Have you ever been to a place that you loved and couldn’t wait to tell others about it? You gush and can’t stop talking about your amazing experience to anyone that will listen, only to discover that others totally disagree. The same can happen when you hate a place while others love it. So why do we have such different experiences while visiting the same places? Many factors can influence why your experience can vary vastly from someone else’s.
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It’s all about timing
There is a reason we say that timing is everything. It matters and it can greatly affect how you feel about the place you are visiting. Think about it.
There are events that can happen that are out of our control. Positive and happy things can make us feel happy and welcomed. It could be a night out at a Christmas markets, drinking beers at Octoberfest or celebrations during a national holiday. When there is merriment and celebration, visitors automatically develop a better perception of the destination. The locals are in a positive mood and excitement is everywhere.
Now imagine the opposite.
Bad things happen all the time. It’s an unfortunate part of life. Natural and man-made disasters, terrorist acts, political upheavals and unexpected disruptions have a less positive impact on our experience. Things like tsunamis, earthquake, forest fires or bad storms are not of out the realm of possible interruptions that will dampen your visit.
Any type of service interruptions like a garbage or taxi strikes, airport disruptions or violent acts will negatively affect a visit as well. They might even permanently damage your health or involve death. Treatment of visitors during these events, intentional or as a consequent will influence their impression.
It’s who you’re with
Let’s be honest, whom we travel with definitely plays a role in our impressions of a place. Like-minded people, be that family, friends or significant others, can make us enjoy our trip and create memories that last a lifetime. Happy travel companions can make any trip a memorable one. They can be family, friends, coworkers or friends met along the way.
Those that prefer solo travel might enjoy a trip less if forced to travel with someone else. At the same time, meeting someone along the way might ease the loneliness and consequently improve the experience.
Then there are the people that can literally make your experience hell. Couple sometimes fight and break up during travel. That annoying relative might irk you the whole time you’re with them, as might that particular member of your tour group. The larger the number of travellers be that a group of friends or strangers opens up more possibilities to unexpected outcomes. It could be the best or the worst trip of your life.
You can plan that beach holiday for months and have it rain the whole time you’re there. No matter how much we prepare or anticipate, the weather has a mind of its own. This is particularly important for those that go on short and limited holidays. People normally want to relax and unwind during vacation, not be miserable.
Weather can affect us positively and negatively when we’re at home so it’s not a huge stretch to apply that to travel. Extreme temperatures, be that too hot or too cold, can directly affect your health and play a role on how you feel about your trip.
We spent a miserable week in St. Lucia once where it down poured every night. Days were cold, dark and we were miserable. The water was cold and choppy, and we were limited in what we could do during our time due to weather. To this day, our impressions of that trip are not the best. Let’s just say we’re not in a hurry to go back there any time soon.
Budget – it’s all about the Benjamins
I don’t know about you, but to me it seems that luxurious holidays always seem so much better. When money is no object, there is less worry. Travelling in comfort, nice places to stay and no shortage of things to eat and drink are definitely better than not having any of it.
It’s not to say that budget travellers don’t enjoy their travel. Quite the opposite. Budget travellers love getting bargains and finding deals, which in turn improves their experience and impressions of a place. I think all of us would be happy snagging a deal, no matter what it is. There is a sense of accomplishment and personal satisfaction that come into play. You will definitely be telling everyone about it when you recall your trip.
On the other hand, running out of money, not having enough or even worse, getting your money stolen can bring your travel experience to a crashing halt. Similarly, the same applied when arriving in a country without local currency and not being able to find any when you need it. You might end up overpaying or losing money in exchange, which will definitely leave a bad taste in your mouth.
Expectations vs reality
As the number of new destination on the ‘must visit places’ list grows, so do our expectations. Especially if we see them over edited and retouched on Instagram. It’s easy to see a place online through someone else’s eyes and expect the same when you arrive. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What they don’t always tell you is that there are thousands words that you don’t see.
