You’ve saved up hard for your trip. You’ve longed to visit this place which you’ve seen only on postcards, in books and on the tv. You are ready and waiting for all your expectations to be met and so much more. You excitedly pack, you read your battered guide book from cover to cover and shout from the social media rooftops that you are FINALLY off to the destination of your dreams.

Except it’s not.

You arrive, and suddenly everything feels flat. That first breath in your dream destination is a little sour and the vibrant pictures in your imagination are suddenly replaced with faded, scratchy memories which make your heart hurt with disappointment.

But what do you actually do about it?

This has, sadly happened to me twice in two very different locations. Here’s my story, and how I overcame the crushing disappointment when my dreams weren’t realised.

On Paris

Paris was never a dream destination for me, but it was the dream destination of my of my friends. Whilst I had remained firmly skeptical about the City of Light, my closest friends waxed lyrical about the romance, the beauty and chic culture. This, along with the fact that on paper everything about Paris fitted my vision of a great place to visit started to soften my view.

Dream Destination

By the time I had booked the romantic long weekend in Paris, I was a bonafide Paris fan. I wanted to bask in the beauty of the Notre Dame and Sacre Couer. I was ready to be fully blown away by power of the Eiffel Tower. I had plans to walk hand in hand with my loved one along the banks of The Seine and weave in and out of the cobbled streets in Monmartre.

It’s fair to say I was heady with excitement. I was so ready for Paris.

Until that is, I arrived.

As soon as we stepped out of the Gare du Nord, the sinking feeling arrived. As we walked to our hotel I felt consumed with confusion. Paris felt hard and oppressive. We dropped our bags and headed out to explore, climbing the streets of Monmartre, and stepping over (and some times in) the small rivers of urine that came cascading down the streets.

The disappointment dissipated a little as we explored the Sacre Couer. It was one of the most beautiful buildings I had ever seen, and as we walked inside, serenaded by the choir I was overcome with emotion.

“STOP IT”, I said to myself. “Stop ruining Paris for yourself. Your friends love this, you’re being picky and get on with it”.

But as the weekend wore on I couldn’t halt the disappointment that crept across my body.

You're extremely excited to visit a dream destination. But what happens when the dream isn't real?Click To Tweet

The streets felt oppressive and cold and pushy wherever we went. Most of the top attractions left me cold and I couldn’t help but compare to some of the wonderful architecture we’d seen in smaller European cities.

The pressure to enjoy myself was immense. As I reached out people kept telling me that they loved it, that I was doing it wrong. So full anger at myself, that night we ended up staying in our hotel and sleeping off the bad mood. I just couldn’t make Paris work for me.

The next morning, our last in Paris, we took the advice of my wonderful friend Wanderluce (who was on hand for mutual support via Whatsapp the whole weekend) and headed to places off the beaten track. Wandering different places, not surrounded by hordes of tourists and iconic landmarks we were forcing ourselves to enjoy, we started to get to grips with Paris. Our Paris.

And I started to relax, just a little.

Much like London, Paris is a huge city and what this weekend taught me is that in a big city, it takes time to find your groove, your happy place. Paris is still not my city of love, but because of this I may return.

Dream Destination

On Havana

Havana was a different story entirely. I’d longed to visit Cuba, and as soon as we’d booked I was making plans and day dreaming about everything I’d see. I could hardly contain my excitement at seeing Cuba and exploring Havana was high up on my agenda.

Because Havana to me is just one of those places so full of history and intrigue. I wanted to learn and I wanted to feel immersed in the quirks – the American cars, the buildings, the revolutionary story. I wanted to stand there and feel part of it.

We arrived to torrential rain. I don’t mean just a bit of it. I mean thunder and lightning and huge great swathes of water that soaked us in the hot hot heat. Determined not to let it ruin my moment, my big dream I stepped out in to Revolution Square and my heart sank. That place were it all happened was now a car park. A large, dull, grey car park with barely a hint of the magnitude that f what had happened here.

As our rain filled tour wore on, the disappointments continued. We drank at the birthplace of the daiquiri and learnt about Hemingway’s association with Havana. We visited Havana Cathedral and the Malecon and the Museum of the Revolution. We were left exhausted, not enthralled. And very very damp.

