Traveling to a new city? Gone are the days when you could seek out a relatively unknown local haunt with killer food and great drinks.
Looking for a secluded beach? Sure you can find one, and the reason it’s secluded is because it sucks.
Want to attend a festival? If it’s worth a damn, you can be sure it will be packed with folks just like you.
The internet, social media and review sites like Yelp have ushered in the hidden gem’s death. Millennials will never again experience the risk of venturing to some remote corner and braving an untested meal. Online reviews have all but ensured the cream rises and the shit falls. I assume the worst places are kept afloat by an older generation unaccustomed to deliberate option weighing, but eventually that will fade.
I don’t judge this trend too harshly. My valuable dollars are better spent on one sure thing than wading into a dozen streams hoping for a catch. Take craft beer, for example. An overwhelming influx of new breweries makes keeping track a challenge. Beer Advocate allows people to rate each brew they drink and turn their courage into a safe filter for those looking to try something delicious on the spot. I reference the site when I’m making decisions so I can derive maximum enjoyment for each beer I drink.
On the other hand, diving in without a safety net is thrilling. Life experiences are not only the highlights, but the lowlights. And the spaces in between. When you remove any uncertainty, you’re left with a flawed decision making mechanism. Choices we make, bad and good, shape us. Like immune systems, we need a little bit of bad luck in order to keep us alert and healthy. The stories resulting from an exceptionally crappy incident are often infinitely better than those where everything went off without a hitch. We miss those when we’re tiptoeing along the paths traveled before us.
My gripe is simpler, though. Everything is so damn crowded. Savvy planning packs key spots and events unlike ever before.
Big cities always have two major scenes, those for the tourists and those for the residents. Review sites have broken that barrier now, too. While kitschy eateries and famous bars drew visitors in the past, people now hunt for the most authentic experience. The result is more outsiders at beloved locales and locals looking for a new location to relocate.
Events are even worse. Take Disney’s International Food & Wine Festival. My first trip to the annual celebration was back in Oct. 2011. Three days in Florida during an off peak time allowed us to hit most major attractions in all four theme parks and still had time to enjoy the multicultural fare from Epcot’s food kiosks. The stark contrast between the thinness of those crowds relative to the busy summer months was a dream. Any stereotypes about long lines vanished before my eyes. Flash forward to 2013. In two short years, the secret was out. Disney marketing convinced people to vacation in the offseason and crowds approached early summer levels. This kept me far away in October 2014.
Closer to home, there was the infamous Bacon Fest NY 2012. Capitalizing on the incessant trend of fetshisizing bacon that’s plagued our culture over the past five to ten years, someone decided this event had to exist. Organizers expected 500-1,000 people and planned accordingly. The result was almost 3,000. Jesus Christ, people. Bacon is good, sure, but does it require the over the top obsession we’ve placed on it? Featuring bacon in ice cream or beer or any other dish screams, “Look how hip we are.” Same goes for the hordes that get giddy over it.
Sorry for the interlude. Tangents will kill you. Especially while driving.
One can see this trend most conspicuously in the expansion of “Con” culture. Comic Conventions used to be havens for a certain sort of enthusiast, removed from the mainstream. Now San Diego Comic-Con attracts more people than ever before. And they aren’t just from nerd culture. The move towards mass appeal has opened the floodgates. Other less famous conventions, like NYCC, have seen visitor numbers swell recently. The result is more famous guests and exponentially longer lines.
If a person or place does something well today, you can be sure it’ll be mobbed tomorrow. Word of mouth spreads like stage four cancer. We have two choices: join the masses in an abbreviated high quality experience or slog through a mediocre one. Some things are worth doing, no matter how crowded. People will always make the trip out to the beaches on July 4th. Or to visit family on Long Island for Thanksgiving. No amount of assured stress deters them. But maybe, just maybe, every once in a while it’s worth removing the training wheels, going against the grain, cutting away the safety net and any other cliche in favor of creating your own unique adventure. It may just end in utter failure, but at least you’ll have a story for your valor.