I try my best to maintain a positive travel mindset even when things don’t go to plan. But sometimes, that positive mindset has been curated for months at a time as I scroll through my Instagram feed looking at amazing places, with beautiful people, thinking it’s paradise on earth. But when you touch-down at that location and into reality, it’s easy to suffer with disbelief as what you thought, could be completely different to what you see.
With so many blogs and Instagram accounts showing amazing destinations, hotels and experiences, nowadays it can be tricky to manage our expectations – especially when they don’t meet the hype we’ve built up in our minds.
Unfortunately this was the case for us on our first trip to Santorini, Greece. Prior to booking our flight, I watched SO many YouTube videos and read lots blogs of how amazing this place was. Maybe I was a little naive and looking back, we would have done that trip completely differently to what we would do now. While we did enjoy the trip – it was different to what I was expecting and no amount of blogs or travel forums could have prepared me for the shock of the high season crowds and weather!
Since then, I’ve learnt some valuable lessons which I try and apply to all future travels with hope it will eventually help me to manage my expectations when it comes to travelling – and to see through the perfectly curated Instagrams.
Don’t rely on Instagram photos
Unless you want to wake up at goodness-knows-what-hour and beat the crowds for those amazing photo opportunities, the reality is those Instagrams of a blogger or influencer in a crowdless square or beach that you may see aren’t real. And whilst it’s the perfect advertising image, the reality can be far from different.
During our trip to Santorini, we wanted to escape the crowds and to view Oia in all it’s glory. So with a quest to do exactly that, on our last morning we woke up at 5am and headed out for a walk to take some photos. It was quite painless waking up at that time, but the experience of watching the sunrise over the caldera was probably one of my all time favourite moments of our travels. It felt like a completely different world from the days we had experienced before. I literally couldn’t believe how we walked through the tiny, empty paths with not a soul in sight.
That morning alone, was worth the entire trip. I think we were just so overwhelmed by the crowds and wanted to at least find a bit of reality in the Instagram photos – even if it was only for an hour, very early in the morning with bed hair!
Plan your trip in advance
I like to plan our travels months in advance. Mainly because it takes us about 4 months to decide on where we should actually visit – but also because it helps in the run-up to the actual trip.
By planning your holiday in advance, it will help you to do your research and to think about what you can realistically do and afford in the time you have. If you know you’ll be there for 10 days, you’ll need to make sure you can afford all the meals, drinks, day trips, transport, souvenirs with your spending money. And when you plan what you will be doing each day, factor in some activities if the weather turns for the worst – or even if it’s too hot to leave your hotel!
It also goes without saying that by planning your trip in advance, you’ll be able to save money on flights and accommodation – plus you’ll have more time to save up for your holiday spends.
Be realistic about how long you’ll stay
As you can probably tell, we learnt a lot of valuable lessons from our trip to Greece. One of them being how we over-stayed in places. In hindsight, I wish we had broken our 8 day stay in Naxos to 4 and used the remaining days to explore the nearby island of Paros. Unfortunately we missed out on Paros and I doubt we would go back just for that island as I’d prefer to head to Milos instead – it looks so dreamy!
Last summer when we visited Lagos as a side-stay from our city break to Lisbon, I wish we had a few extra days there. Lagos was a flying visit as we only stayed here for two nights. Again, looking back I wish we had booked a 10 day trip to Portugal as we really could have used a few extra days on the beach recuperating from all the climbing in Lisbon!
Be prepared for delays
This is understandably my least favourite thing – delays! They are unavoidable and you can’t do anything about them. But, you can prepare for them and I guess it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared!
If you are unfortunately delayed either for your flight, train or boat, make sure you have something to do. When we were faced with a lengthy delay flying back to Manchester from Santorini, we kept ourselves entertained by reading, saving a bird from a cat and even having a few arguments! It was a delightful delay as I’m sure you can imagine! While I’m not suggesting it would be a good time to have a holiday meltdown with your partner, friends or family – I would suggest packing a few things that can occupy you should you be delayed. Perhaps this may be a pack of cards, a book, your iPad for competitive games of Bejewelled or several episodes of your favourite series. We always download a film and TV series onto our iPad so we have something to watch!
I think it’s also really important to prepare yourself for delays mentally too. If it happens try to keep calm, speak with the airline or train station staff to try and source as much information as you can. If it’s an outbound delay, contact your hotel, hosts or transfer and inform them of the delay as quickly as possible. Then, just get stuck back into your game of Bejewelled – or is that just me?!
Do your research to lessen any unwanted surprises
Google everything! Look up all the hotel reviews that you possibly can – whether that’s on Trip Advisor, Booking.com, Google reviews or Facebook. If you’re staying somewhere new, I would also recommend looking on Google maps to see the exact location of your hotel. Drop the little pin-man onto the map and look through the streets to see what you’re hotel is looking out onto. You’ll also be able to tell whether it’s on a busy main road or in the middle of nowhere!
While this is point is mainly aimed at hotels, if you want to go that little extra research mile (like Marianna over here) do the same with restaurants, attractions and excursions. Whenever we travel anywhere we are usually pretty useless at finding restaurants and after wandering around for what feels like hours with a rumbling tummy, I always tell myself I need to research restaurants/cafes ahead of time! Create a list of places you’ve seen and heard good things about, then split them into neighbourhoods/areas. That way, if you’re feeling hungry and you are exploring a particular place you’ll have a good list to add into Google maps – e voila!
Plan your money wisely
If you’re heading to Santorini, the Amalfi Coast or even St. Tropez, make sure you’ve planned your spending money well and budgeted for contingency plans. While there are lots of great tips on how to explore those areas on a budget, extra costs will always creep up on you – even if it’s just a few more glasses of wine!
While we don’t overly budget during our trip, we do try and keep to a daily allowance and if we have money leftover from the end of the day we roll it onto the next. Sometimes it can feel like you are planning for the unknown if you’ve never visited a place before, but hopefully by planning your days and activities, you’ll develop a sense for how much it will cost you and what you can realistically afford to do.
And as pessimistic as it may sound, go with low expectations and be pleasantly surprised
Despite trying to be an optimist, this point does make me feel a little weird while I’m writing how it’s good to go in with low expectations. I guess I learnt it the most from our trip to Santorini and after building it up in my head for SO long as being this totally amazing place and while it was good, it didn’t really make me think ‘WOW’ (apart from our time in Oia!).
But when we went to Portugal, I gave it a second chance after a pretty odd trip around 9 years prior and because of this, I didn’t have such high expectations and do you know what? I loved it. So much so, whenever anyone asks us of my favourite trip, I don’t hesitate at all when I say Lisbon and Lagos.
Of course it’s great to be excited and to love the idea of all the amazing things you’ll do, but I do think when there is so much travel influence all over our feeds we need to see through the cloudy vision and to view and experience travel in its raw reality – flaws and all.
Have you ever experienced a time when a destination just didn’t live up to your expectations? If so, what lessons did you learn? Do you feel social media is playing a part in heightening our expectations? I’d love to hear your thoughts!