Blue boats in Venice, Italy.
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Dealing with Disappointment while Traveling

Travel disappointment is real. Disappointment in general is, unfortunately, a part of life. But it is also a part of travel. No matter how well planned or thought out, a trip rarely goes off without a hitch. Whether it is flight delays, an upset stomach or overpriced attractions, something will happen that tests your patience and threatens your fun. Hopefully, your disappointments will be small and manageable, but there is always a chance they will be something big.

I have been lucky and have never experienced a travel horror story like the ones you sometimes read about. However, I have certainly experienced hiccups, disappointment and frustration. Below are some personal stories about some of those experiences and the lessons I learned from them.

Closed doors

Few things disappoint R as much as a closed visitor’s center at a National Park. When we arrive at one after 4 p.m., the closure is understandable (although no less disappointing). However, when we stopped at the Gulf Islands National Seashore and found the visitor’s center closed for no apparent reason, the disappointment was extra sharp. It was a rather quiet car ride for a while as R worked through her disappointment. Eventually, she came to terms with it and we moved on to finish a really fun road trip through the South.

Sometimes the store, museum, attraction or restaurant you want to visit is closed on the day you plan to do so. Unfortunately, no amount of research can prepare you for every closure. If you are lucky, you will be able to rearrange your plans. Other times you will not. In the case of the Gulf Islands National Seashore experience, there was nothing we could do but move on down the road.

Lesson learned: give yourself time to feel disappointed, but do not dwell on it. Other adventures await and may be even more fun than your original plans.

Cancellations

In R’s post about our recent trip to Puerto Rico, she talks about the various cancelations we experienced both before the trip began and while we were on the road. Some were understandable and some were not. All were disappointing. However, our only option was to adjust our plans and make the best of it. Guess what: we had a great time and we saw some amazing things. It may not have been the trip we originally planned, but it was a darn good one.

 Lesson learned: be flexible and go with the flow. You may end up experiencing something better than you could have imagined.

Cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Our place in Old San Juan may not have been our first choice, but it was pretty much perfect.

Wrong season

A few years ago, I visited New Zealand with my friend W. There was really only one thing she wanted to see on that trip: penguins. We did not do a lot of research in preparation for that trip. It was not until after we arrived that we learned it was not a good time of year to view penguins. The little buggers were out at sea instead of hanging around the coast. It was big blow to W and her heart’s desire. We still had an amazing trip, but it did not feel complete for her and was a major travel disappointment.

Lesson learned: if you really want to see or experience something, make sure you do some research ahead of time to see if it is feasible. A little research can help set realistic expectations and mitigate potential disappointment.

Holidays and celebrations

We knew we would be visiting Helsinki during Vapuu. What we did not realize was how big of a deal the holiday is in Finland. The merriment and festivities had a huge impact on our ability to explore the city and its sights. It was a bit disappointing. However, rather than focusing of what we missed, we focused instead on the opportunity in front of us. We got to see how Helsinki celebrates one of its major holidays. It was a very unique experience and one few tourists get to see.

Lesson learned: embrace whatever is unique about the situation you are in. Instead of a travel disappointment, you may end up with a one-of-kind travel experience.

Vapuu celebration Helsinki Finland
From travel disappointment to party time! Embracing Vapuu in Helsinki, Finland.

Delays

After a delightful weekend exploring Washington D.C. with a friend, we found out that our flight home had been canceled. Mostly I was upset because we were already at the airport when we received the news. Our wakeup call was somewhere around 4 a.m. and had I known the flight was canceled, I could have gotten a little more sleep. Oh well. We did make it home eventually.

Delayed or canceled flights are one of the most unfortunate parts of travel. And I suppose I should mention that delays or cancellations are not exclusive to flights. Trains, buses, taxies, etc. all get delayed and can majorly affect your vacation. It is pretty much a guarantee that at some point in your travels, some form of your transportation will be delayed. Accept it now and be prepared.

