Hopefully you didn’t let out an audible groan when you read today’s post title because you’ll get no argument from me that this ranks highly amongst so-called “First World Problems.” And yet for anyone who travels, be it near or far, prolonged or a quick jaunt, we all have moments or entire trips that leave us feeling underwhelmed. When we plan a trip most of us spend a long time sorting out all of the details, doing research and anxiously anticipating that moment when we leave home and travel to see something new and different. The last thing any of us want is to have a less than amazing experience and yet, travel being what it is, that is almost certainly bound to happen. The trick is not let it get you down and instead us it as an opportunity and not a depressant.
Why are we disappointed?
One of my first posts more than five years ago talked about the fact that there really is no such as a dream trip, and yet so many of us plan just for that one amazing adventure. There is absolutely nothing wrong with daydreaming about a future trip, I do it every day. However, this daydream becomes a roadblock once it becomes too outlandish. It is suddenly not good enough to fly somewhere, it has to be first class. It’s not good enough to spend a week in the Caribbean, it has to be a month long cruise of French Polynesia. This concept of an ultimate dream trip is crippling to the average person who doesn’t travel very often. According to recent statistics, about 30% of Americans own passports and far fewer travel internationally every year. That means that if these numbers remain constant, then at least four of every five people will NEVER leave the US. In today’s over-connected world and the ease in which you can go just about anywhere, I find it sad that so few will ever leave the country. Fear and economics are major reasons for this inability to take action – fear of a new country, city, language, food or a multitude of other reasons. The major fear though is that whatever trip a person takes won’t live up to their preconceived notion of the ultimate dream trip.
Don’t travel to see the postcard, instead travel for your own unique moment in time. This will accomplish a couple of things. It means you’ll be open to the idea of traveling more often but it also means that you won’t be disappointed. A few months ago someone told me they were disappointed when they learned that the Great Pyramids were in fact very close to Cairo and not in the middle of a desert somewhere. That statement still confuses me – why would they be disappointed? The pyramids are amazing no matter where they are and it would have taken all of five minutes of research to learn that they are located on the Giza plateau next to Cairo. But that’s a great example of how easy it is for all of us to be disappointed when we travel. Instead of marveling and feeling humbled at one of man’s greatest engineering feats, she was more concerned that there was a Pizza Hut across the street from the Sphinx. Granted, that’s unfortunate, but in everything we do, not just travel, it’s much easier and more satisfying to look for the positive instead of the negative.
We will not like some places
This is a travel truth as basic as airplane food is bad and hotels really hate it when you try to check in before noon. We are each of us unique personalities made up of a billion cells totally unlike anyone else’s on this planet. That means we have different tastes, likes and dislikes. With that comes the somewhat sad fact that we will just not click with every place we visit. This has happened to me several times and every time I write about these albeit rare instances, the negative comments are staggering. I name cities that other people love, that they treasure, and to hear that someone else doesn’t like the same city calls into question their own feelings. But it shouldn’t, far from it. Just because I don’t like Florence doesn’t mean that Florence is an inherently flawed city or that it’s not worthwhile to visit. All it means is that I personally – Matt from Washington DC – didn’t like the experience there. I don’t think Florence is evil or totally devoid of merit, instead my one experience there was negative. We all have these times when we travel, wherever it may be, that we don’t like places and we shouldn’t feel guilty about that! Of course I more than understand where that guilt comes from. We all save up our money and our time off and plan that great escape and so naturally we want everything to be perfect and happy. But that’s not travel. Travel comes with its own unique sets of ups and downs just like everything else in life and ultimately, it’s those positive and negative moments that make trips the most memorable. If we didn’t have a less than stellar experience somewhere, then there’d be no comparison point for those cities and experiences that we truly love. Not liking a city is just part of the yin and yang of travel, so instead of looking at it as a waste of time, think of the entire trip more holistically and realize that these fluctuations happen and that it’s ok.
Analyze, rethink and plan
Instead of feeling down when this very inevitable feeling of disappointment comes up – use it as an opportunity to learn and do something different. When this happens to me I always try to analyze the situation. Was it me? Was I in a bad mood, which in turn colored my feelings about a certain city? In regards to Florence, my partner and I had gotten into a horrible argument on the train ride down to the city. The day was ruined and nothing was going to make me happy. It was only upon reflection that I realized that in all likelihood it wasn’t Florence, it was me. That means if given the opportunity, I’d be more than willing to revisit and try it again. In other instances, like Toronto, I have given the city many opportunities to redeem itself but nothing clicks. I just don’t enjoy being there as a tourist (living there however must be awesome) and so I think I’m pretty much done playing tourist in Toronto. A good example of a city redeeming itself, at least for me, is Ghent in Belgium. When I first visited I did a horrible job at researching the city. The result was that I missed most of the reasons why it’s a fun city to visit and instead left down and grumpy. A year later I had the chance to return and on that second trip I made sure I researched and did it the “right” way. The result was that I loved Ghent. I enjoyed my several days there sightseeing, eating at canal-side restaurants and just soaking in the culture of the city. If I had let my initial disappointment serve as my only exposure to Ghent, I would have missed what really is a lovely city. So try to stand back, take out the emotions and look at this rare feeling of travel disappointment in as analytical a way as possible and try to decide if it was you or the city that was at fault.
Disappointment happens all the time when we travel. We don’t get that upgrade, the hotel looks a lot different in person than online and that dream city we’ve been pining for is actually kind of awful. Accept it as just a part of life, don’t let it affect the rest of your trip and no matter what remember that you’re experiencing something new and different and that overall is a very positive thing.
What are some of your underwhelming travel experiences?