Places also change over time. What someone might recall from few years ago might not be the reality today. Sometimes things improve while other times they get worse. Having a set of expectations before going somewhere can also affect our experience. If the experience exceeds our expectations, we have a better memory of the visit. However, if we feel let down by our expectations, our recollection of the trip will also be less positive.
Sometimes it’s good to have no set expectations or very low ones before going somewhere. I am a firm believer that if you’re going in with the bar set low, it usually will surprise you in a good way. Some people might say that having a positive outlook will result in positive outcomes, but that decision is up to you.
How you’re treated by the locals
There are good and bad people in all countries. Some will go out of their way to help you while others will see you as an easy mark. Can that affect your visit? Absolutely.
Nobody wants to be overcharged, robbed or threatened when they travel. While we might be more in tune of our surroundings when we’re at home, that doesn’t translate the same in other countries. What might seem like a friendly gesture from the local might actually be a scam to part you from your money. Not all countries have the same level of customer service and their demeanour can influence your experience.
The reason why there are so many article about which tourist scams to avoid is that they happen. Sometimes locals will charge you more assuming you have money or won’t notice. Other times they mean your harm because as a foreigner you are an easy mark.
On the other hand, friendly locals can totally create a positive experience. They can help you navigate new destination, recommend local spots and even become new friends.
Chances are that if we’re in a popular destination there will be other tourists there as well. Some are great while others are indifferent. Then there are those that make us cringe inside and make us ashamed and/or embarrassed to be a foreigner in the same place.
From the loud and obnoxious to the ignorant, rude and oblivious ones. We have seen them all. They create bad impressions on the locals who paint all tourists with the same brush. I’ve seen loud and obnoxious family run through Venice screaming to each other as they pushed through crowds of people. I have witnessed staff of a resort be berated by a drunk tourist who felt blasting music by the pool in the middle of the night was his right. The stories are endless.
We can’t forget the increasing number of travellers. Many places have become unpleasant to visit, as there are simply overrun with tourists. In a sea of people, selfie sticks and wanna be Insta-stars, overtourism has become a real problem. It definitely plays a role in our experience.
Previous experiences elsewhere
The more you travel, the more familiar you become with how things are in different places. If you’ve been to one place in Europe, you might be more comfortable in another European destination, while arriving in Asia might seem very unnerving. Sometimes, if you’re never been to any place with a different culture or a language it might be overwhelming.
Some people love change while others are afraid of it. Travel definitely makes you more adaptable, especially if you do it frequently. All of a sudden, a new country with a different language is no longer that scary. You become more comfortable experiencing new things and learn what to look out for to keep you safe.
Does that alone change your experience? Not necessarily, but it provides you with coping mechanisms that can make or break a new and unexpected situation.
The number of times you visit
The way we experience a place also depends on how many times we have been there. Sometimes it takes few tries to warm up to a place while other times it takes repeated visits turn us off completely. While I love Rome today, that wasn’t always the case. It took me about three visits before I actually started to like it there. I fell in love with Havana on our fourth and most recent trip there. Sometimes the duration between visits helps with our impression.
Once we go to a place, we develop a memory of our experience. That stays with us for a while until the next visit. Those memories often create a set of expectations that sometimes turn out differently than what we remember. Sometimes it just takes us a long time before those visits.
It’s about who you are
In a perfect world, we would all be equal and treated the same way. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and it has a lot to do with how you look. If you can blend in with the locals and not stand out as a foreigner, you might have a more positive experience.
If you clearly look like you are from somewhere else, your experience might be different.
We might get a different treatment based on our gender, religion, the colour of our skin and hair, or sexual orientation. Even whom you are travelling with might affect how you’re treated. Sometimes those differences will be welcomed while at other times they are not. Should that stop us from travelling? Definitely not, but it has a great influence on how we are treated, which in turn affects our experience.
What’s your experience?
I’ve been to many places that I loved while others don’t share those feelings. I have also been to places that I absolutely hated that were beloved by many. The reality is that not all of us like the same things so our impressions will vary. That is what makes travel so interesting.
Have you been to places you loved that others hated or vice versa? Let me know!
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