There’s nothing worse than spending months dreaming of your trip, only to arrive to your destination and feel… disappointment. When expectations don’t match reality, it’s understandable that you might feel disappointed while traveling.
Sometimes, getting your head back in the game and saving your trip could be as simple as shifting your perspective.
Here’s how to cope with travel disappointment, using my own story in Paris.
Ever since I was a kid I have had an infatuation with Paris, France.
When the time came for my friends and I to take our trip to Paris near the end of our semester abroad, I was giddy with excitement. I clutched my Eurostar ticket in my hands, admiring the big, bold words ‘PARIS NORD’ that represented the famous city I was about to visit. Thoughts of Moulin Rouge, the Paris Opera House, the Louvre, and the sparkling Eiffel Tower kept me awake for the two-hour train ride as my travel companions napped peacefully.
Immediately when we arrived at the Paris Nord station, the feelings started to creep up. The sun had set as we went under the English Channel; I was hungry, tired, and dreading the uncomfortable hostel bed. The three of us sat in Belushi’s Bar that night planning what we wanted to see and how we could possibly fit it all into a 3-day trip. It was clear that, since it was our last trip of the semester, we were all exhausted and secretly homesick for our school back in Canterbury, England that we would have to say goodbye to in just two short weeks. But despite the bittersweet thoughts lingering in the back of our mind, we mapped out our weekend, trying to cover each spectacle Paris had to offer.
The rest of the weekend was just what you would expect – running from tourist attraction to tourist attraction, taking advantage of free tours, trying to navigate our way through the giant city by hopping on and off the crowded metro and asking for directions with our limited French language skills.
Although this is what we did in almost every big European city we visited, Paris was different; the skies were grey, I did not have a positive interaction with one Parisian, the food wasn’t as irresistible as I wanted it to be, and almost everywhere I went I clutched my purse in constant fear of a stranger snatching it. I looked around at the beautiful French city around me and couldn’t help but think it wasn’t everything I expected it to be.
On the last day we climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower (and by climbed I mean we rode the elevator). It was nighttime and the view of the city was spectacular. Everything twinkled in gold light, the Sacre Coeur was illuminated on top of a hill, and the darkness of the Seine River zigzagged across the city. It was then when I realized I needed an attitude adjustment. Here are the questions I asked myself.
Did my bad experience have to do with the city, itself?
There are grey skies, rude waiters, uncomfortable hostel beds, and pick-pocketing in every big tourist city. I was lucky enough to not experience these things in other European cities, but that doesn’t mean they could not have happened.
Did it have to do with our approach to the city?
We rushed around Paris like it was a temporary movie set ready to be carted away after the weekend was over. Some cities (most cities in my opinion) need to be tackled slowly: take your time, sit in a café, watch the locals, get lost. If you fill your schedule with only tourist attractions, then the crowds, lines, high prices and cranky kids in strollers will inevitably kill your good mood.
Were my expectations realistic?
No. I was basing my image of Paris on movies, stories, and stereotypes; this is easy to do for Paris because of its notoriety. Being educated on a city before you visit is important, but thinking you already know a city is where you can get in trouble.
By the time I came to this conclusion, it was too late for Paris and I. We didn’t get along that weekend, but I’m the one who gave the bad first impression. I describe my weekend in Paris as “one of the worst trips of my time abroad, but that doesn’t mean it was the worst city.” Traveling has everything to do with your own attitude before, during, and after the trip. Be educated on the city you are visiting, but go into it with an open mind.
I know I will visit Paris again someday and, with a better attitude, I hope we can be friends.