Expectation vs reality: Travel edition

Expectation vs reality

Travelling is possibly the single most important thing we can do during the course of our lives.  It not only broadens our physical horizons but if done with an open mind, it makes you more tolerant of those different from yourself, more patient with things that are out of your control and notches up ever-important life experience to new levels.  It is truly fulfilling.

It’s not the destination, but the journey

Unfortunately, in my experience, there is usually quite a lot that doesn’t go according to plan.  Whether it’s getting lost on local back-roads, cutting short camping holiday because someone asked when your baby was due or coming close to arrest at the Colombian border, things can go horribly awry.  In all cases, there is really nothing you can do and have no choice but to simply just “go with the flow” in order to salvage your adventure.

If you’re able to see past how off-track things have gone, these little detours are what make time away from home unique and special – something that you and you alone can claim to have experienced.  Even the worst of trips, in hindsight, make the best stories and warmest memories as time tempers them to the point where they become a sort of weird highlight in your life.

The trick to guaranteed good times

Having travelled quite extensively throughout my twenties and early thirties, I discovered that the trick to guaranteed enjoyment is to have pretty low expectations.  To be, if you will, “cautiously optimistic” about what you’re expecting your travels to deliver. Of course, it’s important to be excited, but take a moment to realise that there will always be a fairly large gap between your expectation and what reality ends up delivering.  

Let me demonstrate my point with pictures.


Land of powder-white beaches and Chichen Itza.  Looking at pictures before I travelled I was expecting long walks along the shoreline, beautiful sunsets and chilled cocktail hours.

Photo by Joe Cooke on Unsplash
Photo by Joe Cooke on Unsplash

Instead, I got to go on a business trip about 6 months after Hurricane Wilma caused havoc in the region.  I did 15 hotel inspections, viewing buildings still being rebuilt after being damaged by the hurricane.  I inadvertently found myself walking along the highway outside of the city and hobbled down what seemed like the entire hotel strip, getting back to the hotel with only hours to spare before I was due to fly out.  Fun times.

Cancun 2006JPG
Cancun, Mexico – 2006

Machu Picchu

I knew nothing about South America when I first started selling the destination.  After endless hours of research, I became somewhat of an expert on Peru – so much so that at a training seminar I gave to a group of travel agents, the Peruvian Ambassador asked me how long I had lived in Peru, to which I answered, “I’ve actually never been…”.

During this time I became obsessed with Machu Picchu and was lucky enough to get to tick it off my bucket list.  One of the highlights of a Machu Picchu tour is seeing the sunrise over the mountain, bathing the site in sunlight.

Photo by Nikita Andreev on Unsplash
Photo by Nikita Andreev on Unsplash

Of course, it was pissing with rain the morning I was supposed to experience “sunrise”.  Happy days…

I might not have seen the sun rising over the mountains, but not many people can say they climbed Huayna Picchu in the rain.  It was still pretty darn special.

Machu Picchu 2007JPG
Machu Picchu, Peru – 2007


In 2006 I did a month-long camping trip through Europe.  The journey was plagued with terrible weather, switching from an almost intolerable heat wave in England and France to freezing torrential rain by the time we reached Switzerland.  Every person I was travelling with came down with the flu. To make up for everything, we were looking forward to being treated to some of the stunning scenery in the Austria / Germany region.

Photo by Karsten Würth inf1783 on Unsplash
Photo by Karsten Würth (@inf1783) on Unsplash

Unfortunately for this doomed tour, the bus broke down somewhere in the European wilderness.  We lost an entire day as we waited for a mechanic.  No scenery in sight.  C’est la vie.

Germany bus 2006JPG
Somewhere between Austria and Germany – 2006


I visited Vienna on the same trip as the bus breakdown.  There is a lot to see and do in the city, not least the highlights of the Stephansplatz area which sports the Stephansdom Cathedral.  We expected to something like this:

Photo by Paavel Liik on Unsplash
Photo by Paavel Liik on Unsplash

Instead, we were treated to torrential rain, so we ended up getting trollied at a Schnapps tasting.  By the time we got back to the campsite, the tents had all collapsed and every last piece of gear was drenched.  Two days in the Viennese capital resulted in three photographs, of which this is the best:

Vienna 2006JPG
Vienna, Austria – 2006

It is what it is. And “it” is still awesome!

