Opinion: First of all, it's not a new trend. Second of all, it's bad advice.
Another day, another novelty the kids are obsessed with on TikTok. This time it’s “dupes,” or—translated for anybody born in the previous century—a contemporary take on the “Do This, Not That” trend in travel.
The idea of a travel “dupe,” or duplicate, is to provide an alternative destination to a popular hotspot. Skip Destination X because it’s too crowded/expensive/smelly/scammy/dirty, and visit Destination Y instead. It’s definitely not a new trend, but it’s taking on new life on TikTok.
The list of popular dupes circulating right now suggests travelers skip Santorini for Paros, Sydney for Perth, and Seoul for Taipei.
I’m all for spreading the love to lesser-traveled destinations. Paros, Perth, and Taipei are all lovely places that travelers should absolutely put on their list of places to visit. But we do destinations a disservice when we fall into the rather lazy habit of describing them as “better” versions of somewhere else.
Liverpool for London
Another popular dupe is Liverpool instead of London. I understand the sentiment. Central London is a logistical nightmare on the best of days. But it’s a logistical nightmare for good reason: it’s one of the globe’s banner destinations, congested not only with tourists from around the world, but with Britons who are there to shop, work, use government services, and enjoy all the other trappings of one of the world’s most exciting cities.
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If travelers simply wanted to see “an English city” and it didn’t matter which one, they could go to any number of fabulous destinations in addition to either London or Liverpool—but they shouldn’t mistake any of them as substitutes for any of the others. You will only find Buckingham Palace in London. You will only find The Three Graces in Liverpool. You will only find the Royal Crescent in Bath, and you will only find Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
It’s also insulting to residents of these places that they’re being substituted for something “better.” Liverpool and London—to stick with the same example—are indeed both English cities, but the similarities end there. Liverpudlians have a distinctive culture and dialect of English (called Scouse), while Londoners have their own vast sources of civic pride (the Cockney accent and rhyming slang being one of many).
In short, destinations aren’t commodities. Sure, they’re a product of demand for tourism consumers, but these consumerist comparisons strip them of their individual identities, reducing communities to little more than their value to the visitor.
If Sydney is what travelers are after, they should visit Sydney. That doesn’t mean they should forego Perth—they should go there too—but they should go there fully invested in the city as its unique individual self.
A Small Caveat
However, there’s an exception to this notion of travel dupes that’s worth mentioning.
Fodor’s recently published the 2024 No List, a list of destinations that have been too well-loved, and might be in need of a dupe for visitors—primarily to protect their very existence. One of the top entries on the list, Venice, has no clear substitute (even if there is a so-called “Venice of the North”).
Visitors could see other Italian cities, but Italians would be among the first to tell you they’re not the same. Italy is a fractious country rife with strong regional identities—and rivalries—dating back centuries. Heading instead to Florence (in Tuscany) or Bari (in Puglia) simply isn’t the same, geographically or culturally.
While there’s no substitute for Venice, travelers might try to tick the box by visiting other cities within the historical territory of the Republic of Venice, which spread far beyond the Grand Canal. Overseas Venetian possessions were scattered across islands, coastal communities, and mountain enclaves in modern-day Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania—even as far afield as Greece and Cyprus.
Visitors can see Historical Venice by visiting Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, particularly the seaside communities of Split (historically Spalato) or Dubrovnik (historically Ragusa). They’ll see much of the same cultural influence, and closer historic ties than the arbitrary “nearby, and similar”.
But be sure to visit those communities on their own merits—not as dupes for Venice. Some things are simply without equal.