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Destination shaming, it needs to stop

Destination shaming, it needs to stop

Alright, let me stand up on my soapbox for a few minutes: I’m sick of hearing people bash destinations around the world.

There, I said it.

Whenever I read a post on social media about how an individual had a terrible time on vacation, I sympathize with them. I truly do. That’s until I read their warning or call of action to everyone else saying, “Because of what happened to me, don’t visit this country!”

I get it, you had a terrible experience. This post isn’t meant to belittle that experience. I hope this post educates people about the harm these angry posts do. 

How is having a terrible experience different than blatantly hating a country?

Now, giving an honest review of a certain company or accommodation that you received in that country is completely different than deeming an entire country unsuitable for travel.

For instance, I had difficulties with a car rental company in Iceland. And yes, I wrote a blatantly honest review about them and let people know about my experience. Yet, because of this experience, I’m not telling everyone I know not to visit Iceland, I simply tell them to be cautious when booking rentals with this certain company.

To let my experience of a country hinge upon the outcome of a business transaction is both naïve and dangerously reckless as a traveler. I’m only doing a country a disservice but chalking my experience up to how the food tasted or whether my hotel had bed bugs.

In all honesty, I don’t know if I can hate a country. It would require a lot of bad experiences for me to consider a country as skippable by other travelers.

Even though the travel advisories issued by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs hardly sway my travel itineraries. In short, it’s important to note the travel advisories, but it’s not a valid reason for me to never see a destination. 

Travel is about so much more

Travel is about learning about diverse cultures and traditions. It’s about the friendliness of the locals, the unique vistas you cannot experience back home and the stories you have never heard before.

After closely examining those parts of your vacation, do you still come to the same conclusion? I sincerely hope not.

Sometimes different cultures and traditions will put us outside of our comfort zone and it won’t be enjoyable at that precise moment. Yet, each adventure I take I hope to be pushed further and further outside of that cozy bubble I’ve constructed for myself.

I yearn to witness experience unique to a certain locale because that’s exactly what will make me grown and become a better person — a more understanding person. The less uncomfortable and scared I am of the unknown, the better off I will be.

These countries are someone’s home.

When it comes to talking about our travels, we also have to be conscientious of the fact that these destinations are someone’s home. For some, this is a beloved sanctuary — they wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in the world. For others, it’s where they’ve called home for years and they respect it because of that.

That dawned on me recently when I was vacationing in Belize. Belize is a third-world country, so living conditions for some locals are much different from what I have witnessed before. There’s also a huge disparity in wealth. One moment you’re driving through mountain villages with homes without roofs, and then, 45 minutes away, through a town undergoing serious renovations to accommodate the 10-plus new resorts being built.

Although Belize is drastically different than my home, it doesn’t mean it’s any less worthy of a travel destination. In fact, we should celebrate these destinations that are so unlike our own countries because they allow us to learn and experience life through a new lens. When I was in Belize I was not worrying whether I was connected to WiFi to update my social media status, I worried whether I could find clean water to drink and find enough that would last me for the next 24 hours.

Your experience is different than the locals’

Most of us are usually only in a destination for a limited period of time. Therefore, our travel experience will be far different than the experience of those who have roots in these countries. My limited experience of searching for a clean water source was just a small glimpse into the life of a Belizean. Finding clean water is something the Belizean people deal with daily. I’m privileged because I got to experience what their daily struggles are like, but I don’t have to live in those conditions — at least not for long. I had a return ticket so I could enjoy the comforts of my own home where I constantly had clean water.  

In addition, we cannot judge an entire country based on the experience we had in one city or in the countryside. To even begin adequately judging a country, we’d have to travel the country for years and experiencing several vast destinations within it. Again, within a country, there’s many different cultures and lifestyles. To consider a country homogenous with the rest of the states, districts, within it is again naïve.

Stop comparing destinations

You can’t really compare burgers and pizza. You can say which you prefer, but you cannot say which of the two is a better choice overall. To determine which option is better there are many personal factors that would need to be considered — taste preference, what nutritional elements individuals are looking for, etc.

It’s very evident that you cannot compare burgers and pizza, just as though you cannot compare apples and oranges. Similarly, you cannot compare countries to each other.

As I illustrated, it’s never a level playing field. At its face value, I cannot tell you whether Colorado or Guatemala is better. From my experience, I can deduce which one is cheaper or has less touristy attractions. Yet, it’s precisely that, my personal experience, which is vastly different than anyone else’s.

Check your privilege

As a United States citizen, I’m privileged in the fact that I have many guaranteed freedoms. I can say, write and express myself however I want, with very few limitations. I’m able to practice whatever religion I choose and not incriminate myself in the court of law. This is just a glimpse of the daily freedoms that I am guaranteed.

