Worst travel experiences: The annoying things we love to hate about travel

No one likes Starbucks. Or at least, no one admits to liking Starbucks. But then, there you are in a foreign country where the coffee is average and the facilities are questionable and all you really want is a half-decent cafe latte and a place to sit for an hour. So, what do you think of Starbucks now?

This is the thing about travel: there are plenty of establishments and services that we proclaim to despise, that we love to disparage and generally try to avoid. But the truth is that most of them have their place. Most will come in handy at one point or another in your travelling life. And some are absolutely essential.

You will always need airports and airlines when you travel, much as you probably dislike them. You will always need a place to stay each night. You will always need taxis and buses. You will always want something to eat. This is part of the day-to-day of the traveller's life. The key is often survival.

With that in mind, we take a look at some of the "love to hate" elements of the travel experience and examine how not just to get through them unscathed, but to actually enjoy them. It's cafe latte time!


WHAT THEY SAY You have the culinary world at your feet when you travel – amazing local dishes, endless opportunities to soak up history, personality and culture while sating your appetite. So why waste precious stomach space on fast food joints and multinational coffee chains?

WHAT WE SAY There's a time and a place for dodgy fast food, an airport, for example, where the normal culinary rules don't apply and you just need something quick and easy. This can also be comfort food for the homesick, or oddly enough, the best option for coffee in certain countries where it's not generally very good.

WHAT'S TO LOVE To begin with, clean and free toilet facilities, which in some countries makes your local fast food chain easily worth calling into for a snack. There's also free Wi-Fi. And the coffee might actually be better than the local stuff.

ESSENTIAL TIP If you must eat somewhere like McDonald's, amuse yourself by trying local menu variations. Maccas in New England, for example, serves lobster rolls.


WHAT THEY SAY Airports are the traveller's worst nightmare, an unmitigated and yet necessary evil for anyone who wants to travel a long distance. These hubs are universal rip-offs, where food and drink require the taking of a second mortgage, plus they're cramped, uncomfortable and force you to stand in line for hours.


WHAT WE SAY All of the above is true, yet there's something to love about an airport, something romantic and thrilling about all these people going to all these places that is always worth tapping into. This is also a chance to decompress, to sit back with an admittedly expensive coffee or glass of wine and forget about the stresses involved with getting yourself to that point.

WHAT'S TO LOVE Lounges where you're treated like an actual human being. Also, lounge or no lounge, the excuse to have a glass of champagne at 10 in the morning is always welcome. Remember, normal rules don't apply at airports.

ESSENTIAL TIP Plan your journeys to take you through some of the world's best hubs. Travel through Singapore, Tokyo, Munich or Seoul and you'll appreciate just how great an airport can be.


WHAT THEY SAY Gargantuan casinos of the sea that float into port and belch about 10,000 camera-toting tourists into a small town before heaving anchor a few hours later, with no money spent, and disappearing over the horizon. Also, shuffleboard.

WHAT WE SAY If you think the above is the beginning and the end of cruising, then you need to use your imagination. Cruising is a huge and varied industry, something that can take you all over the world, from the narrowest rivers to the widest oceans. Cruising is trips to Antarctica. It's the Galapagos. And yes, it's also shuffleboard if that's your thing.

WHAT'S TO LOVE You unpack your bags once, and that's it. The hotel moves with you on a cruise. You can also choose your adventure, whether you want small-ship cruising to exotic locations, or you want family-friendly action on a larger vessel, or something luxurious and boutique through popular destinations. There's a cruise for everyone.

ESSENTIAL TIP There might be a cruise for everyone, but there's also a cruise that everyone will absolutely hate. Ensure you do your research and get on a journey and a vessel that suits your needs.


WHAT THEY SAY The world's cheapest carriers are little more than shady rip-off merchants trying to catch their clients out with hidden costs and fees. They're also cramped, the food is terrible, the service average and they're usually late.

WHAT WE SAY The enjoyment (or at least survival) of budget carriers is all about attitude. If you go into this expecting five-star service and comfort, then yes, you will be disappointed. If, however, you go in braced for the bare bones of the flying experience, you'll get to where you need to be with minimum fuss.

WHAT'S TO LOVE The price, obviously. You get to fly around the world to locations exotic and distant, and you barely have to scrape together a few hundred dollars for the privilege. Yes, the on-board food is pricey and the service bad, but budget carriers have democratised travel, and that can't be a bad thing.

