Sometimes the most exciting part of travel is right before it happens. Picking a destination, choosing an Airbnb, inviting our barkada — these early stages of travel planning never fail to give us butterflies! As someone who loves to follow where her wanderlust takes her, I’m no stranger to the giddy expectations of travel. Doesn’t matter if it’s an overseas journey or a weekend escape out of town. We’re all just waiting for our next trip, looming right around the corner.
Reality, though, can be a different story. When a destination doesn’t live up to our expectations, it can dampen our spirits and make us question why we bothered to go there at all. Before you set foot in another place, here’s why fewer expectations make for smoother, worry-free travels!
Chasing an idea before you get there can let you down
Right before every trip, I imagine a montage of the person I might become after I’ve travelled there. Chalk it up to being a dreamer, I suppose. In my wildest imaginings, my travels are jam-packed with daring escapades, stunning landscapes, gorgeous coffee haunts, a brand new haircut, stylish clothes I would never wear in real life, friendships with strangers, and a series of images that would serve as profile photos for an entire year. Like a film reel of the lives I could be living.
Almost every time this happens, I get ahead of myself and trip over my expectations, scrambling to compile as many photographs and stories to fit the fantasy I’ve created. Planning a trip is one thing; expecting many rewards in return is another. It’s good to anticipate a journey and have wishful thoughts, surely. But it’s also possible to build yourself up to such amazing heights that you have nowhere else to go but down.
Comparing your travels with others is harmful
I’ve heard many people say, “Oh, that’s a nice place, but it’s not as nice as this other country I’ve been to. Here, let me show you pictures…” Even if we were to take time off Instagram, this culture of comparison would still be present in our lives. We’d hear our friends and family raving about the countries they visited, the food they ate, the souvenirs they bought. Secretly, we’d wonder about them. And despite our best efforts, it’d be really hard not to compare our trips with theirs.
When other travellers magnify their lives to make others feel bad, it builds the pressure on others to do the same as well. Some people are very eager to overshare their stories, and we can’t blame them for it. But the details they leave out of their anecdotes might be more important than the parts they exaggerate. Rarely talked about are the tourist traps, the crowds, or the little disappointments that add up.
You can’t force a place to live up to the hype
Most destinations aren’t as they appear on Instagram, and that’s okay! Maybe you caught that city on a bad day. It’s raining, the museums are closed, and you’re not sure if the friendly man who said hello to you just stole your wallet. Admittedly, it’s a humbling experience when all your travel expectations are thrown out the window. The internet told you that a place would look a certain way, but as soon as you discover that it’s not like that at all? It’s like a fantasy coming apart before your eyes.
When I started to write about travel, one of my first projects was to gather a list of architectural wonders that I thought would be pretty cool to visit someday. Apart from hoping to inspire others, I hoped that, well, just maybe, I might be able to experience these places, too. Last year, I was fortunate enough to see one of them in person. You can probably guess what happened. I got there, stood in silence, and thought, oh no. I need to change that list.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that travelling has a way of replacing our old expectations with new ones. We go back to our wishlists. We revisit the longings and dreams that we jotted down when we were younger; and with a few lessons learned over time, we revise some newfound hopes for the future. I still want to go back to the list I made, though not to scratch off that one item entirely. Just to add new discoveries there, too.
Keeping an open mind goes a long way
“Accept things as they are. Not how you want them to be.” Simple as it sounds, this expression is really hard to put into practice. Is it really possible to keep expectations low? After swiping through online photographs of waterfalls and mountain peaks that always catch the light in the right way, how does one stay close to the ground?
To be clear, we’re not saying you should travel without doing any research. Far from it. If anything, we encourage doing meticulous planning about the place you’re going to, especially if the locals speak a different language. On the other hand, travelling with an open mind can help you live in the moment — and that’s just as important, too.
The danger of setting the bar too high? You can easily get carried away, waiting for something that will never come to you.
Take every day as it comes — you’ll feel better for it!
What does it mean to have realistic travel expectations? As you can probably tell from all this intense dreaming and wool-gathering I’ve been doing, I’m no expert. But I know that by setting our travel expectations too high, we can put so much pressure on ourselves. So many times in my 20s, I’ve pinned my hopes on and betted my self-worth on travel. There’s comfort in believing that it only takes one trip before everything falls into place. “After this trip, I’ll do better. After I scratch this country off my bucket list, I’ll be happy.” It’s very tempting to think in absolutes, especially when everything is uncertain.
But travel doesn’t have to drastically change our lives to be worthwhile. For starters, we can set small goals instead of big ones. Many forces in the world are out of our control, and we can find peace just by going with the flow.
If you find that your travel life deviates from your expectations, know that it doesn’t spell the end of your journey. At TripZilla, we’ve featured many stories about travellers who’ve had to adjust their expectations during their trips. At the end of the day, they still had great experiences!
So, before you change your mind about a place, why not give it a chance to surprise you? Make room for new possibilities along the way. Certainly, one of the best things about travel is that it can catch you off guard. But that’s only when you least expect it.