On top of that, I’m blessed with the fact that I live in a relatively safe neighborhood and have access to clean water daily. I’m able to eat until I am full and there is never a shortage of food or heat where I live.

Yet, that cannot be said for the rest of the world.

Remember the big picture 

In the big picture, forgetting our privilege has dire consequences. By not examining our privilege we establish the hierarchy of “less than” which leads to dangerous and incorrect assumptions.

Yes, it would be incredibly fortunate if the entire world had enough clean water and food to feed the masses. But overall, my way of life isn’t something the entire world needs to replicate.

For instance, hygiene practices vary all over the world. Some countries use bidets other countries don’t use toilet paper. Who am I to judge if someone cleans themselves differently than me? What entitles me to say that the way I clean myself is correct?

This example helps me illustrate the problem of comparing countries’ cultures and customs. In many ways, we’ve placed our country at the top of the hierarchy. Also, in the process have created assumptions that all countries should be like ours.

This is not to say that countries cannot adapt and learn from each other’s customs — such as policies and how they treat one another — but they shouldn’t be forced to do so. We shouldn’t have to think of countries in duality– good or bad, black or white.

Instead, we should embrace our world’s vast differences and uniqueness. After all, it wouldn’t be so exhilarating to travel if we were all so similar and the landscapes were uniform.

Go to countries that challenge your political beliefs

Buckle up, I’m going to blow your mind for a moment. You can still go to countries that challenge your political beliefs.

I’m a self-proclaimed feminist, and yes, I will travel to countries in the Middle East that are some of the lowest ranked countries in terms of gender equality. So why would I choose to go there?

To educate, to make a difference, to learn about the struggles these women face on a daily basis and how I can make an impact and make a positive influence in their lives. I need to hear directly from these oppressed women what I can exactly do to help out.

This means traveling to countries that still practice female genital mutilation (FGM). It also means traveling to countries where women do not have the right to vote. For me, it means stepping outside of my comfort zone. It means visiting areas where women’s education isn’t supported and where women are considered second-class citizens.

These cultural norms may be hard for me to witness and endure, but each offers me insight and a chance to education and become more educated about this global issues.

I strive to be a worldwide advocate for these women who do not have a voice. Thankfully, I can use my privilege and help out those less fortunate than me. By telling these women’s stories and sharing a glimpse of what their lives are like will spark a discuss worldwide and begin to implement change.

The big takeaway

Please, think twice before posting on social media about how much you hated a certain country. Seriously consider: what good will it do?

You most certainly have the right to write an honest review or talk about your experience, traumatic or otherwise.

Instead of chalking your disagreement over a business transaction to disliking an entire country, pause. Take a step back and think of why you didn’t enjoy this vacation. Don’t generalize a location by the limited experience you had there.

Regardless of how much time you spent in a location, you have a story to tell. Just remember that your story is the one of many that make up a narrative of a destination.

We also need to keep the bigger picture in mind. How can we help other travelers? Are there initiatives that we can contribute to that would benefit this destination and the locals?

Rather than complaining on the internet, let’s do something about it.



42 thoughts on “Destination shaming, it needs to stop”

  • A very honest review, and yes, as travellers, especially of privilege, we need to understand that not everywhere is like home! That’s a good tip on going somewhere that challenges your political beliefs, I’ll try it! A very profound read.

    • Thanks, Lisa! Yes, talking about privilege is a hot and controversial topic right now, but it’s so important. If we don’t address our privilege we’re turning a blind side to oppression. I’m glad that you’re going to push yourself. Any ideas on where you’ll venture to first?

  • This definitely needed to be said. I especially agree with your urge to stop comparing destinations. And I think also shunning those who choose to travel to maybe not quite so “exotic” a location as others. I remember traveling somewhere not too far away and had a few people turn their noses up and say oh, you’re just going there. Excuse me. Like you said, travel is more than just seeing pretty places and taking pictures for the ‘gram.

    • Exactly! I feel like the ‘gram is a real reason why people are so judgmental about destinations. Like, if it isn’t “exotic and gorgeous” then why go? It’s often times why destinations become popular because travelers try to recreate these ‘grams. No judgment, but I feel like travel is about a little more than Instagram. If that’s how people choose to travel, that’s their prerogative! Happy travels my dear!

  • I didn’t even realize it had a name yet, but completely agree with you that travel shaming needs to stop. I also agree with Rachelle on the shunning of those who travel to “non-popular” locations. I’m not sure why we live in a world that criticizes everything and everyone but it’s not a happy place to live. Travel is about the exploration, learning, growth and meeting new people. Understanding new cultures. And why should one bad experience ruin anyone for the entire place. And even if it does, everywhere isn’t for everyone, just the same as we don’t like all people or the same colors. It’s quite ridiculous.

