I wanted to do something a bit different with this post, and that’s talk about something I’ve noticed recently in the hope to spur on a bit of debate, and that’s in answering the question, ‘are unique travel experiences becoming harder to find?’

I’ll firstly mention, the above picture of Halong Bay, even though there might be lots of boats, I’m not trying to be negative about it, definitely visit there! It’s beautiful and incredible, and I’ve picked it because it illustrates the debate and what I want to discuss in this post quite well… In the picture, yes there are lots of other boats and people there, but does that mean it stops being somewhere you want to visit, and somewhere you won’t have a memorable and unique experience?

I might sound a bit silly saying this, but having been to somewhere like Lake Louise for example. Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed visiting there. But if I’m honest, my overwhelming feeling of the ‘experience’ was one of being stressed, having queued to get into a car park that’s next to the giant hotel you never see in shots, before waiting for your turn to take a picture of the lake through the crowds of people… I didn’t feel any ‘uniqueness’ in it at all, and my idea I’d gained of the place from all the photos I’d seen, was extremely different to the reality.

So this is what I want to debate really. In our world where it’s so much easier to travel, are some of the most popular destinations becoming so visited, that it diminishes the experience? Is it getting harder and harder to find ‘unique’ experiences?

Why I’m asking about unique travel experiences

1 Laos Tree Jumping

Since I’ve returned from travelling, and as someone who’s on Instagram following various travellers and photographers etc. I’ve recently noticed, that there a lot of people that travel in a similar style that I have, and have been to the exact same places… Especially in Asia, I recently saw two friends jump of the same tree as I did in Laos pictured above (probably the least touristy out of the four countries I visited). It seems that sometimes these days, for a lot of travel destinations or countries, there is a checklist of things to do and see, and EVERYONE does these same things.

When you see pictures of travel, often the professionals wake up for sunrise to get shots without anybody in them to try and present them in the most positive way. Having been to a lot of these places I often see, you realise why this needs to be the case… The ‘Arashiyama Bamboo Grove’ in Kyoto is a perfect example of this. We often see a solitarity person framed perfectly in the bamboo. Whereas the reality is, that it’s extremely rare that you won’t have to wait for all the other people to be out of the shot to get this kind of inspiring photo.

But then that begs the question, as a travel photographer or blogger, is your responsibility to capture a place in it’s most idyllic and attractive setting, using just the right filters to make it look incredible? OR should it be to capture the reality of what a place is actually like to visit? If so, how best should you do this, because it’s likely, not many people would be as interested if they just saw the realities of a lot of places…

My experience travelling in varying ‘styles’

2 Fiji in the village

As someone who has travelled with group tours, I’ll be the first to admit, this is probably why my experience of Asia was more of a package than you might find if you travelled yourself. HOWEVER, this was actually one of the reasons I chose to travel around Asia with a group, I wanted to see the highlights and get a sense of different countries in case I ever wanted to go back there. I chose deliberately to travel in all sorts of styles to get different experiences and decide which I preferred.

The other extreme for me was staying in a village on an island called Kadavu in Fiji, accessible only by boat or plane, and then another boat as there weren’t any roads. I was the only tourist to have stayed there, so got to see the real lives of Fijian people as a guest in their village, you can see me staying with Turaga my host, above.

So which of these extremes, a guided tour with a group, or solo travel in a village in the middle of nowhere, did I prefer? The answer to this; is that I enjoyed the experiences and they were ‘unique’ to me in different ways. Most definitely staying somewhere no-one has stayed before as a tourist and being able to be part of a different culture in such an inclusive way, meeting and spending time with such amazing and welcoming Fijian people was incredible. But I am still glad I went to see famous landmarks and wonders such as Angkor Wat that have put certain countries on the map, even if there were thousands of other people there too.

The answer to the question in this post, ‘are unique travel experiences easier to find?’, like a lot of experience with travel, will likely depend on the person… Is it more about seeing world famous historical landmarks, and it doesn’t matter if there are other people there or not? Or maybe it’s about immersing yourself in a culture completely different to yours?

Could balance be the answer?

4 New Zealand Volcano Pic

No matter your opinion on travel, I think the answer should be to balance things out. I’ve found that, yes some of the popular landmarks can be touristy, busy and stressful to visit, but I’m glad I visited them, and sometimes when travelling with a group you can do and see things you wouldn’t do on your own (like climbing the volcano above, that isn’t accessible unless with a guided group).

If my whole trip was just busy, stressful tourist spots, perhaps my views of travel would be more negative… On the other hand, you wouldn’t visit Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower, would you?

I think the way to find that uniqueness in travel, is to have a mixture of mainstream, and not so mainstream. See what the guidebook says, then throw it away and go speak to a local, see what they think… Even if other people have been to the same places you have, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their experiences will have been the same. It’s the people we’re with and locals we meet, that could hold the key to keeping that uniqueness in travel as the world gets smaller and smaller.

What do you think?…

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16 thoughts

  1. Interesting views! I definitely could say that I had similar experiences when I was in Japan. I found that, for me, the unique experiences that stood out most were the ones that couldn’t be repeated if you went there again.

    For instance, in Arashiyama, I found the bamboo forest to be too touristy, so I followed a path out towards a temple complex and got lost (quite literally). I stumbled upon a film shoot at a random temple by a beautiful lake and there were people dressed in kimono or traditional japanese clothing. It was on my own and had a conversation with the director about what they were filming and learnt that it’s a film adaptation based in the edo period.

    I found this to be a unique experience as it’s unlikely to happen again and experiences like these stick with me more than general sightseeing. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I totally agree, thanks for commenting. You make such a good point with those experiences that can’t be repeated!

