I have a slight confession to make. I don’t like Berlin. Everyone raves about how great it is, so going in I had high expectations. It was a “must see” people said. But I don’t know if it was the weather, the architecture, or the people but I didn’t see what all the fuss was about. While I had fun with people from the hostel, overall, I could do without Berlin.
When most people find out about this, they are shocked. “How could you not like Berlin? It was so great.” they said. But not everyone is going to like the same place. There are many cities I don’t like. And, as anyone who has read my about me page knows, I despise Vietnam.
All this made me think about a larger point about traveling. We always hear about the “must see” destinations in the world – places no sane person can miss. Who would want to skip Angkor Wat, Paris, the Great Barrier Reef, the Killing Fields, or Auschwitz?
I skipped the Killing Fields and every concentration camp in Europe. I’m just not interested. Why see a bunch of old buildings and fields where lots of people were murdered? For me, I’d rather go into a museum and read the story because that is what is really interesting to me. Yes, these places have pictures and signs but to me, it’s not something I’m interested in.
Years ago when I first started traveling, I chastised a guy in Cambodia for skipping Angkor Wat. “How could you miss it? You need to at least see it even if only for a day.” I said. But, looking back, I see that he didn’t need to go. Travel isn’t about checking off some list of world sites- it is about exploring the world, learning about yourself and other cultures, and seeing what interests you. Yes, we should all move out of our comfort zone, push ourselves, and try new things. I have tried sea snails in France (they are really good – taste like fried clams) and tried to (slightly) get over my fear of heights.
But take me to a concentration camp and I’m just going to be bored.
Take me to a Holocaust museum and I’ll be there for hours.
Pushing yourself to do new things is one thing, seeing things because someone told you it is a “must see” is another. There are no must see destinations in the world, only things everyone thinks are must see. I’m still guilty of telling people to “see this or that”. I love Paris and am shocked when people don’t. “You have to give Paris a chance,” I say. But, when I take a moment to think, I see that I’m just forcing my opinions on them like people who tell me I need to see the Killing Fields do to me.
And what is “must see” anyways? A place so amazing that everyone should go to, right? But we all know no two people see the same thing the same way and travel destinations don’t escape this rule of life. When I saw Stonehenge, I was disappointed. It was just a bunch of stones to me. The nearby town of Salisbury impressed me more. But Stonehenge is a must see so everyone must like it, right? It was interesting to see but I felt no connection. Moreover, the Louvre was also disappointing. I like impressionism art – the Louvre is mostly ancient sculptures and Renaissance paintings. I can only see so many paintings of Jesus and Mary before I get bored. I probably won’t ever go back to the Louvre but I’ll visit the impressionist Musee D’Orsay over, and over, and over again. (I’ve been to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam four times.)
Must see is only what we think it to be. People all over the world are always guilty of telling people what is a must see. We can’t expect everyone to like what we like. Sure, there are great places to see in the world but I don’t believe there is anything that is a must see. I make lots of recommendations but those are just my opinions. Doesn’t mean it is right- it is just right for me. Will someone else enjoy Berlin or Vietnam? Of course but I can just talk about my experience.
But the next time anyone tells you that you are crazy for missing some “must see” destination or attraction, ask them if they would go to something they didn’t like. Chances are they will say no. Then you can just tell them:
“Exactly! That’s the same reason why I’m not going to place X.”