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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Top secrets of travel writers: #1 hidden gems are kept hidden for good reason

This is the first in a series of posts on the top secrets of travel writers, partly inspired by The Traveler’s Notebook’s Top 5 Secrets Travel Writers Won’t Tell You, however, my posts won’t be devoted to the perks of the job but rather the stuff travel writers don’t tell you and the things we don’t always write about, and why. Let’s start with hidden gems. We've all seen stories like 'The Hidden Gems of Hawaii' or 'Barcelona’s Secret Spots' or 'Off-the-beaten-track Turkey'. Whilst those recommendations might not be places you’d typically see on the tourist circuit, they’re more likely to be popular local favorites rather than ‘hidden gems’, those wonderful out-of-the-way places that people don’t want you to know about. Why? Locals rarely reveal their secrets spots because they don’t want to see their secluded beaches overcrowded with tourists, beer prices go up at the local pub, or find that they suddenly need to reserve a table at a restaurant they’ve been casually dropping into for years. As for writers, they don’t want to start seeing travellers crowd their neighbourhood favorites or see charming backstreet eateries or bars they’ve discovered while researching cities overran with tourists one day. Because when that happens the very thing we found appealing in the first place – the relaxed charm, laidback style and local atmosphere – disappears. I’ll never forget a restaurant in Buenos Aires that's in all the guidebooks… the reviews suggested it was a local favorite, the food was fine, staff friendly, and atmosphere romantic. The night we went the food was hit and miss, the staff distant and inefficient, and while the place was moodily-lit, there wasn’t a single ounce of atmosphere. Bored-looking tourists and their guidebooks occupied every table. Like us, they were probably wondering if it was the right restaurant. Where were the romance, atmosphere, affable staff, and good food? Probably lost long ago, when locals stopped coming, and the chef and staff lost interest. We crossed it off our list. But as we were living nearby we walked past once or twice a week, to make sure we were justified in doing so. We were. This is why hidden gems are kept that way. Our favorite Buenos Aires restaurant? Sorry. That's our little secret. The beach pictured? Um… it’s on the west coast of Australia somewhere…


Michael Esposito said...

Nowadays I don't seek out a place for being out of the way, but rather seek out an out-of-the-way aspect of a place that people think they know. Or, maybe it's not that it should be hidden, but at least no one or few people be there when I'm there.

The irony of a hidden gem reminds me of a Bugs Bunny cartoon featuring him landing on the moon and taking a walk around, thinking that he's the first living creature to set foot there. While he's walking you can see some graffiti scrawled on a rock with the popular WWII message "Kilroy was here."

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Michael

I love that approach too! Finding new ways of seeing familiar places.

And I just love your Bugs Bunny reference! Very funny!