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Do high expectations make travel disappointing?

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.

Paris, France

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

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.

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

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.

Moscow, Russia

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!


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Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

14 Responses to “Do high expectations make travel disappointing?”

  1. Samantha Angell

    I definitely agree with this post! High expectations can definitely lead to disappointment while traveling. When I visited Prague, I was disappointed because everybody had said how beautiful and stunning the city was- yet all I saw was graffiti everywhere. When I visited Paris, I was pleasantly surprised because everybody I knew had strongly disliked the city- so I was amazed to actually enjoy my time. I try to not form too many preconceived notions while traveling, because they can definitely lead to disappointment!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I think it really makes the world of difference! I know what you mean about Prague, it’s one of those places that everyone talks up (and understandably, it is beautiful) but at the same time it has some bad aspects. I disliked the insane number of tourists there, and we also saw some people shooting up in the streets. But then theres other places that people have told me are dangerous or dirty, and I’ve actually found them really lovely!

      Reply
  2. MissLilly

    Yes, I have to agree with you. The first time I went to Paris it was pretty much the same, had really high expectations and then didn’t found it that amazing. Once I went there for work, because I had lowered my expectations, I managed to start enjoying it! With Venice, my sister lowered my expectations so I was expecting something worst and then I did enjoyed it for its uniqueness!
    Recently, when I decide to travel somewhere it means I’m expecting to find nice places (or food!) but I try to find local blogs that will share something for locals and bypass the touristic photos.
    Another interesting one, I was born in south Portugal, if you search for pictures, it will show this gorgeous and almost desert beaches! Those photos were taken in a sunny day in winter!!! In summertime it tends to be really crowded. So make your research and be open about what you expect to see. If you have such high expectations you may get disappointed, but if you accept the unknown you’ll be more open to explore and get surprised 🙂
    Really good post, thanks!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks for sharing your experiences Lilly! It’s really interesting that you had a change of opinion the second time you visited Paris, after your expectations had been lowered by the first visit. And I know exactly what you mean about the photos being taken on a nice day! I’ve visited many places where the reality is much different to what I’d seen in photos beforehand!

      That’s a great tip about researching blogs that will bypass the tourist spots, I definitely think that’s the best way to get a genuine feel for a city 🙂

      Reply
  3. Jake Ryan

    Ahhh I loved this post, and it’s all so true.

    But I can’t help myself before a trip, I get excited and google…I see all those incredible photos and thats me done. I don’t shut up. Luckily though…I’m yet to be disappointed.

    Jake
    http://www.travelfoodfilm.com

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You and me both Jake! I can’t help it either, I get so excited about any upcoming travels. I guess we just have to be careful that we don’t get so excited that we expect everything to be perfect 😛

      Reply
  4. Kayti Clayton

    This is a great post and even for those of us who are already aware that it won’t be what we’re expecting, I think it’s a good thing to remind yourself of. It’s because of this that I’m really grateful to be semi-okay at photography because it’s a lot easier to see the beauty in ordinary things because you’re already constantly looking for it. Great post!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Kayti, I absolutely agree about photography making you see the beauty in ordinary things! I know that many people think that being behind a camera stops you appreciating the scene in front of you, but I really feel like it makes me appreciate it more! And this way I get to be reminded of that appreciation every time I go through my old photos 🙂

      Reply
  5. JJ @theurbanenomad

    Everything you mentioned is so true! When I Google destinations/”research” on Pinterest, I always have to remind myself that these are the best of someone else’s trip. They have chosen the best pictures and places to show you and is not the entire picture.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Exactly! It’s great to look at nice photos and get excited, but we really should think about what the reality might be like so that we’re not disappointed.

      Reply
  6. Petra @ The Global Couple

    Interesting post! I agree about Paris. It’s so unfortunate that it feels that way – but I really want to give it another try some time! It’s such a beautiful place… I love travelling with little to no expectations, such as when we went to Myanmar and were totally blown away.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It is unfortunate, I’ve given it two tries and unfortunately I don’t think I can be bothered with a third, though I would love to see some other parts of France to use as a comparison.

      Isn’t it amazing how somewhere you had no expectations for can blow your mind! I think that’s one of the best parts of travel 😀

      Reply
  7. kim

    I agree that high expectations can ruin a trip which is why the places you researched the least, can surprise you the most.
    But what can ruin a trip even more is comparing it to other places you love.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      You’re absolutely right Kim, comparing places is bound to disappoint you. Everywhere is different and should be looked upon that way!

      Reply

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