Dream Destination

The next day, we awoke to beautiful sunshine. Determined to find the Havana of my dreams we set off and spent time wandering Old Havana. We viewed Havana from rooftops and we weaved in and out of side streets consumed with the noise and the chaos and the heat. Oh my was it hot, the sun unmercifully beating down on us as we tried to explore and learn and grow.

As we pulled away from Havana, cameras full but hearts heavy I tried to piece together what was wrong. Had it been the weather? Had it quite literally rained too much on my parade? Was it the tour? We’re our guides lacking? Was it me? Did I do it wrong?

Or was it the weight of expectation? Was it the fact that I’d built a picture in my head of what Havana was, of what it would feel like, instead of letting Havana be who it was.

Dream Destination

I’ve got two years distance on that trip now, and only now can I look upon those photos, those memories without wincing. Havana was exactly as it should have been, but my picture was all wrong. The weather didn’t help matters, but instead of letting my mind go with what was in front of me, instead I let it get stuck on what I’d hoped to feel.

Sometimes, a trip doesn’t work out. This was one of those trips. Havana is an intense and complicated city, and on that day, in that time I wasn’t ready for it.

Have you ever visited a destination that didn’t live up to your dream?

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Travel Tips | City Breaks |Travel Advice | Travelling

Travel Tips | City Breaks |Travel Advice | Travelling

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  • LC

    How funny in that we feel exactly the same about those two cities. I spent YEARS building up Paris in my head. I’ve been twice now and on both occasions, it has failed to live up to expectations. Havana also fell flat. It didn’t help that they are the only places I’ve ever had food poisoning in when travelling, either! Oh well. I always feel that there are plenty of other places around the world to fall in love with instead…

  • I have so much love for this post dude! e put so much pressure on ourselves to love places everyone else does. It’s like we feel ungrateful if we travel somewhere and then don’t come home gushing about it.

    There are so many places I just felt ‘meh’ about that I thought I’d love and sometimes it’s not even the destinations fault! It’s too much hype, being in a bad mood…..loads of stuff.

    AWESOME work Sparrow x

  • I totally understand you with Paris. It has never been a dream of mine to go there but when I went I got excited and then dissapointed. I feel like lot of big cities are overrated and I find myself having more fun in smaller or not so hype places πŸ™‚

  • Jacqui O’Beirne

    I also didn ot feel the love in Paris, Copenhagen on the other hand was fantastic!

  • Snow to Seas

    Really interesting post to read! I’ve been to Paris before, and I really enjoyed my time there. I spent years studying European history and the French Revolution, so it was incredible to visit all the places where historical events took place. I’m not sure if I would choose to back again though, so maybe I didn’t love it enough! haha

  • Young And Undecided

    When I was in Paris is definitely enjoyed it more when I kept away from the obvious places. The whole Eiffel Tower area is the worst! Such a tourist trap!

  • I felt like this about both San Francisco and Miami. I thought I would love them but I didn’t. I’d still return to them, but would venture out more instead of sticking to the tourist spots.

  • Strangerless

    This is one of the reasons I don’t enjoy reading guide books or travel blogs BEFORE I go to a destination. Instead, quite oddly, I read them afterwards πŸ˜€ The thing is, I don’t want to have a picture in mind, before I discover a place through my own experience. But there are still places that intrigue me just by an image or name…Cuba is definitely one of them, but I’ve heard Santiago de Cuba is so much nicer than Havanna!

  • I’ve heard this a lot about Paris .., it’s my dream destination so hope I get a better feel for it! Sorry for dreams gone bad :/

    Valerie

  • Leigh Swansborough

    it may sound odd, but I felt this way at the North Rim. The North Rim is stunning; however, it didn’t deliver the way the Paria Canyon did.

  • Vrithi Chandramani

    That’s the very reason I don’t read much and expect anything out of a place. I try to take it all in and surprise me so that I can enjoy that place for what it is. Cuba was one of those places for me. It truly surprised me!

  • Jewels Rhode

    Bad weather can sure put a damper on a trip. When I visited Vienna, it was really cold and rainy, so it made it harder to enjoy the beautiful outside monuments. But I always aim to take something positive away from each trip.