Lesson learned: always be prepared for a delay. They are inevitable. Make sure to pack something to entertain yourself (e.g. a book) as well as a snack or two. Some breathing exercises would not be remiss either.

Weather

I have so many travel stories with some sort of weather-related component. While visiting Venice, it rained like crazy. Since our time was short, we bundled up and made the best of it. It was cold and wet, but the crowds were few and we found several delightful cafés to enjoy a cup of hot cocoa. In contrast, when it rained while visiting Tallinn, Estonia, we opted to rest and relax. The little respite we took in our medieval chapel (thanks Airbnb) was one I enjoyed very much.

Lesson learned: make the best of your situation and go. Or sit back and relax. You cannot control the weather, so either embrace it or stay out of it. But do not let it ruin your trip.

Blue boats in Venice, Italy.
Venice, rain or shine, is gorgeous.

Sickness

When it comes to staying healthy on a trip, I have been very blessed and have rarely been sick. R cannot quite say the same thing, but even still, neither of us has had a trip ruined by an illness. The worst experience I have had was in Morocco. I had some sort of stomach issue for a day or so. Thankfully, it was short lived and easily treated with some strong drugs. It was not pleasant, but it could have been much worse and a major travel disappointment.

Lesson learned: always pack some basic medications. Check out R’s post about which medications to always have on hand while traveling.

Scams

I have never been robbed or held at gunpoint or anything like that. But I have been scammed before. In Indonesia, we fell for a fairly common scam. We thought a nice, grandpa-like local was giving us advice on where to buy authentic artisan goods. Turns out, he was in cahoots with a fake art center that takes advantage of tourists. We did not find this out until after we had bought our goods. Thankfully, it had been a fun experience and we did not spend too much money. We felt a little foolish, but no real harm was done. From my travel journal: “Yesterday, we were scammed. There is no official arts center and that nice local man clearly caught us hook, line and sinker. Oh well. It was still a fun experience, we still got some cool Batik and we didn’t spend too much money. It could have been much worse.”

Lesson learned: read up on possible scams before you go. And never fork over too much money for something you cannot verify. You can avoid this travel disappoint by being an informed tourist.

travel disappointment tuk-tuk ride in Indonesia
Fun times getting scammed in Indonesia.

Tourists (my biggest travel disappointment)

I wrote a post about dealing with other tourists while traveling. They have the potential to ruin your vacation if you let them. In fact, I feel like other tourists cause me more travel disappoint than almost anything else. I suggest you learn how to prepare yourself to deal with other tourist and avoid this travel disappointment as much as possible.

Lesson learned: preparation is key to dealing with other tourists. Unfortunately, they are not going anywhere anytime soon.

Underwhelming/hyped up/overpriced attractions

Twice, I have had to watch the changing of the guard in London. Even after those two experiences, I still have no idea what the big deal is. Why does this anti-climactic event make must-do lists in London? Given all there is to do and see in this wonderful city, I find the experience a complete waste of time.

Often, “must-see” events and attractions are just not worth your time and money. Unfortunately, you do not always know that before you go and when that must-see does not live up to your expectations, it can be disappointing. This is where is can be useful to find a local or someone who has been there and ask them what they recommend you should see and what you should stay away from.

Lesson learned: do your research. Talk to locals and recent visitors. Know what you are getting yourself into. However, if you find yourself bored or underwhelmed, do not be afraid to bail. Your time and money are precious. Try not to waste either.

Conclusion

Never forget to pack your good attitude. Travel disappointment will happen when you are on vacation. Although there are things you can do to mitigate those disappointments, the most important thing you can do is focus on the positive. If you do so, you will have a much better trip and even better memories.

travel disappointment, rain, Indonesia, hiking
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One Comment

  • Stephanie

    And you get serenaded by adorable elderly Italian men in said cafes while drinking hot cocoa that he treated you to… and tells you stories of the English nurse he fell in love with during the war… thank you rainy Venice!!!!

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