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Travel expectations vs reality: How vacation expectations can ruin your trip?

We’ve all seen those beautiful, postcard-perfect pictures of different destinations on the internet that made us start thinking about which photos we’ll have printed and hung on our walls when we come back home. Most of us build up high vacation expectations for our future trip while we go through guidebooks choosing which places to visit, which local food dishes to try, and how many new friends we’ll make on the way but often, travel expectations vs reality are two very different things.

More often than not, what we see in real life looks nothing like that postcard picture we saw before the trip and this is the moment where reality strikes you hard. I think we all know this but I feel I still have to mention it. Not every destination can give you the “postcard effect”. In fact, most of them won’t. Places that are heavily advertised as pristine destinations might end up being dirty and overcrowded. Locals might not be interested in conversing with you or they might play the fake friendship card to get something out of you. The weather might be uncooperative. You can get sick, scammed or get lost…

For different reasons, many places simply don’t live up to the hype. And this happens all the time, even to the most optimistic and open-minded travelers out there. Most of the time this happens because…

We expect too much

China travel expectations vs reality

We’ve all seen those funny pictures/quotes of travel expectations vs reality on the internet. The main reason for those pictures is that we expect too much from our holiday. Just think about it. If you have access to an amazing picture of a destination that looks so beautiful and pristine, so does anyone with an internet connection. And just like that photo might inspire you to visit a place, it will inspire millions of other people.

My point here is, don’t plan to visit a place just because you saw how gorgeous and empty it appears to be. Remember, there are people that get paid to promote that destination. Instead, travel somewhere to bring new perspectives into your life. Travel to get out of your comfort zone, to experience things that will make you a better person, to see how people do things on the other side of the world and how in the end, they are not so different than you, because ultimately, we are all people.

Related: Unique wedding destinations

It’s not about the destination

reasons to travel solo

If you do get disappointed after a trip, don’t blame the destination. Blame the expectations you’re unnecessarily building up. That’s (most of the time) a recipe for disaster and the reason why you might feel disappointed after a trip. Personally, when I travel I try to keep my expectations on the bare minimum. You might even say, I don’t have any expectations.

When I visited Paris, I wasn’t expecting to see the most beautiful, romantic city in the world. I thought Paris was overrated and I was expecting to see a city that’s under a constant siege of tourist hordes, rude locals, and overpriced food. In the end, I had a great time. I didn’t spend too much time at the main attractions, I discovered a lot of hidden gems in Paris, visited some interesting museums, enjoyed some of the city’s finest street art and you might even say I actually liked the city.

This approach might work temporarily but it can be bad if it spills over in all aspects of your life. You might find yourself approaching all new situations detached from expectations, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.
Now, you might be thinking: “Wait, what are you trying to say? How can we balance high travel expectations with the stark reality of a new destination without becoming a pessimist in everyday life?”

Just go with the flow

lost traveler

Stay flexible and keep an open mind. Always be prepared that something uncertain might happen and don’t let that spoil your trip. Remember that nothing is ever as it appears, especially when it comes to traveling and take lofty expectations with a grain of salt. And if something happens that might thwart your plans, view it as a challenge or a new adventure and not as a sign of a wasted trip.

I know that’s easier said than done but next time your travel expectations aren’t fulfilled, try it. You’ll have a revelation. Don’t expect a perfect trip. Nothing in this world is perfect. Many people make the mistake of living in an expectation when instead they could have an incredible time living in the moment.

My point here is don’t waste your holiday comparing the place with the photo you saw or the things you read about. Just experience it as it is, right now. If you look at things this way, it’s very unlikely that you will end up disappointed.