    • Hi, Heidi! Thanks for reading! And I don’t think “destination shaming” is the official name, but it’s a topic that a lot of people, especially travel bloggers think about. And yes, I definitely agree with you that travel is about exploring and learning. I think it’s important to keep a positive outlook on travel in general. Like you said, a certain destination isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of other people’s time. Thanks for your thoughts!

  • I have been known to write negatively about a certain destination but I always try to balance it out with something good. it is important to give an objective view but equally even though we might hate a place that doesn’t mean everyone else will. I get really annoyed with people who tell me I should not visit country a, b or c because of their treatment of women/race/people in general because I agree with your sentiment that we can all learn from one another.

    • Hi, Anne. And yes, I completely agree with being objective. I’m a journalist at heart, so I hold ethics and unbiased reporting to a high regard. I hope that my portion discussing that everyone has a right to talk about their own experiences illustrated that. I completely agree that other countries might challenge your beliefs, but that’s a valuable learning experience. Thank you for reading!

  • First of all, hate is a strong word!
    Judging is something we like to do whether it comes to other people or like your exemple, a country. We shouldnt judge the whole country based on some bad experiences. We all have had some more or less bad experiences in a country but at the same times we have to find something good with that country aswell. It is impossible not to find anything good in any of the countries in the world!

    • Hi, Dada! I completely agree! Hate is a very strong, and I feel like it’s a word used far too often. I think a little positivity would help. Especially, when it comes to talking about countries since negative words are very damaging. Thank you for reading!

  • Your post is really an eye-opener. I completely agree with you that each travel is a unique experience and an opportunity to learn new cultures and traditions. When we come out of our comfort zone to travel, we must come out of our preconceived notions as well. We must keep an open mind to accept that there will be certain aspects we may or may not like about a destination. But that is not a reason enough to dislike the entire country. Travelling to the countries that challenge your political beliefs takes a lot of courage. You are doing a great job by being a voice of the less privileged people in those countries to implement change in their lives.

    • Hi Shaily! You worded it perfectly when you said “traveling to countries that challenge your political beliefs takes a lot of courage.” That’s definitely true, and I think that just encourages personal growth. Thank you for reading!

  • It was about time that someone spoke about it. I am fed up of seeing some bloggers from West trashing my country India for a one off bad experience they have had. India, I agree is no easy to deal with but the India is huge and different cities will give you different experiences. But that doesn’t mean you can trash the entire nation. I liked the example you gave of Middle East. Even I abhor that some nations still practice FGM but that should not stop me from visiting those places.

  • The best thing about travel is to experience and learn about another country and culture. And this can’t really be done in one short visit on vacation. Not every travel destination will appeal to everyone, and that’s ok. But a bad experience personally doesn’t represent the people or country. I hope people read these types of articles with a grain of salt, like you do when reading reviews on TripAdvisor.

    • Hi Jamie! Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot of travelers are reading articles about how to be a more responsible traveler. I’m not sure if you read the article about the No. 1 TripAdvisor restaurant in London. The gist: a man fabricated a listing for a restaurant in his backyard. It ended up climbing to No. 1 regardless of the fact that it was all a ruse. So I think people are easily fooled with what’s on TripAdvisor and do not take it with a grain of salt. Overall, though, I agree with you! You definitely need more than one short vacation to learn about the culture and customs there. Thanks for reading!

  • I’m honestly in love with this post! I’m from India and I totally relate to this.
    Being a woman traveler from India, I do raise quite a few eyebrows in the opposite side of the globe!
    People question my safety in my own country and that’s almost insulting!!!!
    Yes there are a few unfortunate incidents that some travelers experience, but its indeed Incredible India!!!
    Sorry, for the rant, but your post just triggered some emotions!!!

    • Hi Bhusha, thank you so much for sharing your emotions and thoughts! I’m glad that you found the post helpful and thought-provoking. And yes, female solo travelers definitely face a lot of stigmas when they travel. I’m sorry that you face additional negativity because of where you call home. I agree I’m infatuated with India! Thanks for reading!

  • One thing I love about traveling is how it changes you. It’s unfortunate that there are travelers who hate and shame the destinations in general, given that they did not live there long enough to make such statements. I agree with you, they could write an honest review or talk about their experience, at least the readers will get a bigger picture from the experience.

    • Hi Jen, thanks for commenting! I think it takes more than just one person’s experience to even caught a glimpse of the bigger picture. But you’re right, writing an honest review or talking about their experience is a start to understanding the bigger picture.

