The Romance and Reality of Traveling

Everything’s ready.  Your ticket’s booked, your suitcase is packed and you’re ready to go.  You’re set to be the star of your own American in Paris or bask in The Beach’s exotic locale.  You’re hungry for pasta in the Eternal City and keen to live out the adventures of Vicky and Cristina in Barcelona.  You’re ready for the romance of travelling.

But what happens when an ugly apartment block ruins the Parisian skyline or you find more McDonald’s than quaint cafes?  What happens when your idea of a place clashes with its reality?

Well, you get over it.  Traveling is not about preserving a naive ideal you had, it’s about experiencing the real of foreign

Not what you came to Europe to see

places, complete with grit, grime and too much traffic.  It’s not a Broadway play with perfect sets and background music.  It’s working cities and developing countries.  It’s where people live and grow and mess things up.  But that’s what makes travel wonderful.  Sure it’s disappointing to find that KFC doesn’t just live in Kentucky and that people don’t tap dance across Brooklyn, but the reality of a place can be just as charming as the Frank Sinatra song about it.

Of course there’s a great, big world out there and you may be lucky enough to find some un-commercialized piece of paradise.  But before you trade in your beret for a train ride into the Himalayas, be honest with yourself about what it is you want from your trip.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself before choosing which (real) place to go.

  1. How important are modern conveniences to you?

Wait, when you said, “Not at all” did that mean you can go without your cell phone for a few days or that you’re prepared to poop outside (yes, Mom, I said poop in my blog)?    Remember that the more remote a location is, the more likely it is to have less of the modern luxuries you may be used to.  Do you mind cold showers?  Will you need the internet?  It’s ok to say yes.  You’re not travelling to prove how tough you are.  Remember you’re not Bear Grills.  Be realistic about what comforts will help you best enjoy your trip.

Beautiful but flipping cold way to bathe

  1. How well can you adapt to different languages?

Yes, you know that a lot of places speak Portuguese.  But are you secretly relying on them to also speak English?  If so you’re more likely to find them in Lisbon than in rural Mozambique.  How well can you make yourself be known if you don’t speak the same language?  How much patience do you have when people don’t understand you?

  1. What grosses you out?

Get off me, bug!

Food that’s still alive?  Smelly people?  Crawly bugs?  Then avoid them.  Yes it’s always good to push your limits, but not necessarily when you’re looking to enjoy your trip.

  1. What annoys or offends you? 

Having to cover up if you’re a woman? Aggressive street vendors?  Pushing against crazy people to get on trains?  Then just like with things that gross you out, avoid them.  Research where you’ll be going before you go there.  If you don’t like what they’re offering, go somewhere else.  Don’t get all huffy when they ask you to put some more clothes on.  You’re the one in their country.

  1. How well can you cope with the heat/ cold/ rain? 

It might be beautiful to look out at the vast great white of Antarctica, but can you stand to be outside for more than a minute?  Will the heat and humidity of Panama keep you from exploring?  And dare I mention that it could possibly maybe even rain while you’re away?  Sorry to say but the weather doesn’t care that it’s your holiday.  If you’re chasing clear blue skies, then remember to check when monsoon season is.  And maybe avoid the UK all together.   One thing I can’t handle is hearing one more person say how disappointed they were that it rained on their trip to London.

  1. Can you handle seeing poverty?

Developing countries are generally cheap to visit, beautiful…and poor.  Sure you see beggars on the streets of cities in every country of the world.  But can you stand seeing people live in cardboard shacks?  Can you handle children begging you for food?  We’re talking poor poor, not down-on-your-luck poor.  Poverty is not a problem you should ignore, but be realistic about how coming face to face with it will affect your holiday in the sun.

  1. How flexible do you want your itinerary to be? 

Ok, this one’s a bit tricky.  You can plan every second of your time in Palau or travel spontaneously in San Francisco.   The place you go doesn’t dictate how structured your vacation is.  However there are certain places that lend themselves to more relaxed trips, and others that lend themselves to busier trips.  Generally speaking, island beaches are less hectic than cities.  Sure you can prove me wrong with a number of examples, but if you’re dreaming of strolling through the middle of Piccadilly Circus, remember to watch out for crazy drivers.

  1. What’s your budget? 

    Even this doesn't stretch as far as you'd hope.

You laugh at this one.  Who doesn’t budget for their vacation?  But remember a trip will cost you more than just transportation and accommodation.  You have to eat.   You have to drink.  You have to buy souvenir t-shirts that you’ll never wear once you’re home.  Different places cost different amount.  Duh, I know.  But make sure you’re realistic about the price of things before you find yourself broke in the middle of Tokyo.

  1. Who are you travelling with? 

Oh ya, them.  That’s right, unless you’re travelling alone there are other people to consider.  Discuss these questions with them, even if they’re children.  It’s their trip, too.  And the happier they are, the happier you’ll be, especially if you’re sharing a hotel room.

  1. How well can you handle crowds?

Hate to tell you, but other people also want to see the Forbidden City.  And the Blue Lagoon.  And the Sistine Chapel.  Although you’d love to have a moment alone to gaze at Michelangelo’s masterpiece, chances are you’ll be surrounded by other tourists as you crane your neck upwards.  If crowds aren’t your thing (and let’s be honest, they’re no one’s thing) then make sure to factor in some downtime between tourist sites.

Avoid the Crowds

What are other things to consider before you choose where to travel?

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8 responses to “The Romance and Reality of Traveling”

  1. tonya says :

    I’ve often found that the reality of a place 0is diff from my preconceived notion, or “like it is in the movies.” I like that you brought up the issue and also mention that the reality is often even better than the myth.

  2. Alex says :

    True, true. You don’t always get what you want, but it’s sometimes just what you need.

  3. Jason says :

    I’m with you on being realistic about a place before you go there. Im also sick of ppl complaining about rain in the UK. Have they ever heard anything about the UK?!

    • beyonddisneytravel says :

      I also wonder why some people don’t do more research before they head off into some great unknown. No one has to plan their trip down to the minute but it’s at least nice to have a basic idea of where you’re going.

  4. mom says :

    Loved reading every word of this. Except that one.

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