People avoid vacation spots for numerous reasons, including safety concerns, the cost of the trip, and general perceptions of the culture. But what if those perceptions are wrong? Media has a way of getting under our skin and forming ideas in our heads that are far from the truth. Here’s a list of places that have faced the brunt of media misconceptions.
Everyone’s had the misfortune of coming across one of those heartbreaking charity advertisements asking for donations to feed the starving children of poor African countries like Ethiopia. In fact, South Park aired episode after episode showcasing scrawny, malnourished Ethiopian children, one of whom was specifically nicknamed “Starvin’ Marvin.” While some rural populations do live in huts, the more urban areas are metropolises teeming with modern skyrises and thriving networks of white-collar workers.
Dirty, crowded, and underdeveloped. Those are some words generally used to describe India’s bustling city streets. People tend to forget that the country is a vast area with an overwhelmingly diverse feast of sights to explore. Ranging from the majestic Himalayan mountains to the vibrant culture and history hidden within its breathtaking temples, India is so much more than what the world envisions through its myopic media lens.
Who could forget the hilarity of Borat’s mischievous shenanigans? Well, I’m sure the citizens of Kazakhstan would prefer not to remember. Portrayed as an uneducated Kazakh “hillbilly” with a mesh of fake accents, Borat did a fantastic job of putting Kazakhstani people in a most unflattering light. On the contrary, the Kazakhstani are very well-educated and come from one of the largest and wealthiest countries in Central Asia.
On the one hand, Romania’s notorious reputation for housing vampires in its Transylvania region may deter (or attract) curious travelers. On the other hand, even the movies that feature vampires, like Dracula, have shown the hauntingly beautiful countryside that Romania should be praised for. Its picturesque towns and gothic castles are reason enough to find time to visit this remote and relatively unspoiled part of the world.
While I can’t buy a hotel in Bratislava for a nickel as the movie Eurotrip proclaims, I can say that Slovakia is not quite like the depressing and barren wasteland that the media would have you believe. Being under the radar does come with some perks – like not being overrun with tourists or having the quiet countryside at your disposal. As it turns out, Slovakia has some fantastic history, architecture, and delicious potato dumplings that visitors can appreciate if they’re able to get over those negative biases.
As someone once wrote, “Iran is made out to be the big boogeyman to the West.” This statement doesn’t surprise me one bit. Due to ongoing political strain, the negative viewpoints of Middle Eastern countries like Iran continue to be perpetuated by America’s mainstream media. Now, I’m not saying that the country doesn’t have its issues. However, most concerns regarding safety and the unfriendliness of Iranian citizens are largely unfounded.
Rwanda and other African countries are often depicted as being riddled with violence, poverty, and corruption. However, many travelers have noticed that their own experiences do not match up with how things are portrayed in the media. Travelers write about how they feel safer in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali than they do in many American cities. A popular episode from the show Geography Now has also helped dispel misconceptions and change people’s perspectives about the country. It’s now considered one of the safest places to visit in Africa.
8. New Zealand
The Lord of the Rings. I don’t know of a single living soul who doesn’t know about J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterpiece. The magical setting for the epic trilogy was filmed almost entirely in New Zealand. Those who have never visited New Zealand think of the country as predominantly mountains and sheep pastures where hobbits reside. What people generally don’t know is that New Zealand is so much more than that; the vast countryside consists of a colorful flourish of different landscapes, including tall waterfalls, hidden caves, gorgeous beaches, and majestic glaciers for all travelers to enjoy.
In light of SNL’s skit poking fun at Lithuania’s bleak reputation for being an uninviting backward wasteland, people have since spoken out against those claims. One visitor wrote, “it’s really a lovely country that people either know absolutely nothing about or have completely wrong impressions about.” With its scenic beaches and lakes, it’s also been described as “a mix between Poland and Finland”. Lithuania even boasts free healthcare and affordable education – something that the U.S. could definitely take note of.
If we’re being completely honest, cocaine’s likely the first thing that comes to mind at the mention of Colombia. Tourists and citizens can all agree that if you’re traveling to Columbia to look for trouble, you can most certainly find it. However, the country’s doing everything in its power to change that image. With the help of movies like Disney’s Encanto, that goal is slowly being reached as the media begins to take a more positive stance on cultural diversity. Stay away from “dangerous jungles, guerrilleros, and cocaine,” and you’ll find a vibrant mesh of historical culture and natural beauty like that of Antioquia province’s capital city, Medellin.
“Yes, the cartels exist but they’re not a problem most people need to think about,” as one traveler explains. When we only hear about crime rates and kidnappings, it’s difficult to look at the various positive aspects that make Mexico the world’s top expat destination. More than just basics like tacos and burritos, the local food is excellent with dishes like chilaquiles and mole poblano. The mysteries of the country’s cultural history, along with the lively folk art and music, Mexicans certainly know how to draw a crowd and make everyone feel welcome.
If you’ve never watched A Serbian Film before, consider your sheltered existence a blessing because I’m not recommending this movie to anyone of any age. Ever. I can see how the media makes life in Serbia seem like a nightmare, but none of it holds any merit coming from those who have been there before. Aside from its top-notch parks and alluring scenery, the most enigmatic part about Serbia is its unique blend of Eastern and Western culture. The fantastic hospitality, friendly locals, and delicious food are ample reasons to throw out previously held opposing viewpoints that you may have had about this country or its people.
A desolate nightmare for arachnophobes, Australia is well-known for housing hostile critters and aggressive reptiles. Whatever else we know about “The Land Down Under” likely comes from pop songs raving about vegemite sandwiches or the ever-popular Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain. In Steve Irwin’s case, he’s exactly the cliché image of the type of guy we’d expect most Australians to be like – outdoorsy, rugged, and extremely friendly. While friendly Aussies are a big part of what makes the place beautiful, we shouldn’t forget that Australia is both a country and a continent full of things to do, like enjoying a show at the Sydney Opera House, going on an immersive cultural walkabout, or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.
I know what you’re thinking. Antarctica’s not even a country! However, due to recent scientific events, this region seems painfully relevant to the conversation. Touted as extremely cold and uninhabitable (unless you’re a penguin), the harsh winters and rough winds make the place unsuitable for most visitors. Never fear; global warming is here! This area of the globe is soon becoming the next top tourist destination. Just give it another 50 years. Depending on your level of understanding of science, you either will or won’t be sorely disappointed.
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