• Sam Wilson

Travel Expectations Versus Reality

How To Manage Your Travel Expectations



Quote graphic with the words Happiness equals reality minus experience by Tom Magliozzi


I’m sure we’ve all been there - you’ve planned this trip for AGES, built up so much expectation, didn’t sleep the night before leaving, dreamed about the incredible photos you are going to take … and then the experience just doesn’t match these expectations. Were they even realistic?


There are so many variables that can happen to disappoint you and not meet your expectations - delays, cancelled bookings, bad weather etc. that can let you down, but you don’t have to let them ruin your experiences.


Here are 5 tips that you can implement to manage your expectations so you get the most out of your next travel experience rather than being disappointed.


  1. Research but don’t believe everything you see on social media

  2. Try to avoid popular holiday dates but expect crowds at popular locations

  3. Plan your itinerary but expect to have to be flexible at times

  4. Expect that things won’t go right 100% of the time

  5. Travel with an open mind



building with light projections saying "For Sydney With Love" by Ken Done
Vivid Sydney 2022

1 - Research but don’t believe everything you see on social media


Research really is key to planning any travel, but the most important part of this is doing the RIGHT research.


Looking on social media to get inspiration for where you’re planning to go is wonderful, but is really just a starting point. We’ve all seen those incredible curated and edited photos of a location with hardly any people in them, and then had to line up for ages to finally see that it didn’t quite look the same as that Instagram post.



Lonely Planet guides and other travel plus photography books on shelf
My Collection of Lonely Planet books - who still collects books?

The Lonely Planet guides have been such a mainstay for my research over the years and I'm proud to be the owner of quite a collection. This may seem a little outdated now so think more of Tripadvisor and Google Reviews as a starter.


Simply googling your destination and the word ‘visiting’ will also bring up a number of blog posts which honestly (hopefully) review the location and give tips and ideas - much like the posts that I write about.


I’ve got a number of planning resources and articles as it’s one of my specialties, so check out my free E-Book here.



car covered in snow with a link to free e-book on planning a road trip


Pinterest is another great source, but like everything, make sure you do enough research so that it’s balanced. I’ve read that it’s something like people will write 10 negative review compared to 1 positive review. It’s so easy for people to complain when things havent been great, yet forget to share when things have gone well.


Bonus Tip - don’t forget practical research of the area that you are visiting - has the area been affected by fire, flood or any other natural disaster that could affect your access?

Check out the local tourism websites and facebook groups. They will usually have up to date information, and often suggestions for lesser known gems in the area.


My shameful share - a friend and I once drove over 700km in a day to photograph a waterfall after heavy rainfall in the area. What we didn’t research was the effect that all of this said rain had on the area. So much so that many roads were closed and we couldn’t actually get to the waterfall …


We did redeem ourselves a few weeks later and this was the result -



Ellenborough falls NSW

2 - Try to avoid popular holiday dates but expect crowds to be at popular locations


This may not always be possible, and don’t forget that popular locations are popular for a reason! Not everyone can avoid travelling at popular times for various reasons, but you can be prepared for this and try to avoid the crowds as much as you are able.


If you can avoid the peak events and holidays then not only will there be less people, the accommodation and flights can also be cheaper.


Get up and out early! There’s a reason you see more sunset photos than you do sunrises. It’s so much easier to be at a location in the afternoon than it is to get up at stupid o’clock for that morning light. Use that to your advantage and get to locations earlier. The earlier you get somewhere (usually), the less people you will have to contend with - both in your photography, and your experience.



This is an iconic Australian location famous for surfers and it was on my ‘must do’ list to photograph. Being there early with a coffee not only got me a sunrise shot but a lovely chat with some of the local surfers

Yes, relaxing is an important part of being on a holiday, but I choose to do this in the afternoons when popular locations are at their busiest. Nothing like an old siesta or nanna nap to revive you and make up for that early start.




Autumn photography is a favourite of mine and in Australia Bright in Victoria is a very popular destination. Upon research I chose a few days not only just after school holidays, but also just after their annual autumn festival. This meant that I could actually get accommodation and be fairly confident that the autumn colours would still be there to photograph. That extra research was surely worth it.



3 - Plan your itinerary but expect to have to be flexible at times


This is something I think we’ve all had to deal with since before the pandemic - I don’t think I know anyone that hasn’t had to reschedule something since 2020.


But it’s not just that, it can also be the weather, places being closed due to staff shortages, or even something as simple as needing some down time.


Travel time is always so limited and we want to pack as much into this adventure - who knows, we may never get back there, but sometimes it’s just not always possible to do ALL the things, so keep it realistic to avoid disappointment.


A good way to do this is to have 2 lists on your itinerary - Must Do and Like To Do.


This way, getting to some or all of the ‘like to do’ list can feel like a bonus, and if not, hopefully you will be super happy that you completed your ‘must do’ list - the total opposite of disappointment.



4 - Travel with an open mind



Parachute descending with the quote "The mind is like a parachute - it works better when it's open"

I like to credit the correct person but I was unable to confirm this 100% - it has been attributed to The Dalai Lama, Frank Zappa and others just in case you were wondering.



This is nothing new but something I felt needed mentioning. And I’m not just talking about different cultures here, as I think that should be a given - research and respect the cultures wherever you go - full stop.


This is more about actively managing your own expectations. Mentally preparing yourself in whatever way works for you to accept whatever will happen and try to make the most of it - Pollyanna if you will lol.


I remember when I first started going out to photograph sunrises and expecting everyone to be amazing. This often led to disappointment, but over time I’ve come to realise that every sunrise IS amazing, it just might not be crazy colourful or make for dramatic photos. It is still always good to just get out.


The last few years have been challenging for everyone in their own way and it’s good to remember this when we go about our daily lives, not just travelling.


5 - Expect that things won’t go right 100% of the time


No matter how much booking and planning you do, things are going to go ‘wrong’ at some point. Flights will be delayed, you’ll get ‘lost’, or the accommodation you booked may not be what you originally thought. Insert any other possible ‘inconvenience’ here.


Be prepared for that wait, make sure your phone is charged, that you can access maps offline, or just stop and breathe and think what to do next.



road with cows crossing
Sometimes you just have to stop and wait

Did you bring that book to read or have cash to buy that coffee while you wait? These little things really can help to make the difference between being put out, to being able to accept and adapt.


Let’s revisit that quote - “Happiness Equals Reality Minus Expectations”.


Basically we are generally happy when the reality of our experiences is better than expected. It is when we have unreasonably high expectations that can lead to disappointment.


Randy Carlson (author), goes further to say that “The only two solutions you have to get over disappointment is to either alter your reality or alter your expectations”.


I guess in some way we can alter both, but I’d rather look at it as doing the best we can with what we have and making the most of it either way.


Please feel free to comment with any of your thoughts or suggestions - I’d love to hear if there are times that you thought were a disaster that turned into a great experience - let me know!


That’s it for now - Keep clicking and stay caffeinated


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Note - This post does not contain any sponsored or affiliated links. All suggestions and opinions are mine. Unless otherwise stated, all photos are mine and remain my copyright images - Sam Wilson Photography.


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