When we think about vacations, "Where would I like to go?" is probably the most frequent question. Peter Greenberg, the travel editor for NBC’s Today show, CNBC and MSNBC, suggests "Where should I avoid?" should also be on the list.
In Don't Go There!: The Travel Detective's Essential Guide to the Must-Miss Places of the World, Greenberg surveys a wide range of things that might cause serious pause about a particular locale or a method of getting there. Greenberg takes a worldwide look at factors ranging from the environment to weather to traffic conditions to the risk of natural disasters while still opining on such things as the worst cruises, hotels, airports and airlines.
His opinions are downright brutal at times:
- "I'm sorry. Unless you like ugly, oily beaches and a totally unimpressive waterfront, Galveston, Texas, is a definite don't-go-there destination."
- "Would I go to Haiti? Sure, but it sucks."
- Even on a good day Miami International Airport is "appropriately initialed MIA. On a bad day, it's like the last flight out of Saigon."
- South of the Border, a tourist attraction on the border of North and South Carolina, "is nothing less than a tourist trap marked by every racist stereotype you can imagine about the Mexican community." (Greenberg doesn't mention that the internet domain name for the business is "pedroland.")
- "Gaudy, clashing, and downright corny" is how he describes the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota (about 70 miles from my home). Oh yes, it's also a "fiasco" and "an eyesore."
Kind of makes you wonder what Greenberg really thinks?
As Greenberg admits in his introduction, the book is not intended to be objective. It necessarily depends in part on personal opinion and Greenberg closes with the opinions of five seasoned world travelers of places they don't want to go or return to. For the most part, though, Don't Go There combines personal knowledge and experience with extensive data from hundreds of sources. The result is a handy compendium of information that might otherwise not be readily available to or found by the average traveler.
For example, Greenberg helps explain his statement about Haiti by pointing out that when American Airlines flies from Miami to Port-au-Prince the crew stays on the plane, which contains enough fuel to return without refueling. Passengers are disembarked, new passengers get on and the plane takes off all within an hour due to risks of violence and kidnapping. In fact, some of the pilots on the daily route told Greenberg they've never left the airport despite numerous trips to the country.
Who can doubt that it is probably useful to know what your airline thinks of safety in the place it's flying you or what cities have air pollution levels that may actually cause breathing problems or those that literally have toxic waste issues? Don't Go There combines such material with basic information, such as the most expensive cities, the dirtiest hotels in the U.S., cruise ships with three or more reported illness outbreaks from 2002 to 2007, dangerous theme parks, and where and when a traveler is likely to encounter traffic bottlenecks.
Given the wide range of topics, the book has the inherent problem that some material may not be pertinent to every reader. That downside is offset in two ways.
First, Greenberg is not afraid to bring a sense of humor to the topic. Even though it may not impact your particular travel plans, there's at least entertainment value in reading the "Lamest Claims to Fame" (such as the Minnesota community that bills itself as the "Sink Hole Capital of the U.S.A.") or which cities have the highest per capita fast food consumption (Greenville, North Carolina, tops the list).
Second, and most important, the breadth of information makes the book useful regardless of whether you're an occasional or frequent traveler or whether you travel outside the U.S. or prefer a driving vacation. As such, Don't Go There is a worthy addition to almost any traveler's library and certainly public libraries.