      Also the ‘having a wander’ and seeing what you might stumble upon is always a great way to explore off the beaten track a bit. Thanks for sharing your story 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Visit the popular tourist attractions in the high season and it is going to be full of tourists, so we need to think differently.

    This could be as simple as visiting a place in the off season or shoulder seasons, Venice in January is a lot less crowded than in July. Getting up at the crack of dawn to visit an attraction that starts to get crowded later on is another simple trick, until most people start to do this.

    Flåm in Norway is another example for me.

    Most people visit for the day, arriving early on the Flåm Railway and catching the last train back or arriving on a cruise ship. I took the last train on the Flåm Railway, stayed over night and left the following afternoon. I got to see lovely little Flåm without the thousands of tourists.

    I fully agree with your comments about speaking with the locals. Think about where you live and where guide books would take people, now think about those other places that you only know about from living there.

    But the brutal truth is that more people are travelling. Travel is becoming more and more accessible, in particular the increase in tourists visiting from Asia. Most places are inevitably going to become more crowded and respecting and being aware of other tourists is becoming more and more important. This is something that some groups of people have yet to acknowledge, but I’m sure we’ll all get there.

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    1. I think your advice there about when to visit certain places is really sound, you’re probably right, if we travel a bit smarter we can avoid the big rushes that can sometimes put a negative spin on experiences.

      I definitely agree, I really hope we don’t start to see damage to places because of big influxes of people and can keep places as accessible as possible in a responsible way. Thanks for commenting!

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  3. My brother and I left the USA six years ago to travel the world full-time (365 days a year): me as a photographer and writer and he as a novelist. We’ve never regretted our decision. Two labels apply to us: (1) Location-Independent, meaning we’re technically homeless but the world is our home and everyone we meet is potentially a new friend; (2) Slo-Traveller, visiting fewer places but staying longer, seeing less but experiencing more. It’s definitely the people and experiences we remember and not the churches, temples, museums or iconic (overly crowded) tourist destinations. We live simple, we live cheap and we live free. http://www.IndochinePhotography.me

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can’t quite decide if I envy you. I love the term ‘location-independent’, and the freedom that entails. And yet, I also love the ‘coming home’ part of the journey. I’m not sure travelling 365 days a year would be for me, and yet I was genuinely upset when I had to buy my first piece of furniture as that meant I had roots.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I do wish I lived in simpler times when I would be one of the handful of people watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat or witnessing the majestic thunder of Niagara falls. I do think that too many tourists spoil the experience, but I also acknowledge that I’m part of the problem by being one of those tourists in the first place. I wrote a post about this topic a couple of weeks ago. I don’t think there’s an easy answer, but I do think you’re right – every experience is unique, and the key is to mix up the different experiences you seek.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s true isn’t it, recently going to Iceland I experienced this type of thing again. Even in the ‘quiet’ season some of the natural wonders you’ll find will have coach loads of people visiting them (yes including me too!) and crowds viewing them. Which can diminish the experience somewhat

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I too am Location-Independent. I find that it is not just the crowds but also the people giving up their culture to “give tourists what they want”. Land is being gobbled up for high rise expensive hotels, it is harder to find local restaurant food as many places cook what they think tourists like. Even in the rain forests in Indonesia the guides are now allowing people to feed the animals and touch them for the perfect Instagram shots.
    I don’t like the stress of all the tourist buses and the mass groups, making it hard to even see sights sometimes. However, I can’t imagine going to Spain and not seeing La Sagrada Familia or The Cathedral in Seville. So, I think finding a balance is the best way. I scheduled most of my time trying to do unique things, going to towns that are much lesser known, and definitnely not at the peak times of year, but then devoting a small amount of time to see the landmarks in a city. I just plan on drinking an extra beer or two that day, haha.
    I think as tourists we need to stop pressuring people to change for us and encourage them to hold on to their cultures. We need to be supportive of limits on tourism, we can’t expect tiny towns to accommodate an unlimited number of tour buses just because we all want to be there. If we continue to do so what will be left for us and the next generation to see?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Balance is the key, but finding balance in this unbalanced world of ours is difficult. When you do finally encounter that one “authentic” experience it’s like magic. We’re finishing up 3 months in Ireland (just arrived in Belfast last night) and we’ve met some really cool (and authentic) Irish folks. Continue to enjoy your travels.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Exactly, you’ve put that so eloquently so thank you so much for sharing. I think those negatives you’re saying are spot on, and especially thinking what will places be like for the next generation. It will be interesting if we see shifts away from destinations as they become ‘spoiled’ by these downsides of popularity and tourism. Also I suppose playing devils advocate increased popularity does allow local people more of a chance of making a living in less developed countries, but as you say at what cost…

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  6. Interesting read. As travellers we will always make our own adventures, be it with a larger group or on our own. We are on our way home after travelling with our kids for four months. There were times we were with the masses and other experiences when not another tourist was in site. Both had there highlights. I think the bigger question is how can we be sustainable tourists? Tourism is on the rise and we all need to consider how our actions impact the very environment we are visiting. Ultimately we should be thinking of protecting the culture, environment and the people. Our choices make a difference. As travellers we are part of the problem of mass tourism and its impacts. It need not all be negative though. We should all consider how we can become part of the solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s great, I’m always really impressed by people who travel longer term with their children and some day hope to be able to do the same if I have my own! That’s a very important point, I think there are steps being taken in some places to restrict numbers and preserve, but still people can be selfish and not respect places and cultures they visit, and sustainability needs to be at the heart of it all. Thanks for commenting

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