  • I completely agree that respect is something you should have while travelling. An open mind is also a must. I do think you have the right not to like a place (and I’m not talking about a developing country, I’m talking about the fact that sometimes you don’t bond with certain locations), especially if you travel full-time, but that doesn’t mean you should completely ban a country and give it negative publicity. If you want things to be exactly as in your home country, why would you bother to travel on the first place? Good and bad experiences happen everywhere and that shouldn’t define a culture.

    • Exactly! Thanks, Dann! You worded this perfectly. We are all entitled to our own experiences, it’s whether we let a few negative experiences taint our entire perspective on a destination. Thanks for commenting!

  • Great article and I couldn’t agree more with everything you said! As a traveler, I think it’s our duty to give back to the local community and encourage tourism as much as possible. In many of these less privileged countries, tourism can do wonders to their overall economy, living conditions, and even beliefs. It’s the least we can do as responsible global citizens of the world.

  • Amen!!! Wow. This is exactly what I’ve been feeling about other travelers when I hear them complaining during their trips. Better explained, people with not even a drop of wanderlust in their bodies. I always think: “ Why do you even travel then?” Gread read and very true words that needed to be said. Thanks for sharing! (Ps- I’m subscribing to your blog! -Ella

  • To be honest, I’ve never come across people bashing up a destination, and advising others to not go to a country because of their bad experience there and I am appalled that people would do that. I understand you had a bad experience and it is true that certain countries might require you to be more vigilant in certain areas but to base your judgement of a country on a bad experience and in turn, advising others to not go there at all, is a bit ridiculous!

    • Hi Medha! Sounds like you’ve been fortunate to only hear good travel stories. Unfortunately, I’ve heard it far too often, which is why I was inspired to write this post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Oh wow man, what a cool post to write and I am with you an all your points. A lot of ‘travelers’ nowadays are the social media type of travelers. Getting their photo and done! Nothing wrong with that, everyone their own thing. But don’t judge a whole country just because you could not get a shot with no people on it! I always say people with expectations are those who get disappointed!

    • Hi Tom! I completely agree. I understand that everyone wants the landmark shot with no people in the photo, but is that realistic? Not really. I think it’s more important to document your real experience. If there’s a lot of people there, show that. I understand that you don’t want strangers in a family portrait, etc., but we have to be a little realistic with our travel photos. And I agree, setting our expectations too high definitely sets us up for disappointment.

  • Another agreement here! I have countries i haven’t massively enjoyed visiting but it doesn’t mean I’d ever tell others not to go or to write terrible things about them . As you say, everywhere is someone’s home and it’s important to remember that everywhere will be important to someone and everywhere head good and bad. I just left my home to move overseas and I’m already looking back with rose tinted specs at the place I left because I was fed up with x y and z!

    • Hi Cassie! I like how you worded it “everywhere will be important to someone.” That’s really the No. 1 reason why destination shaming is so harmful. And you have an interesting perspective of moving abroad and admiring a destination from afar. It’s OK to critique, just not shame, which you are saying. Thanks for reading!

  • Very well written post and something I totally agree with. Travellers need to respect the place they are visiting and not judge everything from a privileged perspective. You are visiting somebody’s home, and everybody loves their home. It’s sad that people say they travel to see the world, and yet cannot accept that the world can be different.

    • Hi Neha! Your last line really sums it up so well, “It’s sad that people say they travel to see the world, and yet cannot accept that the world can be different.” EXACTLY! We don’t travel to disseminate our own culture, it’s to absorb those that are diverse and so much unlike our own. Thanks for that valuable perspective!

  • Thank you for addressing this topic—travelling is such an involved experience and there’s a way for everyone to show respect to the countries that they visit.

    • Hi Mia! That’s a great way to describe travel “an involved experience.” It definitely involves all the senses, which is why it’s so magical! And yes, showing respect while abroad is a must! Thanks for reading; happy travels!

  • A very well written and relevant post it is. You pointed out really well when you say that just for one or two bad experiences, a whole country cannot be deemed unfit for travel. Every destination is travel worthy for its good and bad. One must not judge places because it is home for others. Traveling should make us more appreciative of things that we are privileged with. It should make us more sensitive to others problems. Last but not the least, it should be about learning from different traditions and culture.

    Manjulika
    #pendown

    • Hi Manjulika! Your point of “traveling should make us more appreciative of things were are privileged with” is definitely the No. 1 point I try to get across. Many of us are so privileged, it’s good to step back and think about that before blasting a company on Twitter for bugs or something minor. Thanks for reading!

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