ESSENTIAL TIP Take care to read the fine print – ensure your baggage is the right size and weight, for example, and that you've checked in and printed your boarding pass if that's necessary – and your experience will be as cheap and painless as possible.


WHAT THEY SAY Who would want to share a bedroom with a bunch of stinky ingrates who just boast about all of the places they got to before everyone else spoiled them, all while dining on two-minute noodles and complaining about the locals?

WHAT WE SAY Those are outdated ideas of what backpackers and hostels can be. You might have to share a room with other travellers, but you can also take a private room if you prefer. Modern-day budget travellers are a lot more diverse than they used to be, taking in a range of ages, nationalities and attitudes.

WHAT'S TO LOVE Backpacker hostels offer cost-effective ways for all travellers to move around the world. They provide cheap, clean and comfortable accommodation with all the mod-cons, free kitchen facilities, affordable laundry facilities and a great social atmosphere.

ESSENTIAL TIP There are hostels and there are hostels. Before you book, read reviews and ensure the place you're booking will appeal to you. Check that it has private rooms, modern facilities and isn't known as a party hostel.


WHAT THEY SAY Taxis are another of the travelling world's necessary evils, an exercise in trust in your driver and faith in the universe that you'll get where you need to go without being too badly ripped off or crashing into anything.

WHAT WE SAY Taxis are, indeed, a necessary evil, one that can bring about all sorts of angst in a foreign country where you don't really know the laws and customs. But there are ways to mitigate that angst, including doing research on prices and directions, and using app-based services such as Uber, Grab and Lyft.

WHAT'S TO LOVE A taxi ride can be a lot of fun and is a huge part of a travel experience. Taxis aren't just cars after all, but tuk-tuks and rickshaws, motorbikes and minivans. Getting from A to B is what travel is all about.

ESSENTIAL TIP If you're in a country where haggling is required to settle on a price, make sure you do that before you begin the journey. Ask around at your hotel to get an idea of what a reasonable price for your trip will be.


WHAT THEY SAY These herds of bumbling tourists who all blindly follow a microphone-wearing tour leader clutching a little flag on a pole, clog pavements, block photos, overrun attractions and ruin the travel experience for everyone.

WHAT WE SAY Sure, some of the larger tour groups can be annoying if they're not managed properly. But here's the flip side: when you're on a tour, life is good. When you've chosen a trip that appeals to you, setting you on an adventure with a reasonably-sized group of like-minded travellers, this can be a truly amazing and stress-free way to see the world.

WHAT'S TO LOVE Tours take the hassle out of travel, particularly if you're heading somewhere challenging and worry about safety and logistics. For solo travellers, tours also offer the chance to meet people and move with safety in numbers.

ESSENTIAL TIP As with cruises, if you're going to take a tour, you need to ensure it's right for you, otherwise you'll end up on a holiday from hell. Do your research before booking.


WHAT THEY SAY Nothing makes you feel more like a clueless tourist than visiting a cliched, crowded attraction. Mixing with the hordes at sites such as Times Square, Hollywood's Walk of Fame, the Spanish Steps or the Leaning Tower of Pisa is unimaginative tourism at its worst.

WHAT WE SAY Not every tacky attraction is going to appeal to every traveller, and there are certainly a few that will leave visitors scratching their heads and thinking, "Why is this thing famous?" However, some of the world's most popular attractions heave with visitors for a reason – they're amazing. Places such as the Colosseum, the Sagrada Familia and the Eiffel Tower, to name a few, are unmissable.

WHAT'S TO LOVE These are some of the most impressive sights in the world and they're well worth doing battle with a few hundred thousand of your closest friends to witness. Sometimes it's worth seeing these places just for eyebrow-raising amusement.

ESSENTIAL TIP Visit the most popular attractions at the least popular times. That means going very early in the morning or the late evening, or travelling in low season, when there will be fewer people around at all times.


WHAT THEY SAY Is there any sadder and more lonely experience than taking off on a holiday on your own? All those magic moments unshared, romantic sunsets unappreciated. Those bottles of wine undrunk. Those photos untaken. No one wants to do that.

WHAT WE SAY Reconsider everything you think you know about solo travel. Taking off on your own isn't sad, it's incredible. It's life-changing. There will, of course, be lonely moments on your solo travels but overall this is not something to fear, and certainly not something to hate. It's empowerment in holiday form.

