A recent article on Huffington Post’s Travel channel describing one travel writer’s “Most Overrated Travel Experiences.”
As always, pretty much all of Mr. Juddery’s picks for “overrated” are sites and attractions commonly described as “on the beaten path,” usually in sneering tones by travel writers who strongly favor backpacker’s hostels and “authentic” travel experiences that skip museums, monuments, clean bathrooms, and reliably safe food.
What seems to get missed in these more-traveler-than-thou articles is that lots of people have never been to Paris/New York/Tokyo/Yellowstone before. Easy (if shameful) example: I’ve never been to Washington D.C. When I make it to my nation’s capitol, I will see the Washington Monument, take the White House tour, and get lost in the Smithsonian Museum. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that itinerary.
As for fancy restaurants being somehow unworthy…well that’s just wrong for travelers of every ability level. Anyone who visits San Francisco or the Napa Valley and skips the stunning high-end restaurants will NOT find hole-in-the-wall food that’s “better” in any sense of the word. (Though there’s some good cheap food in both regions.) In addition, such luckless tourists will miss out on an important part of local life and culture in central California. We’re a bunch of foodies in this neck of the woods, and we go out to dinner at places like Masa, Fleur de Lys, Michael Mina, Etoile, and Bouchon for birthdays, anniversaries, and (if we’re lucky) Thursdays. After a year of saving up, we calculate dates and program our phones for speed dial at 8:45am to gain the privilege of spending $500 per person for a meal at the legendary French Laundry.
So what has all this got to do with travelers with pain? Quite a bit.
1. If I’ve got the money for it, I’m going to stay in a resort hotel. Will I pick an independent if there are nice ones at my destination? Yes. But if the only indie choices are hostels and cheap motels, I’ll take the Hilton every single time. Yup, it’ll be the same as every other Hilton–same comfortable beds, same clean private bathrooms with soaking tubs, same working elevators, same bell assistance and room service available.
2. Fancy restaurants have the ability and inclination to cater to all sorts of dietary restrictions. Ethnic holes in the wall have neither. ‘Nuff said.
3. Landmarks and monuments, so long as you haven’t already seen them a dozen times, tend to be some of the easiest places to visit for travelers with pain. They’re often accessible to wheelchairs. They often have restrooms, elevators, and places to sit indoors. Benches for gawkers tend to cluster just outside of landmarks and monuments. And if they don’t, we can take a quick look, take that silly photo, and leave.
But leave with a feeling of accomplishment–by visiting the Eiffel Tower or the Washington Monument or the Great Wall of China or the World’s Largest Thermometer, we’ve gone out into the world and seen one of its landmarks. For a healthy person who can go literally anywhere in the world without having to spend so much as 5 minutes thinking about their physical health, spending half an hour admiring an architectural wonder probably seems commonplace and dull. For a traveler with pain, it can be a major big deal.
4. Other attractions that sit squarely in the middle of the beaten path, like churches and museums and gardens and famous houses, tend to be the most accessible to travelers with pain and all sorts of disabilities–hidden and visible. Such places often have restrooms and benches and concessions–those little creature comforts that off-the-beaten-path places don’t have in abundance…or at all. Those little creature comforts that can make the difference between an enjoyable trip and a disastrous pain flare in an unfamiliar place.