. We’ve been coming and going to and from the fabled Isle of the Gods for over 10 years now and always love heading back. But you don’t have to be a travel expert a la Michael Palin to know that it’s not for everyone.
Nope, Bali has emerged as a bit of an outlier among Indonesian and, to a certain extent, Southeast Asian destinations. Virtually all of that run-down, ramshackle charm has gone along the south coast strips, replaced with sleek hotel resorts and chic beach bars that would look right at home in the Greek Aegean.
There are some parts to the isle that have gone from zero to sixty without blinking. Canggu is a prime example. About 15 years ago it was the chilled extremity of Seminyak. Then someone noticed the lippy surf breaks and the cheap Airbnbs and bingo, before we could finish our gado gado the whole place was the heir apparent to Chiang Mai as the digital nomad hub of the east.
A mention should also be made of the surf in Bali. It’s a sad story when you think that pioneer Bob Koke came this way in the 1930s to charge Kuta Beach. Fast forward to today and that run of wave-rich sand is, for better or for worse, now a mass of flying foam boards in unedifying polluted water.
We’re not saying Bali isn’t worth it. We could never say that. We are saying that there are certain parts of the island that certain travelers should think long and hard about before booking into. From the Bukit to Canggu, Ubud to Denpasar, this isn’t rustic Indo anymore. There are fast-food joints, strip malls, gaudy hotels – you name it. Choose Java or Lombok if you want the Bali of yesteryear.
If you stand back and talk about Dubai in more abstract terms, you begin to realize that it’s not all that tempting as a travel destination. This is a big, modern metropolis, raised on oil money, smack dab in the middle of the desert. Before the UAE petroleum boom of the 1960s, it was little more than a fishing town and trading port on the Persian Gulf, with some old forts from the 1800s and strips of sand dotted with salty dhow boats.
Less than 10 years later, it was on track to becoming the UFO-like megalopolis you see today. The town – and it was still a town then! – underwent growth to the tune of 300% in a single decade. There have been moments when that slowed a touch, as with the Gulf War of the 1990s. But, really, development in this corner of Arabia has continued on at almost breakneck speed and continues on as we type.
The result is sprawling, steel-clad metropolitan area that extends over 1,600 square kilometers and plays host to over 3.5 million people. Of course, the city still gets those extremely hot summers that you’d expect from somewhere right in the middle of the desert (we’re talking 120 F at peak times), along with brutal sandstorms and uncomfortably balmy nights.
When you ask the fashionistas and Instagram bunnies what’s great about their beloved mass of skyscrapers under the sun, they’ll invariably talk about the latest shopping mall, the hottest new cocktail bar, or even an indoor ski run that uses enough air-conditioning energy to keep Greta Thunberg rolling her eyes until the next all-important Arctic ice cap melts into the sea. It’s not for us, sorry.
About 10 years back, everyone and their gran started talking about the Philippine island of Siargao. It’s the new Bali, they said. It’s the best surf destination in the world, they said. They waxed lyrical about a place of pristine beaches and Robinson Crusoe bays, with hammocks swinging between the coconut palms and waters as clear as air.
Well…needless to say it’s not quite that. Yes, there’s surf in Siargao but don’t come expecting the reliability of Indo. The waves are largely over shallow reefs and can be hard to reach. Others, like the expert-only Cloud 9 break are proper barrels that are suited to pros and pros alone.
The beaches are undoubtedly rather spectacular. However, this island has a much higher tidal difference than the other mainstay vacay hotspots of the Philippines over in the Sulu Sea. Basically, the water’s out for 12 hours of the day, revealing a mass of pungent rotting seaweed and barren rocks in front of the sands.
Finally, the infrastructure. Yikes. We hope things improve here for the sake of the people who live on the island. Crooked streets that are potholed to pieces mingle with the signs of early overdevelopment on the sought-after plots by the shoreline. A big typhoon surely made matters a whole load worse when it struck in late 2021, too.
The Phi Phi islands
Look at the map – Koh Phi Phi and its surrounding islands are supposed to be in a national park. And there was us thinking that McDonald’s and 7-Eleven were the sorts of things you’d expect to find outside of government-designated nature reserves. Perhaps the salty French fries and Big Macs are good for the local ecosystem? Perhaps.
Truth is that the Phi Phi archipelago is a bit of a tale of disaster when it comes to over tourism and out-of-control development. Granted, the situation was hardly helped by the 2000 Danny Boyle cult classic The Beach, a coming-of-age adventure flick that pitted Leo DiCaprio against a strange clique of hippies on a paradise island. It was filmed – you guessed it – in southern Thailand, with Maya Bay, one of the jaw-dropping beaches of the Phi Phis, as the backdrop.
Maya Bay itself has since been closed for four whole years by the Thai authorities. It’s open again as of 2022 but swimming is no longer allowed and there are strict controls on the number of people who can come in a single day (or, at least, there’s supposed to be).
Meanwhile, the main island of Phi Phi Don continues to rumble on to the sound of pumping chart bars and nightly fire shows. That’s where everyone stays here. You pay a 20 THB entry fee that’s supposed to go on protection and pollution reduction. We say that the proverbial horse has already bolted. The island is caked in resort hotels of all shapes and sizes. There’s even one with a whole water park of such sheer size it would make the Costa del Sol blush.
Surely, not Paris? Surely, not the City of Lights, the city of romance, the city of love? Yep. Sorry folks, but it’s not actually the dreamy destination you’ve been made to believe. There’s nary an onion-clad, beret-wearing cyclist a la the stereotype to be seen. Croissants and a drink in a café will cost you 10 euros a pop. Plus, it’s gritty, it’s busy, and it’s loud.
Okay, okay so Paris should still be on your bucket list. It’s home to some of the most iconic museums and attractions on the planet. There’s the soaring Eiffel Tower, the priceless works of the Louvre, the grand Arc de Triomphe, and the shopping strips of the Champs-Élysées. But what if we told you that the first was often shrouded in clouds, the second meant queues around the block, the third is just flat out underwhelming, and the fourth is for posh millionaires and rude oligarchs only.
It’s not just us saying this about Paris, you know. There’s a whole medical condition that backs us up. Check out Paris syndrome, a – and we’re quoting here – “sense of extreme disappointment exhibited by some individuals when visiting Paris, who feel that the city was not what they had expected.” Brutal.
Most overrated travel destinations – our conclusion
We’ve picked out five of what we consider to be the most overrated travel destinations right now. There’s a pretty wild mix going on, from the tropical reaches of south Thailand all the way to the monuments of the French capital. Of course, we’re not saying don’t travel to these places. Some of them have some seriously amazing things up their sleeve. However, it’s important to manage expectations before you book, since the hype doesn’t always match the reality.