Travel talk: The most surprising destinations

Your bags are packed, hotel is confirmed, and itinerary planned down to the hour. But even the most Type-A travellers can’t control how a trip turns out, as so much depends on the destination when you actually arrive.

For years I dreamed about exploring Florence, Italy, wanting to take in its beautiful architecture, towering Duomo and serene landscape. But our train was late, and when we arrived we were locked out of our B&B for hours, meaning we missed the final entry of the day to see the famous David statue…and then it started pouring torrential rain. To say Florence left something to be desired for me is an understatement.

The Duomo in Florence. italy

The Duomo in Florence.

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Fortunately things turned around when I impulsively headed to Turkey, a country which I knew little about other than that there has been political unrest in the past and my friends were scared some man would kidnap me and keep me as his wife. Eek. So imagine my surprise when I began wandering around Istanbul, to find it is the absolutely perfect combination of east meets west. Filled with incredibly huge mosques, tropical lush greenery, delicious food and jam-packed bazaars, it’s also home to the most welcoming, friendly people.


With that in mind, I decided to check in with some of my fellow travel writers, to find out which world destination surprised them the most—whether it was in the most wonderfully unexpected way, or a total disaster.

The Galapagos Islands
Megan Claire- Mapping Megan

The Galapagos Islands have always been a destination which has ranked highly on my bucket list, and one of those destinations which carries with it incredibly high expectations. However, years worth of travel has taught me that destinations never live up to their hype, and are never as magical as you expect them to be. What you perceive to be a remote destination in reality is loaded with hotels and resorts, and what you imagine will be a great escape sees you drowning in a sea of tourists. So what surprised me the most about the Galapagos, a destination which sets a pretty high bar as far as expectations are concerned, was that it both lived up to, and surpassed the hype.
Our Galapagos experience was nothing short of phenomenal – something directly from the pages of National Geographic.
Mapping Megan gets up close with turtles in the Galapagos Islands.

Mapping Megan gets up close with turtles in the Galapagos Islands.

Opting to spend our time based on land rather than join a regular tourist cruise, we spent six days exploring San Cristobal Island. While Santa Cruz is very built up and resorty, with almost no wildlife left on the island, on San Cristobal we were in heaven. The island was overflowing with authentic wildlife experiences, and secluded beaches where you could snorkel and come literally face to face with hundreds of sea lions and giant sea turtles.

What we loved was the lack of tourism, and the lack of regulation around the island – tourists are trusted and not roped off. Some parts of the island require a guide to accompany you, but otherwise you’re fairly free to wander and explore. You don’t find many destinations these days which offer you that kind of freedom. Authentic travel experiences are fairly rare.

Tokyo, Japan
Annette White- Bucket List Journey

Japan was never on the top of my travel list. It was on there, just somewhere between Bulgaria and Minnesota. But on my way to Micronesia, Tokyo seemed to be the most logical place to do a layover.

What was found in this unusual city was a pleasant surprise: culture, quirkiness and unique adventures.

In Tokyo, I learned to make the prettiest sushi from a local, I gawked at the countless rows of pink ahi tunas while touring Tsujiki fish market and drank cocktails from a dummy’s head at one of the most famous themed restaurants. There was also a quick stop at a very peculiar cafe where dozens of cats roamed free and an opportunity to practice my refinement at a traditional Japanese tea ceremony in Happo Gardens. Lastly, there was a morning spent watching wrestlers practice at a sumo stable and an afternoon eating the classic wrestler’s stew, chankonabe.

Japan, in particular Tokyo, has since moved up a few notches on my travel list.

Annette drank cocktails from a dummy’s head in Tokyo, Japan.

Annette drank cocktails from a dummy’s head in Tokyo, Japan.

Sarajevo, Bosnia
Dave Ingelson- Baldpacker

My first memories of Sarajevo, Bosnia, were those of tracer bullets firing across the city’s skyline, smoke and flames billowing from apartment windows, and blood soaked hands pulling injured women and children away from incoming sniper fire. I was eight years old at the time, and the Serbian invasion of Sarajevo was the headline story on the evening news. Those images stayed with me for many years and it was over two decades until I had the courage to visit a city I still expected to be filled with hardened soldiers and the cold remnants of war.

Dave at the Sarajevo Olympic Bobsled track in Bosnia.

Dave at the Sarajevo Olympic Bobsled track in Bosnia.

Given my preconceptions of Sarajevo, I was astounded when I arrived to discover a vibrant city with beautiful historic streets, welcoming locals, delicious food, and a brewery operating peacefully within shouting distance of a mosque used for prayer. During my stay in Sarajevo I wanted to learn both about the city’s terrible past and its modern state, and I was left awestruck by both. You can experience three decades of celebration, war, and new beginnings in a single day by visiting the city’s dilapidated 1984 Winter Olympic facilities, war damaged cemeteries, and modern shopping districts and nightclubs.

Despite Sarajevo’s varied past, it has a bright future ahead of it and I expect the city will soon be inundated by tourists seeking to be as pleasantly surprised by Sarajevo as much as I was.

Cairo, Egypt
The Guy- Flights and Frustration

The place that surprised me the most, in a bad way, was Egypt on my long weekend trip to Cairo and Giza. We stayed in a wonderful hotel with a great view of the pyramids and had an organized tour guide. We saw all the bucket list items like the Pyramids and the Sphinx which were true marvels.

What ruined the trip for me was many of the local people and the surroundings.

No matter where we were, whenever we got off the tour bus we were mobbed with people shoving things into our hands and trying to sell things. Some would trick you with saying a gift was free for you, then demand money. The camel owners would lead you off into the desert on a camel ride, then threaten to leave you stranded if you didn’t pay a higher price than originally agreed.  As far as holidays go this was no relaxing break. Even in the hotel I had hotel staff looking for things from me. The persistent pestering and attempts to get money out of me ruined the whole experience.

Picture credit: Rjruiziii on Wikimedia Commons

Picture credit: Rjruiziii on Wikimedia Commons

I’m glad I saw the magnificent wonders of the world in Giza. However because of these rude, pushy people I doubt that I ever want to go back.


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11 Responses

  1. The Guy says:

    Hi Tamara,

    Thank you so much for letting me be a part of this. Great to see some very positive stories from our fellow travellers.

    Also sorry to hear that Florence didn’t live up to your expectation. I hope you can return soon as it is a beautiful city.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your perspective! Such a shame that so many people have similar stories to yours in regards to Egypt- I really hope they can turn things around.

  2. Nina Travels says:

    There are many destinations, which impressed me, but I guess the most surprisingly was Oman – love, love, LOVE it! Me and my hubby decided to travel to Oman literaly over night and we did not know anything about it, but the wadis, deserts, mountains and beaches are amazing! People are kind and if you are traveling around Oman by a rented 4×4 you could not feel more freedem…I will go there again for sure!

  3. Baldpacker says:

    I also have to agree with The Guy on Egypt – it is the one country I have no interest in returning to because of how horribly locals treat tourists.

  4. The Guy says:

    Sorry to hear that Dave. I wonder how many more people feel the same way we do. Clearly these tourist touts can’t see the long term bigger picture. They only seem intent on making that first buck. I suppose not many people would revisit anyway?

  5. Annika says:

    what a beautiful destination. I just remember, Giza isn’t on my list. Thanks for the tour.

  6. Amarantelva says:

    Great post. I have visited almost all the spots you mentionned. Great place, one of my favourite is Florence. Cheers.

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