“I have to go to Paris this summer,” beams my friend Kelly as we’re planning out summer trip. “It’s the most romantic city on Earth, and it would be so much fun to fall in love with a local, riding on the back of his Vespa and touring the beautiful city together.”
I stared back at my friend in disbelief that she actually felt this would happen, but then stopped myself. I’d been in her shoes the previous summer.
One of my favorite things about traveling to a place is seeing how the destination compares or contrasts with the image I have in my head. Sometimes it is clear why everyone has put a place on a pedestal, while other times you’re left searching high and low for all the aspects of the city you’d pictured.
When visiting Paris I didn’t understand why people called It “The City Of Love.” I’d read countless articles portraying sunny days spent people watching at French cafes, couples strolling hand in hand along the Seine River, smiling bakers selling baguettes and elegant shops showcasing fashion trends ahead of their time. While Paris offered these things, the ambiance felt different to me than what I’d pictured and planned for.
With all the blogs and glossy magazines positively describing cities and evoking emotions in a way that excites their readers — either by using poetic license or by describing “their” personal experience — it’s hard not to conjure up these flawless ideas of a place. While one traveler may have found love in Paris, another may have been robbed. These two people will have very different accounts of the city. The important thing when planning a trip is not to become so obsessed with any unproven image, or you’ll become disappointed when a destination doesn’t live up to your expectations.
While Paris didn’t live up to my admittedly high expectations — I didn’t meet a sexy Parisian and make love under the Eiffel Tower before feeding each other chocolate croissants — I still enjoyed it. I toured the Notre Dame, attended a music festival and enjoyed crepe and wine picnics at the Eiffel Tower. While my experience of Paris wasn’t the romance-novel inspiration I had dreamed of, I had fun learning about the culture and solo travel-friendly facets of the city.
I also learned a valuable lesson about idealizing a place. Yes, you should look forward to visiting a new destination, especially one you’ve wanted to see for awhile, but keep your expectations neutral. Expect to have fun, expect to learn and expect to have a unique experience; however, don’t expect the destination to be the answer to your dreams or your problems, or you’ll just be disappointed. Instead, let the destination inspire you organically, introducing itself to you like a new potential best friend who you’ve heard very little of. Be an explorer, setting out on a new adventure. This way, you’ll be appreciating the discoveries you do make, instead of being upset about the ones you didn’t make.
Eiffel Tower. Photo courtesy of Pinzino.