Are any pictures of my disaster trips brochure-worthy?  Not in the least.  Do they inspire others to travel?  Probably not.  Would I exchange any of these experiences?  Not a chance!  And that is the beauty of travel – this collection of experiences have been mine and mine alone.  While perhaps a long way off from “Instagram worthy”, I look back at by time abroad with gratitude and nostalgia.  I’ve really had the most fantastic time on my travels!

If you’ve never travelled and are concerned about things going wrong, stop worrying.  You will, undoubtedly, miss the bus and get stuck in the middle of nowhere at midnight, left wondering if you’ll be sleeping at the bus stop.  

Bariloche 2006JPG
Bariloche, Argentina – 2006

But you’ll live and have a random story to tell!  And when things go right, you’ll also get to experience stuff like this…

Chobe 2013JPG
Chobe, Botswana – 2013

…and this…

Iguazu 2012JPG
Iguazu, Argentina – 2012

…and this!

Alaksa 2009
Alaksa, USA – 2009

I’d love to hear your most disastrous travel stories.  Share in the comment section!

5 thoughts on “Expectation vs reality: Travel edition

  1. Bethany @ Happily Loco says:

    The trip misadventures do make better stories than the times when things run smoothly!

    A couple years ago, I was taking a road trip with my daughter to an autism retreat. My husband had lovingly made sure my old Jeep was in good working order, but it still blew a tire! We ended up stuck at a Love’s station in Cleveland, Texas, in the middle of nowhere.

    While I was waiting for AAA, a local who worked at the station told me his buddy could sell me a tire and change it for me, for $120. That was steep, but it would get us back on the road. I cancelled AAA, and the buddy shows up with a very USED tire. I apologized for wasting his time and got AAA back on the way.

    My spare tire was in horrible condition, but the AAA man put it on and told me that the guy at the station and his friend were just a couple of country bumpkins trying to take advantage of a city girl! My daughter and I booked a room at Motel 6 and headed to Walmart as soon as their tire and lube shop opened.

    I dropped off my Jeep, and they told us to come back in 30 minutes. We grabbed breakfast, but the Jeep wasn’t done yet. Two hours later, it still was not done. It turns out they would not work on my car while there were cars in line for oil changes, and there was a LONG line. They would keep my car indefinitely.

    When my husband called, I loudly explained that they were holding my car hostage, so that I could not take our daughter with autism to the autism retreat. A manager overheard me, and my Jeep was fixed within 15 minutes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Megan D'Arcy says:

      That’s quite a story! The “smooth” version would have been “we drove from home to the camp – nothing happened”. Glad it worked out alright in the end… and you obviously got the story to boot!


  2. Sam Grindlay says:

    Many moons ago I’d flown Egypt Air rebates to London to visit my then boyfriend. When it came time to reconfirm our flight home (he decided to join me), we were told there wasn’t a chance I would get on the flight… Full fare paying passengers are most definitely preferred and the flight was packed with them. Our only option? Catch the flight from Paris to Cairo instead.
    And so bought a ticket on the Euro Star …experience 1. Stayed in a dodgy dodgy Hostel where you sleep upright and sure as hell shower with a hazmat suit …experience 2. Walked the streets of Paris in wide eyed wonder including the entire length of Champs Elysee…experience 3. Saw the Mona Lisa…experience 4. Spent (then) R105.00 on a cup of cafe au lait and what turned out to be a jam sandwich at a cafe next to Notre Dame …experience 5. Went up to top of very cliche romantic Eiffel tower at night where boyfriend and I amicably called it quits where tons of people get engaged…experience 6. All in all not a bad change to what would have been a humdrum flight from London to Johannesburg via Cairo…. Would I change it? Definitely not! Would I do it again? Hell yes! Well except the Hostel!

    Liked by 1 person

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