WHAT'S TO LOVE Solo travel is the chance not just to get to know the world, but to get to know yourself, to see what you're capable of when you have your own wits to rely on. Solo travellers meet people and they have amazing experiences. Everyone should do it.

ESSENTIAL TIP If you're going it alone for the first time and feel unsure of what you're taking on, it's worth softening the blow by taking a tour or spending some of the time away on a tour. You will likely be with other solo travellers who will be happy to tag along with you sometimes and let you do your own thing at others.


WHAT THEY SAY What sort of reasonable, intelligent traveller would allow themselves to be led into a tacky souvenir shop, where tea towels and key rings scream nothing but lack of imagination? These touristy stores are often the places where you get ripped off while buying the exact same thing as everyone else.

WHAT WE SAY Tacky souvenirs should be treated as objects of fun. Yes, your snow globe and your fridge magnet probably aren't the most imaginative souvenirs in the world and you paid far too much for them, but if they remind you of a place and time that's important, they've done their job, right?

WHAT'S TO LOVE Souvenirs are simple reminders of where you've been and how you felt when you were there. It's better, of course, to find something unique and beautiful to take home with you but that doesn't always happen.

ESSENTIAL TIP Remember, you're doing this for you. No one else. If you find something you like, something cheap and easy to carry and which you'll enjoy looking at when you get home, you should buy it with no shame.



Pity poor Canberra, which remains unrecognised by much of the outside world, and scorned as the land of roundabouts and public servants by those of us who are familiar. Of course, there's far more to Australia's capital than those tired cliches, including a vastly improved food scene, world-class galleries and museums, natural attractions, micro-breweries and wineries, and the excellent Australian War Memorial. See visitcanberra.com.au


Here is a city that was created in its entirety in about 50 years, springing from the desert floor like a geyser of oil – and yet someone forgot to include the culture. That's the general opinion of Dubai, a city of skyscrapers and superhighways and money, money, money, but a paucity of authentic attractions. That, however, would be to completely ignore areas such as Deira and Al Karama, which are as culture rich as anywhere. See visitdubai.com


For a while there Phuket came to represent everything that a certain brand of traveller despised: the huge resorts, the tacky nightlife, the fly-in fly-out style tourism. But there's far more to Phuket Town, and indeed the entire island than those narrow experiences, including plenty of unique culture, good food, flawless beaches, and excellent snorkelling and scuba diving. See tourismthailand.org


There's so much about South America that's mysterious and exciting, adventurous and thrilling. And yet on face value the gateway to the continent, Santiago, offers none of those things. This is a drab business city with little to entice visitors. But, dig a little deeper. Discover the city's culinary scene. Hang out in trendy Lastarria. Party in Bellavista. Visit Pablo Neruda's house. That's a few days already taken care of. See chile.travel


Some people love Vegas, some people hate it. Most of us, however, swing rapidly between those two emotions at any given point in the day, depending on the people, depending on the location, depending on – in that beautiful Las Vegas way – luck. Yes, this city is tacky and brash and loud. But when the stars align it's also a huge amount of fun. See lasvegastourism.com



These are, of course, absolutely necessary. But that doesn't mean we have to like them. And why do the queues have to be so long? And why do fellow passengers have to be so clueless? (Yes, you have to take off that enormous necklace.) And why do you always seem to be the one getting swabbed for explosives?


Again, we recognise the absolute necessity of having border personnel around the world check your passport before you enter their country. But there also seems to be an unwritten and unnecessary rule that these guards have to be surly and unsmiling. The absolute most you can hope for is a simple grunt and a stamping of your passport and on you go.


Small caveat on this one: if you're flying at the front of the plane, long-haul flights most definitely do not suck. May they go on for days, as far as we're concerned. For everyone else though, long-haul air travel is an exercise in patience and endurance, an experience that you just have to get through to get to the other side of the world and enjoy yourself.


You could also call this Delhi belly, or pharaohs' revenge, or Montezuma's revenge, or just plain old food poisoning. Regardless of its title, this is one of the most singularly unpleasant experiences a traveller can go through, and something that's very difficult to properly guard against. You will get sick. You will not enjoy it.


Flight delays, train delays, traffic delays – you name it, we hate it. There's really no way to enjoy having to sit around for longer than you anticipated, waiting for things to happen. You could read a book or listen to music or ponder what else you could be doing with your life at this specific moment. But mostly you'll just sit and wait.