On Museums and the Must-See Mentality of Travel
There’s not much I don’t like about travelling, to be honest. Sure, I get fed up of living out of a backpack sometimes and that overwhelming feeling of guilt that comes over you when you want to just lounge in bed and watch Netflix instead of wake up at the crack of dawn to hike a volcano isn’t so fun, but there’s something that annoys me more than all of that.
Must-sees. Must-dos. Must-anythings. (I think I really just hate being told what to do.)
But, what’s even worse than a must-see? A must-see museum, that’s what. Must see-museums with their overpriced entry fees and sinfully boring exhibitions that leave you feeling skint and ashamed if you do go and guilty and uncultured if you don’t. You can’t win with a must-visit museum, you see. Damn them.
I know what you’re thinking. I know. How can you hate museums?! What did they ever do to you?
Well, nothing. And that’s exactly why they piss me off. I always waste hours finding them, five minutes walking round them and then half an hour killing time so I feel like I got my money’s worth, before leaving no better informed than when I went in in the first place. (FYI, this is the reason you can totally trust me on the rare occasion I do recommend a museum.)
Come on, think about it. How many times have you been researching for a trip only to find that half of the recommendations are for stuffy museums that are ‘must-sees’ (when you know full well they’re more like ‘certainly nots’) and yet still felt obligated to go and visit them. OK, maybe you’ve got more backbone than me, but I’ve certainly been sucked in on more than one occasion.
In fact, I remember on one trip to Mérida, Mexico, a few years back now, dedicating one whole day to hitting all the ‘key’ museums because I didn’t know anyone in the area and was too self-conscious and anal to just, you know, wander around and go get a coffee. I can’t even tell you what those museums were called and I most certainly can’t even tell you what I learnt. Basically, I wasted an entire day in Mérida to walk around some museums that I didn’t even care about. I mean, Mérida for fuck’s sake! (If you’ve ever been there you’ll know why I’m so mad at myself; it’s beautiful, cultural, and full of great food.)
And all because I couldn’t fight it. I couldn’t fight that familiar gnawing, nagging feeling of museum guilt when I don’t want to walk around an exhibit that doesn’t even fall close to the Venn diagram boundaries of my collective interests, just because a guide book told me to.
But there’s my real problem with must-see museums. It’s not that I’m averse to reading or learning, or even really museums per se, it’s just that all the must-see museums seem to lie totally outside of my interests. I’m not really a history fan, which probably explains why I’m overwhelmingly meh about Mexico City’s historic centre and totally of the opinion that Mexico City’s premiere museum attraction, the Museo Nacional de Antropología, is really overrated. (Shoot me!) I’m sure for some of you, bookstores bore you to tears (you won’t want to read about my literary tours of Mexico City in that case) or you can’t think of anything worse than spending a day street art hunting in Puerto Vallarta while wearing a rucksack full of towels (yes, I actually did that). On the flip side, a ton of people probably love museum hopping while on holiday. (If that’s the case, check out my guide to all the free museums in Mexico City – that way, at least if you think they’re shit you haven’t wasted money on an entry fee.)
Basically, I’ve been lulled into this must-see travel mentality, and ended up wasting time doing things I found boring as a result.
And, omg I can’t believe I have to say this, travel shouldn’t be boring. It shouldn’t be about is a regimented ticking off of the main sights and sounds of whichever city you’re in just to feel like you’ve ‘done’ a place well and can sleep at night upon your return home. (Even though we’re all guilty of that sometimes.) It should be about having fun and spending your time and money wisely on the things that interest you. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not a competition.
I mean, look at me. I live abroad and literally travel and write for a living, but I am still suuuper guilty of all this shit. I still go to stuff because I feel obliged to do it and I still throw the words ‘must-see’ around like they’re going out of fashion, tap-tap-tapping them out on, like, an hourly basis. Literally, never mind preaching to the converted, I’m not even the converted.
I am working on it though.
This August I’ll be going to Guatemala for the first time, but due to a super tight schedule and budget, I’m skipping Tikal. Yes, the Tikal. The Guatemala must-see ruin that was even in the Star Wars films and which is, FYI, really far away from everything else and super expensive. (Ugh, even just writing about it makes me sad I’m not going though.) But look, while I’d love to go to Tikal, if you can’t think of anything worse than climbing a pyramid then, and whisper this quietly now, just don’t. It won’t invalidate your whole trip. (Also, Chichén Itzá is a total snooze fest anyway.)
Cut yourself some slack! There’s no point getting sucked into a self-hating hell spiral when planning your trip because you read on some random blog that you must eat jellied eels in London or that you just haven’t experienced Mexico until you’ve tried cows head tacos. (That statement still stands even if that random travel blog is mine, despite the fact I am a self-professed all-knowing fountain of Mexico travel wisdom.) Oh, and, for the record: I’m British and I live in Mexico and I wouldn’t put either of those devil foods anywhere near my mouth. ALTHOUGH, if shitting anecdotes are what get you off, eat all the weird food you want on your travels. Don’t come crying to me though.
Really, I guess what I’m trying to say is, despite the fact I’m an active participant, I am sooo over the whole must-see mentality dominating mainstream travel at the moment. But hey, we’ve all got crosses to bear, right? I’m doing my best, after all.