The 10 greatest sights in travel are not nice views

Lockdown has made us all muse on the world's best sights and what we're missing. But you can forget the Taj Mahal and Eiffel Tower. Here's a subversive list of the top sights that really give us a thrill.


There's no sight in travel quite as good as seeing your suitcase tumble down the carousel first – especially for Australians, who've often spent 30 hours in transit and hope to beat the quarantine queue. No problem if you fly business class and your suitcase is prioritised but, for the rest of us, it's fingers crossed and eyes fixed on the chute like a dog desperate for a treat.


Barcelona, Spain - June 06, 2017: Some people expect the arriving passengers at the exit of the arrivals zone Barcelona airport. They have carrying papers with names on them. iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. Brian Johnston article about great sights in travel tra6-online-sights

Photo: iStock

Long journey, jet lag, dishevelment, apprehension at being decanted into a shabby, developing-world airport in the low ebb of night. Then the tsunami of relief as you spot your name on a board held up by a tour guide or driver. You have the urge to fall into their arms like a Victorian in a swoon, but best not. To them you're just another dazed client, stinking of the plane.


Whether you're at customs, outside a museum or inside an amusement park the last thing you want is a long queue but, considering the 1.5 billion international tourists who travelled in 2019, that's generally what you get. That makes a short queue one of travel's most welcome (if increasingly unusual) sights – and one of few pluses of the COVID era for those who can get anywhere at all.


The traveller's greatest wish isn't to see another cathedral or baroque palace, but rather a washing machine – or, even better, a free washing machine – lurking down some hotel or cruise-ship corridor like a futuristic gadget that can transform your life. Which is what it actually does. You start off dirty, daggy and crumpled, and end up feeling fresh, glamorous, born again and ready for the road.


There's truly no more blessed sight than a clean, quiet, well-ordered hotel room after a day's sightseeing in one of those destinations which, though wonderful, is characterised by chaos and sensory overload. Heaving crowds, honking horns, dust, heat, colour, cacophony, wandering cows, beggars, outsized sights, tumultuous temples... Then you swipe your key card, and your hotel room opens up like a portal into another world. Bliss.


Is it too much to hope that hotels provide an ample towel rack? Or even a peg that isn't right over the toilet or behind the door, where your unaired towel hangs limp as seaweed? The absence of a rack is especially galling when you're hectored about reusing your towel. That makes a generous, well-placed towel rack a welcome sight, though seen as rarely as Saharan snow.


Talking of hotel rooms, who doesn't want to clap eyes on a decent coffeemaker the minute they check in? OK, this is one of the latest hotel-room must-haves for the ridiculously spoiled, but caffeine deprivation knows no restraint. You can't always pop out for a coffee, and who wants room service if you're jet lagged and desperate for a shower? Bring on the coffee pods. Or at least a kettle.



Image with the interior of a german border train, with comfortable modern chairs and a mountain landscape viewed through the window. iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. Brian Johnston article about great sights in travel tra6-online-sights

Photo: iStock

You've walked the soles off your shoes, tackled a foreign-language ticket machine, descended into the earth's bowels, slunk between commuters on a crowded platform… and then you see something better than all the day's sights combined, an empty seat in a train carriage. You could almost sob for joy. Just sit down, slide into a tourist coma, and feel your feet unfurl in relief.


OK, this isn't the elusive sight it once was when travelling, but it still has the power to make you grin as if you've just found a $50 note. Which, given the rates charged by some hotels and cruise ships for WiFi, is what you might save. Failing an actual sign, just look out for tourists or crew huddled like cormorants in a corner, heads down over devices.


Kingdom of Cambodia Visa on passport iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted. Brian Johnston article about great sights in travel tra6-online-sights

Photo: iStock

It's a sweet moment when you open your passport, freshly returned to you from a consulate, and spot a new, full-page visa with its promise of adventurous travel to come. I could be a pink-and-blue Indian visa, a bright green Cambodian visa depicting Angkor Wat, or an Iranian visa splattered in looping Farsi calligraphy. It's like receiving a golden ticket. And surely it's the sight that we'd all most like to see again – and soon.

See also: Twenty things you never thought you'd miss about travelling

See also: Some of the worst things about travel are coming back