Ever felt overwhelmed by all those list-based travel books telling you where you should go, from the world’s top nude beaches to the must visit foodie destinations? And then there’s 1000 Places to See Before You Die-it’s exhausting just thinking about it, never mind getting there. But New Yorker Catherine Price has turned the whole thing on its head with her new book 101 Places Not To See Before You Die, exposing the destinations and attractions that aren’t worth your time or your tourist dollars. From a museum in China devoted to tap water to Disneyland Paris, Price doesn’t hold back from explaining why you should steer clear. “But the book is not supposed to be anti-travel,” she explains. “It’s supposed to remind people that sometimes the travel experiences that are the worst in the moment are actually the stories you love telling later.”
Here, Price gives us her top 10 overhyped destinations (in no particular order) and explains why they shouldn’t be included on your travel checklist any time soon.
Four Corners is supposedly the exact spot where the perpendicular borders of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico intersect-the only place in the U.S. where four states allegedly come together. But Price says that recent studies prove that Four Corners is actually in the wrong spot. “The only thing you can do here is take photos of yourself with one limb in each state,” says Price, whose book includes a photo of a dog with each paw doing just that. Considering all the beautiful natural attractions in this part of the U.S. (red rock canyons, rivers and Indian ruins), she says, you’re better off spending your travel time elsewhere.
Any Hotel That Used to be a Prison
Touring a former prison during your travels? Why not, says Price. But the author draws the line at bedding down in a former bastion of suffering and misery. Case in point, the Karostas Cietums in Latvia, a Soviet-era military prison-turned-hotel that caters to guests who aren’t disturbed by the facility’s claim that more than 150 people have been shot there (the site was a detention facility until 1997). There are even special prison bunks for kids. “Guests” get the experience of being a prisoner for the night, complete with a good verbal lashing from hotel staff that tests their acting skills as prison guards. “Do I really need to pay to stay someplace where 150 people have been shot?” asks Price.
Manneken Pis, Brussels
Belgium’s most famous statue is a naked little boy doing his business in the middle of a fountain in Brussels. Tourists descend in throngs to see this statue, located a few blocks from the city’s Grand Place, for what Price considers to be a less than grand cultural outing. “It’s a statue of a little boy peeing,” she says, adding that she has a pencil sharpener souvenir of the statue (chocolate renditions are also available at souvenir shops throughout the country). “Manneken Pis translates into ‘Little Pee Man,’ so don’t go expecting anything else,” she says. In the true spirit of equality, there’s also a statue of a little girl squatting to pee (Jeanneke Pis) in a nearby alley.
Beijing Museum of Tap Water
That’s right, there’s a museum in China’s capital dedicated to that which flows freely from the taps-never mind that you can’t actually drink the tap water here (the source of the water is ok, says Price, but it’s the city’s poorly maintained pipes that render it unsafe to drink). The museum is built on the site of Beijing’s first water plant, which opened in 1910. Among the exhibits are a U.S.-made stethoscope-style instrument used to listen for leaks in pipes and a mini active tap water filtration system. “I love it that there is something as mundane as a museum dedicated to tap water,” says Price, but that’s not to say you should put it on your sightseeing list.
Ibiza on a Family Vacation
Ibiza is one of the beautiful group of Spanish islands called the Balearics in the western Mediterranean that’s home to UNESCO World Heritage sites and dreamy beaches. But if you come here looking for wholesome entertainment on a family vacation, little Jack and Jane might be in for a far from G-rated eyeful. “Ibiza has long been known as the party capital of the world, drawing hordes of hormonally-fueled visitors each summer,” says Price. The island is being pushed as a family destination, she says-an idea that has merit in the right context. “But the idea of taking your five-year-old to Ibiza and trying to get dinner at 10pm with all these people around you spraying themselves with foam and doing drugs,” is far from a family-friendly feel, says Price.
For Price, who has lived in Paris, the idea of traveling to Europe to visit the transatlantic version of the house of the mouse borders on sacrilege. “If you’re an American traveling abroad, shouldn’t you travel a bit farther than an amusement park which is so quintessentially American that is has an Aerosmith-themed roller coaster?” Even at home in the U.S., Price was never a Disney fan. “I have an early memory of a character breakfast where I hid under a table, and I remember seeing this Pinocchio nose coming at me,” she says. “It was horrifying.” And many people who come to the French version of the theme park expecting California or Florida temperatures, don’t realize that it gets very cold in France in the winter. But her larger objection, of course, is philosophical. “If you’re an American going to Europe, do not go back to America via Disneyland.”
Wall Drug in Wall, South Dakota
This former small town pharmacy that touts itself as being “home to the world’s second largest jackalope” is probably better known to people who’ve never been to America than it is to most Americans. Signs touting Wall Drug have been placed everywhere, from Kenyan commuter trains to London buses. The emphasis is on kitsch, all the way-attractions include a mini Mount Rushmore statue on display and a well pumping out free ice water in the store’s backyard. “It’s the tautology of a tourist trap,” says Price, “and is only worth visiting because of the signs that tell you it’s worth visiting.”
Luxor Las Vegas
Price deems the Luxor Las Vegas–a black glass hotel and casino on the strip modeled after the famous Egyptian pyramids-Sin City’s least worthy attraction. “It’s this massive, black pseudo-tomb that combines the despair of an existential crisis with the ambiance of a parking garage,” she says, adding that while the building may appear rather glamorous from the outside, “inside everything is dark and smells like smoke.” Certainly no place for Nefertiti. When in Vegas, Price advises, “stay in a hotel with more emphasis on daylight.”
The Top of Mount Everest
Striving to summit the world’s highest peak strikes Price as seriously uncreative. “You’re putting your own life at risk, you’re hiring sherpas and guides who put their lives at risk, and basically people have already done it before,” she says. “I think there are a lot of things in this world that are personal challenges, and it’s a personal challenge, but it’s a cliché, too.” Price admits she cannot relate to mankind’s obsession with “being on top of things.” Certainly there are other ways to seek out adventure, she says, than paying $65,000 to do something that’s already been done.
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose
Winchester Mystery House, a Victorian mansion in San Jose, CA. designed by rifle heiress Sarah Winchester “gives a sense of what happens when a multi million-dollar fortune and a belief in the paranormal are combined in a woman with no architectural training,” says Price. “There are stairs that lead to the ceiling, chimneys that stop a foot and a half short of the roof, cabinets that are actually passageways…” In 1884, a psychic told Winchester to appease angry spirits by building a house and from that day construction began and didn’t stop until the heiress’s death 38 years later. “The effect of all this-the gift shop, the mile-long tour through endless empty rooms, the near total lack of concrete facts-is to leave you feeling as if you just binged on McDonald’s: full, and yet, surprisingly empty,” writes Price in her book. With so many more worthy attractions in the Golden State, you can forgive yourself for giving the Winchester Mystery House a miss, she says.
Photo Credits: Four Corners – Getty Images; Prison Hotel – Lauren Manning, flickr; Manneken Pis – Alamy; Beijing Museum – tour-beijing.com; Ibiza – Alamy; Disneyland Paris – Alamy; Wall Drug – tkksummers, flickr; Luxor Las Vegas – MGM Resorts International; Mount Everest – STR, AFP / Getty Images; Winchester Mystery House – Harshlight, flickr