Travel Expectations vs. Travel Reality – Part 1

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Every once in a while, travel lets us down.

Or, perhaps to put it differently, we let ourselves down by expecting one thing and being delivered another.

Sometimes, travel expectations just don’t match up to travel reality.

We build destinations up a lot in our minds. We see beautiful, postcard-perfect photos, and insert ourselves into stunning scenes of natural beauty, already picking out which photos we’ll have printed and hung on our walls once we get home.

We thumb through guidebooks and lay out ambitious itineraries of the museums we’ll visit, the restaurants we’ll eat at, and the history we’ll soak up. We imagine spontaneous connections with the friendly locals, who we’ll surely remain friends with for life. And we’re already practicing the conversations we’ll have with others when we return, sharing with them every detail of the perfect adventure we’ve just had.

Travel reality

Akatuki at Victoria Falls

But, of course, this is never how it happens. Things never go completely according to plan, and even the most-visited and most-loved destinations can rub us the wrong way under the wrong conditions.

Travel reality can strike in any destination, and strike hard.

Not every destination is postcard-perfect. In fact, most aren’t. Photoshop was invented for a reason, my friends. Cities can be dirty. Hotels can be bug-ridden. Locals can be rude, heart-wrenchingly poor, or simply disinterested in talking with you at all.

The weather can be uncooperative. We can get sick, get lost, or have commercialized culture shoved down our throats when we aren’t looking.

Many places simply cannot live up to our lofty expectations.

It happens all the time, even to the most optimistic travelers. Sometimes it’s our own fault for simply expecting too much. Other times, it’s for reasons completely out of our control.

Do we expect too much?

Wellington, New Zealand

The main reason for disparity between our travel expectations and reality is that, sometimes, we simply expect too much. We imagine everything is going to be a certain way, and, when it isn’t, we feel cheated. We feel underwhelmed, or perhaps unsatisfied with the experience as a whole.

And, often, it’s not anyone’s fault. Travel is a fickle creature. Places and people are constantly changing, and a hiccup here or there in travel plans should be expected. We probably will get rained out of at least one thing we really wanted to do. We’ll most likely get lost somewhere and feel hopeless for a brief period of time. Maybe we’ll feel homesick if we’re gone long enough, or have car trouble, or even get hurt.

Expecting too much – or overplanning, even – is often a recipe for disaster.

This isn’t to say, of course, that we should embark upon travel with a pessimistic view. We shouldn’t expect the worst in hopes of being pleasantly surprised. Because, while this may work initially, eventually this pessimism can spill over into all aspects of our lives, and we’ll approach new situations detached and expecting very little from anyone or anything.

So what’s the answer then? How do we balance high expectations with the stark realities of foreign countries and cultures?

Go with the flow

Lake Erie sunset in Sandusky

The key, I think, is flexibility and an open mind. Allowing for uncertainties, freak storms, or a spontaneous adventure can turn traveling into a totally different experience.

It’s okay to gleefully anticipate a destination. But we should take each lofty expectation with a grain of salt, realizing that nothing is ever as it appears – especially when it comes to travel. And, if something thwarts our plans or goes against our expectations, we should view it as a challenge, or a new adventure – not a sign of a doomed trip.

Better yet, why not just forego the expectations altogether? Live in the moment instead of in the expectation. Throw plans and preconceived notions out the window.

If we forget about the expectations altogether – whether good or bad – then all we’re left with are authentic travel experiences, whatever they may be.

So, instead of comparing that destination to all the photos we’ve seen of it and accounts we’ve read about it, how about just simply experiencing it as-is, right now?

I guarantee looking at travel this way will never leave you disappointed.

READ NEXT: Travel Expectations vs. Reality – Part 2

Have you had a travel experience in the past that didn't live up to your expectations? How did you handle it?

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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