And how your view on travel destinations can be skewed by cost, money, and photos.
Excitement began to well up in me as the small plane’s landing gear groaned as it retracted and we made our final turn for the small run-down landing strip on a tiny isolated rocky island. We needed to stop to clear customs at a small shack-like building before we could hop on a boat to make the final leg of our trip to an island out in the Great Exuma Chain in the Bahamas.
I had just started working at a new company and this was my maiden voyage out of the country. It was my job to hunt down mosquitoes and sand flies and develop disease prevention programs for private clients. The great benefit to this was that every aspect of my trip was paid for by the client, and all the arrangements for travel and accommodations were taken care of. I didn’t have to spend countless hours surfing the internet researching locations to visit, restaurants to eat at, hotels to sleep in, or tourist spots to take generic pictures at. It left me with the freedom to simply go along for the ride to another country and view it without any bias or “star-struck” expectations.
The plane got closer and closer to the ground and I started to quickly notice how barren the landscape had become. Where were the rolling hills? Where were the palm trees and forests? Where were all the interesting landscape features?
This was my first mistake: creating expectations; creating expectations and assumptions of somewhere I had never been.
I had seen beautiful images plastered all over the internet of lush greenery and palm trees, serene tropical turquoise water juxtaposed with white sandy beaches and endless sunny skies. I quickly realized that these pictures were taken around resorts and more “manicured” areas of the Bahamas. I was given the false expectation that all the Bahamas looked like this and that was far from the truth. In my head, I had pictured it would be more like the Caribbean islands (which I had not been to yet…). I assumed that most of the tropical areas throughout the Caribbean were close and offered similar experiences.
I stepped off the plane and was immediately blasted in the face by high winds, sweltering heat and humidity, and an unpleasant smell coming from the abundant stagnant ocean and rain water that had pooled around the various low spots of the island. There were no trees, only dry ugly bushes plastered all over the desolate landscape. There were no hills, merely a flat desert rock-scape that barely stood above the oceans water level. This island had been beat to death by the incessant salty ocean winds. This was far from the tropical paradise of the pictures I had seen.
And here comes mistake number two: giving pictures of places you want to travel more merit than they are worth.
When you view pictures of travel destinations, you are simply viewing what the photographer wants you to see. You are using only one tangible sense: sight. When you look at a picture you are missing all the other information that comes along with it such as the temperature, the humidity, and the smells. Don’t get me wrong, I created some amazing landscape photos from this trip which I am thankful for, but the photos only show you the environment, not all the bad weather, heat, humidity, smells, and uncomfortableness that I personally dealt with while taking them.
When you view these photos, you are interpreting them from the current environment you are in. Looking at these photos from a heated or air conditioned room while sitting on your couch or computer tricks your brain and other senses into thinking these locations are simply amazing by vision alone. You are associating the sight and beauty of the photo with your current environment.
Take this photo I took for example…
What immediate thoughts come to your mind when you see it?
Is it pretty? Is it otherworldly? Is it whimsical? Maybe perhaps it is just simply pleasing to look at?
What you aren’t gathering from this photo is what it was actually like in that environment. A storm was approaching so I was at a race against time before the tropical downpour would begin and ruin my photo. It was pitch black and almost midnight yet I was still dripping sweat from my chin and the tip of my nose from the hot, moisture soaked air. My clothes were uncomfortably stuck to me even though the heat of the sun was gone. The winds were howling and my camera equipment was being coated and blasted from the high salt content in the air. At one point, I flipped my flash light on during the photo to grab something out of my camera bag and saw a cocktail of 40 or more mosquitos and sand flies plastered on the front of my clothes trying to bite me through them. They had used me as a wind block and apparently flew up and landed all over me in the moonless night. The smell was a mixture of ocean air and rotting organic soil and matter form the nearby mangrove swamps.
I guess this is where I come to my final point: Be wary of the influence that money and expectations can have on your travel experience.
My trip to the Bahamas was a free all paid expense trip, so I had zero personal investment in this destination. I could experience the trip from an unbiased standpoint. Had I invested thousands of dollars in plane tickets, accommodation, and activities, I’m sure I would have justified a lot of the negative aspects of the trip. Investing a lot of money in travel inevitably clouds your judgment about the place you have waited so long to travel to. Look through that veil and glean all that useful knowledge that you would have otherwise passed over.
I am not trying to approach this as being cynical but more of an approach as giving an honest assessment to the places you have or want to travel. Learn from the experience in a way that will influence your next choice in destination in a positive and more meaningful way, not just because you saw it in a magazine or internet article. Learn what you like and desire in your travels. And in the end, your journeys will be more fruitful and personally rewarding.
Learn from the negative or unfavorable events on your trips to influence your future travels.
From this trip, I cultivated what I desire in all my future travels. The Bahamas are a great place to travel if you want to kick back and relax, hang out on some beautiful white beaches and turquoise waters, snorkel, and drink in the sun and alcohol. But to me, relaxing, eating, and laying around is something that I can do locally. I desire grand landscapes with mountains and elevation changes, epic forests and lakes, places with interesting historical background, places with diverse and culturally different food, places that are raw and don’t just have a 5-star veneer on them to cater to traveling rich whitey. Make every trip you take a learning experience and use that information to craft a perfect future travel for you.