The number one question people tend to ask when they find out what I do is easy enough to guess—What’s your favorite country?—but much harder to answer. I’ve been to—well, who really knows at this point?—but likely between 70 and 80 countries, and how do you even go about picking a favorite? Well, I guess it depends on your determining factors. Culture? Morocco. Off-the-beaten-path-ness? Romania. I could live there for the rest of my days? Portugal. Adventure sports, adrenaline opportunities? New Zealand. Will someone bring me another boat drink while I bask in this most perfect paradise? The Maldives, Cook Islands, the Great Barrier Reef, *insert one of a dozen tropical destinations I love and to which I can’t wait to return.*
But the other day I got a much easier, more interesting question posed to me via cyberspace: What are your least favorite countries? Now, this is a question I can get behind. It’s probably going to make me unpopular with a handful of tourism boards—not to mention many of you who either hold these places near and dear to your heart or, much worse, live in them—but here are a few places I have no plans to revisit anytime soon.
- Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. I’m sorry, but I absolutely hated the stretch of country that I saw. I was on the Punta Cana side for a story for Real Simple, and it was so sad to me how there was a littering of resorts on the east side of the country, totally walled off from the actual towns and their people, completely separated from reality. The dichotomy of the rich travelers in the resorts and the poor villagers was too much to bear. The handful of resorts I did visit lacked both hospitality and basic services like electricity (apparently, it’s perfectly normal for the power to go out multiple times a day…forget maintaining a normal hygiene routine). I went scuba diving and the coral was bleached and the marine life non-existent. I also didn’t dig the people at the resort saying it wasn’t wise to actually get out and see a little of the DR, for safety reasons. Why would I even want to visit a country and not see any of it, but just stay in my own little hotel box? If that were the case, I would have remained in the States and gone to Florida. And had I known I was going to be hotel-bound the duration of my trip, I likely would have opted for elsewhere in the Caribbean (Dominica, Montserrat, Bonaire, wherever). Overall, my worst trip to date. The good things? Pretty sunsets and I learned to trapeze.
- Helsinki, Finland. It could be that whole cab debacle that tainted my experience, but having lived in Denmark and spent some time in Sweden and Norway, as well, I found Helsinki to be a bit drab and nowhere near as enticing as Scandinavia’s other big players. Lapland, however, I will give a shot…one day.
- Guatemala. I wanted to LOVE Guatemala, I really wanted to, but I just…didn’t. Neither did SVV. Lago Atitlan was beautiful (unfortunately, we started our trip here and everything else was downhill after that), but Antigua was a major disappointment. I’d heard so much hype from friends who had been there before, but we just found it Little America. Everyone was an American expat and spoke English. Chichicastenango did not live up to the hype, not even close: It’s played up as “the best market in Central America,” but as a global market shopper with a discerning, I came away with an outfit for my nephew and a purse for my niece and that’s it. Guatemala City was just dirty and rundown (as we knew it would be, but we had to fly in and out of there after all). Also, it rained our entire two weeks there, and there’s not a whole lot to do indoors. Aaaaand we got bed bugs in Monterrico. Awesome. I won’t say I’d never go back to Guatemala, but if I do, it will be a side trip to Tikal (Star Wars rebel base!) when next I’m in Belize.
- Brussels, Belgium. I’ve been to Belgium a handful of times. The first was on Spring Break in college, and then on other occasions while living in Holland. I love Antwerp and Bruges with every ounce of my soul. And Brussels was where Scott and I first drunkenly made out while at a conference at the European Parliament. Nevertheless, I find the city too industrial for my liking.
- Fes, Morocco. I could have stayed a month in Marrakesh. I had the time of my life in the Sahara. I thought Essaouria was stunning in its coastal beauty. Chefchaouen, its center painted entirely in blue, was a marvel. But Fes? I don’t get the appeal. I constantly felt as if I were going to get pickpocketed, and the tight medina with its multitude of hustlers chasing us for blocks did not really a pleasant experience make. I tasted my first pigeon here, so at least there’s that.
- Cuba. I won’t say Andi and I didn’t have a great time—we did. And I won’t say we didn’t experience our share of travel trauma—we did that, as well. But I was honestly expecting so much more from this forbidden fruit than what I saw. Likewise, the food was terrible until we finally wised up our last night and ate at our casa particular, after which her husband gave us salsa lessons (the best part of the visit, by far). Perhaps had our pleas to rent a car been granted and we had made it down to Trinidad, as well as out to la Isla de la Juventud (we had tickets well in advance, but alas, the plane never left the ground), my Cuban memories would have been a bit fonder. As it stands, Havana has some impressive colonial architecture and Playas del Este was beautiful (yet locals weren’t allowed on the same stretch of sand as tourists), but I have no immediate plans to return.
- Singapore. Singapore was clean and green and the food was good and the people were nice, and it’s not that I in any way found it non-charming or unlikable. It’s just that it’s so teensy-tiny, I feel like I saw what I need to see and, thus, should spend my time exploring new territory. End of story. Haters, go ahead and hate.
- Roatan, Honduras. On the same trip as Guatemala, so maybe I’m not given it a fair shake due to our terrible luck with weather. The diving was fine (I’ve experienced better), and our dive resort Anthony’s Key was nice enough (though the food was so terrible it’s as if the place was implying I needed to be on a diet), but honestly, we circled the whole island and I saw very little that made me in a hurry to book a ticket back.