So you’ve spent the past 6 months drooling over enticing photos of your next destination.
You’ve booked flights and excursions through your travel agent, pored through guidebooks and glossy travel magazines, and have trawled every page of the internet to discover the best things to see when you arrive.
And when you finally step out into your destination, you realise… it’s not what you expected.
It’s not that the place is a dump, it’s just that photos you’ve seen must have been taken by a highly paid photographer and over saturated with layers of filters to make it look more colourful than the greyish scene in front of you. And nobody warned you about the trash on the side of the road, or the flies that keep hanging around your eyeballs, or that faint smell of pollution hanging in the air.
Sometimes, the picture you’ve painted of your destination is not the same as what it’s like in reality.
Take Paris, for example. Paris is known as the most romantic city in the world. Type the city name into the search box on Pinterest and you’ll be bombarded with millions of photos of the city of love, looking every bit as incredible as you have envisioned.
On arrival in the city, you’ll find that tourists seem to have giant targets on their foreheads and that gypsies will hound you to buy things from them hundreds of times every day. You might also get pickpocketed, have them block your path as you’re walking, or feel uncomfortable when they grab your arm to stop you leaving.
And when asking a local for help or directions, you might be taken aback when they refuse to speak English, unwilling to help tourists even find their way to a nearby public bathroom.
You’ll probably be staying in a very, very tiny apartment or hotel room. These little rooms might seem cute at first, but after a few days you’ll likely develop claustrophobia and be begging for a room that doesn’t require you to put the fold-out bed away every time you need to open the fridge .
Now I’m not saying Paris is absolutely horrible. Exploring the areas around St Germain and Luxembourg Gardens were some the best parts of my last trip. But I think if you visit Paris with the idea of it being the perfectly romantic city it’s made out to be, you’ll be rather disappointed.
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
Where do our high expectations come from?
It’s no surprise really, that our expectations are so high.
With destination information so readily accessible on the internet, you’ll easily find collections of blog posts and images informing you of what to expect once you arrive. But the articles that get shared the most are mostly the ones that inspire people. Articles or photos showing the sketchy side of a city or the problems associated with tourism will barely ever go viral.
The same goes for when friends and family talk about their trips. They’ll likely gush about how beautiful the sunsets were and how nice the food was. But what they might miss out on (and it might not be intentional) is the things that didn’t make the place so great. Subconsciously, we all love making other people jealous, so when we talk about our travels, we try to make them sound fantastic.
One thing I learnt when I was working as a travel agent is that you have to leave out the bad parts of travel if you want to sell it to people. Every customer I had in front of me meant possible commission and when commission is on the table, I had to do everything I could to sell, sell, sell. If that meant not telling them how they’ll be harassed by locals asking for money when they arrived, then that’s what I would do.
Are high expectations a bad thing?
It’s nice to be excited about your upcoming travels and for me, one of the best parts is the lead up. I love the anticipation that comes with crossing days off the calendar (well actually it’s now a countdown app on my smartphone) as my departure date gets closer.
But I think it’s incredibly important to be realistic with our expectations. As I mentioned in my 3 worst travel moments, sometimes you’re just going to have a shit travel day. Bad stuff is probably going to happen at some point, and your ideal destination may not be as glamorous as it’s made out to be.
Red Square, Moscow
Should we lower our expectations?
There have been a few countries I’ve visited with low or no expectations. When I arrived in Russia, I had almost no idea what to expect. I hadn’t really prepared myself for what it would be like, so discovering the cultural differences was intriguing and exciting. There were some difficulties with the language barrier and in many ways the country is still stuck in the communist era, but that’s what made it so fascinating.
So yes, we should lower our expectations because in reality, travel is not about visiting perfect destinations. Travel is about exploration and experiencing cultures that are different to our own. It’s about doing something different to our everyday lives and becoming aware of what else is out there. If we don’t want to go through the discomforts associated with travel, then by all means, we should stay at home.
Travel shouldn’t be, and isn’t, perfect. It’s messy and complicated and tiring, and also amazing and crazy and eye-opening. Every good traveller should be aware of this and will accept travel experiences as they come – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Do you think high expectations make travel disappointing? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!