Is It Time For Travelers to Abandon Top Ten Lists?

Large View of Top Ten Lists

I’m an avid thrifter, rummaging through thrift stores in each country I visit.

My Sis is my favorite thrifting buddy because our tastes are polar opposites.  That means, you’ll rarely see us fighting over one-of-a-kind finds in the $0.50 bin.

Contrasting tastes are perfect when thrifting, but hazardous when recommending things to do in a destination.

For this reason, I’ve started to disdain good-meaning top ten lists.

An ASS of U and ME

Take for instance this Time article who’s top things to do in Washington, DC starts, “I am not going to argue that Washington, D.C., is a fun place.  It is not, at least not by design.”

It goes on to discourage visiting places that look the same in person and on television:  “The White House, for example, is not worth the trouble, sorry to say. You are free to look at it from the outside and marvel at the snipers on the roof, but since 9/11, it has become obnoxiously difficult to get inside. The Washington Monument? The best thing about it is its starkness.”

The author’s top ten are: The United States Capitol, The National Mall, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, International Spy Museum, Washington National Cathedral, National Zoo, U Street Corridor, Gravelly Point and Malcolm X Park.

These are great places, but include such a wide range of interests that I wouldn’t recommend this list to one person.

Awe Inclusive itineraries are full of your personality, while top ten lists create expectations and make assumptions.  And remember what they say about assumptions.

For someone unfamiliar with Washington, DC the first sentence of the Time article douses enthusiasm.  Although the author was also a resident, our opinions about the city clash.

Yes, visiting the White House does take planning and very careful preparation (I’ve seen people turned away for mistakes on their personal identification submission), but it is totally worth it.  I’ve been four times in my eight years as a DC resident and would return in a heartbeat.  The rooms are themed in different colors with beautiful architecture and design – not to mention historical artifacts.

Outside you’ll see snipers on the roof and throngs of interesting people, including protesters and doomsayers.

But as much as I enjoy strolling the White House halls, I wouldn’t recommend the tour to everyone.  My brother, a veteran, may be interested in the home of the Commander in Chief.  His girlfriend who hates Home and Garden Television may not.

More Reasons Top Ten Lists Suck

Oh, yes.  There’s more.

Most lists are regurgitated information that lack creativity and create ridiculous lines.  With the vastness of the world, isn’t it odd that travelers converge on the same blocks of space – and wait hours to gain entry?

Imagine if people visited places they were truly passionate about, instead of flocking to attractions because others think it’s cool.

Top ten lists enable laziness.

Remember the old way of doing research?  Students visited the library, asked experts and sent information requests to companies.  We used such wide and varied sources of information that it was unlikely for two people to have the same paper – unless they cheated.  And top ten lists are cheats.

Travel is synonymous with exploration, adventure and transformation; following a list of recommendations is the total opposite.  Better experiences happen when we research interesting activities, talk to locals to discover unique attractions and keep expectations in check.

Saved By The Social Media Age

With the information age, and now the social media age, travelers no longer need to rely on people to create these exclusive lists.

Use Facebook’s graph search or a Twitter hashtag to ask locals you’re already connected with for suggestions.  Coupled with online searches that include your interests and your location, you can create numerous options to sort through and add to your itinerary.

Let’s not overlook the “social” part of social media.

It may be hard to believe, but some “tourists” are residents.  During summer, you’ll find Washington, DC locals watching an outdoor movie or playing softball on the National Mall.  In Winter, we’re ice skating at the Art Gallery or riding the Metro without pants.  I’d bet that other residents also enjoy their “tourist” attractions.  Next time you’re looking to fill free time, stop a local and ask.

Have questions about things you might be interested in while visiting Washington, DC?  Send a note to  We’ll offer suggestions for you to use or discard as you see fit!