An example of travel expectations vs reality ruining a trip

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When I was exploring Thailand, there was one place that I was absolutely excited to see: Phi Phi Islands. According to the pictures I saw, it was one of the most beautiful places on Earth. But the reality was something else. I was accompanied by two Thai friends and I swear, they were the only Thai people I saw that weren’t employed in some of the facilities on the island. The island was limited to small walkways filled with souvenir shops in this never-ending street market. And yes, these streets were constantly flooded with tourists.

beach crowded

The island has absolutely no authenticity and no culture. The bars and restaurants are catered to the “wild expat experience” and everything is overpriced. Even though the beaches were pretty nice and the overall experience was close to average, Phi Phi remains one of my biggest travel disappointments of all time (read more about Thailand travel tips here). On the other hand, it’s a completely different story when you…

Go somewhere with low expectations

travel expectations vs reality

Before I visited the Indian state of Kashmir, I didn’t have high expectations. I knew that the infrastructure was pretty poor and there was a lack of facilities for visitors but I have heard Kashmir had an amazing nature. Taught from my past experiences, I went to Kashmir with very low expectations.
Sure, I had several setbacks throughout the trip, including getting robbed and our bus getting stoned by local protesters. However, I also experienced the local hospitality and I even had the opportunity to stay with a local.

I never let my bad experiences ruin my trip. I took every next problem as a challenge, I went with the flow and I had an adventure of a lifetime. Just imagine, what would your favorite movie be like if there wasn’t a plot twist? Something that will make things more difficult, but yet a lot more interesting? Well, it’s the same with your trip. No matter what happens, just keep an open mind, try to adapt to the situation, and go with the flow without losing your positivity. Good things will eventually start happening…
If you liked this article, also check out why no one really gets paid to travel the world.

Travel expectations vs reality: a few words for the end

I would like to end this article, with a quick tip for your next trip. Next time you’re visiting a famous touristy place and feel disappointed, ask yourself do your expectations blur your interpretation of reality? Remember, you have two ultimate choices. You’ll either live in the moment or live in an expectation.

Did you like this article about travel expectations vs reality? Have you had a travel experience in the past that didn’t live up to your expectations? How did you handle it?


Monday 3rd of December 2018

Ahahah photos are so true! I guess people are paying for a nice photo shoot! Especially when I see the waterfalls like a small tap I feel so disappointed!

Passport Symphony

Monday 3rd of December 2018

I know, right? :)


Sunday 2nd of December 2018

Pretty much why I love writing a travel blog and create travel videos. It’s an alternative to those picture perfect destination ads tbh. Totally agree with you,

Passport Symphony

Sunday 2nd of December 2018

Thank you for your comment and keep keeping things real through your articles and videos :)


Sunday 2nd of December 2018

I think you've nailed it with this post. We have to manage our expectations when visiting new places. Plus, social media doesn't always reflect reality. Case in point is The Great Wall of China. Of course we'd love to see it when there're less people, but keep in mind that it is a famous architectural marvel so there will be many people there whether you like it or not. And you are also right by saying it's not about the destination. Quite often than not, it's the experience that we remember more. I usually avoid places like Phi Phi Island, because they're catered for the tourism industry.

Passport Symphony

Sunday 2nd of December 2018

Thank you, Fairuz, I really appreciate it. Indeed, in the era of social media, a lot of destinations get overhyped and a lot of people get disappointed. Of course it's about the experience and nowadays I avoid places like Phi Phi too but I was a typical traveling rookie at the time :)


Sunday 2nd of December 2018

All of this is so true! I'd love the solution to be managing tourism rather than our expectations, that way everyone can have a beautiful experience and the destinations don't get ruined!

Passport Symphony

Sunday 2nd of December 2018

Wouldn't we all, Alyssa :)? Unfortunately, I don't see this changing in the near future, to be honest overhyping destinations seems to be happening even more and I guess we're stuck with having to manage our expectations


Saturday 1st of December 2018

This is so true! always have to have a positive mind and stay focused. We see all these mesmerizing posts from different social media channels and start to feel less about ourselves. Its all about enjoying the company you are with and the moment

Passport Symphony

Sunday 2nd of December 2018

That's the best way to go, Bilal. Thank you for commenting.