While I have been featuring places I dream of traveling to and exploring (my “must see” list), it’s a pretty loose list. I don’t take it too seriously: just neat places that might not make it onto the typical tourist’s radar. But there are plenty of lists that people make that are more serious. Who could forget the seven wonders of the world? Then, of course, there’s the UNESCO World Heritage sites, the US National Park Service has their passport program (which was a favorite of mine as a child), The Travelers’ Century Club for travelers who’ve visited 100 or more countries and territories not to mention that every major magazine or newspaper has a list of sites you just have to see before you die.
But: do they matter?
In some cases, certain sites are on must see lists and have become tourist traps for a reason. They’re simply impressive and amazing. Who wouldn’t like to see the Eiffel Tower at least once or the Coliseum in Rome? But do you really need to see them up close? Or are you satisfied with appreciation from afar?
The accolade of being included as a “must see” destination isn’t without its challenges. The concerns for the future of Machu Picchu due to increased tourism and demand for access is well documented and the site is deteriorating. Mount Everest has faced similar challenges and has told climbers they have to bring back the trash that’s covering the mountain or else.
There are plenty of travel experts who will tell you to skip the tourist hotspots and the must see sites. In some cases, it’s because they’re not worth the hassle of fighting the crowds while in other cases there might be a similar site at a different location that isn’t as well known. It’s all about prioritizing what you want to see and doing research on what your options are.
When traveling, do you focus on seeing the places on “The List” or do you prefer to explore with your heart?