    • Alyssa @thepaperglobetrotter

      What came to mind reading this post was also my trip to Vienna! My expectations were not that high, but I had heard a fair bit about it and was excited to see it for myself. But it was cold and thus hard to appreciate the outside, and everything was so expensive that we could not afford going inside most monuments… We left pretty disappointed.

  • There’s so much hype around certain places that it’s hard not to be disappointed when you visit. Also, a holiday is meant to be a break away from normal everyday life so if it doesn’t live up to expectations it can feel like a waste of time and money.

    Francesca Andrews

  • I kind of felt the same way about Paris. It just didn’t seem to live up to its hype. I enjoyed it, but definitely enjoyed other cities more. The other place that left me extremely disappointed was the Dominican Republic. We had torrential rain the entire time, my husband got food poisoning and we ended up stuck at a resort the entire time. I feel like I need to give it another chance because it’s not the country’s fault that my trip was awful. I need to give it the opportunity of redemption.

  • I haven’t visited a destination that didn’t live up to my dream. But I did not particularly like Vienna. I can’t say I went in with any particular expectations. But as someone who lives in a big city and generally loves cities, big and small, I found Vienna to be cold, lifeless, and unwelcoming to visitors. I’m open to visiting again and perhaps my experiences will be different. But, I also think it’s ok if they’re not. We don’t have to LOVE every place. So sorry you didn’t fall in love with Paris.

  • Danik Bates

    Paris needs a little bit more time and not a rush rush job like most visitors do but my top advice is to stay away from tourist hot spots if you want to eat and go into the unknown. Always get to Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame around 9am and buy tickets online. If a place gets me down, I try and turn the negatives into positives which is hard to do for a lot of people but it does work.

  • Claudia Padgett

    It is funny you mentoined Paris because I felt the exact same say about it. I had dreamed about visiting for many years and when I got there it was so big, so busy, so confusing and had a bad experience with customer service and locals. I found Rome to be the same. So my top 2 ohh and Venice… top 3 destinations that I always wanted to visit where my least favorite experiences and instead loved other places like Munich, Zurich, Athens! Who knew! Maybe my expectations where to high but I mostly blame the poor quality of food, and lack of customer service. Maybe ill have better luck next time!

  • Sherianne Higgins (SherianneKa

    Oh Geez. Not a fan of Paris. Planning Havana for December and was super excited… now I’m a little bit nervous!

  • I could have written that exact same excerpt about Paris! We even took our time and I even returned….still nothing! I think it USED to be an amazing, romantic city, but it’s lost that charm over time

  • I absolutely love Havana but am with you on Paris. I don’t quite understand why people rave about it so much when there are so many other European cities which far surpass it. Strasbourg is much prettier and quainter!

  • Debra Schroeder

    I can totally relate. It happened to me for one destination almost eleven years but I prefer not to say which. Now I try not to have any preconceived ideas about a place. Hopefully you can revisit Paris and Havana and have better experiences.

  • Traveling is such a personal thing that there is always a risk that our imagination – spurred on by Instagram, travel blogs and articles – and other people’s hopes and dreams can build a destination into something it isn’t. I can’t help but be excited about places once i’ve booked a trip, but I try to only read informational pieces before I go – so that no one else can influence how I feel and everything stays real and in the moment I am there.

  • Generally, I make the best of everywhere. Often things don’t meet my expectations, but that’s okay. Not always though. I am not a fan of Paris either. But one of my friends moved there and invited us. It turned out I was allergic to her cat and had to move to a hotel. In the end we changed our flight to get out of Paris three days earlier than initially booked.

  • Reshma

    I can totally understand this when trips go wrong and turn out anything but we expect. I’m surprised that Paris did that to you as I have heard only heard good things about it like you have said. Sometimes things are not in our hands when we travel. Sigh!

  • It’s heartbreaking when things like this happen! but I hope you could give it a chance again!

  • Charlie Elliott

    I have this with two places that are such big tourist destinations: Barcelona and Sydney. I’ve visited both of them twice and after the second time, I knew I wasn’t just being picky or seeing the worst. Especially with Sydney, I tried so hard to experience it in a different way the second time around, but after going to Melbourne twice and feeling so excited and at home there both times, I know it’s just not for me. I always try to see the best of everywhere I go but I do also believe that it’s OK not to like somewhere!
    Cx
    charliedistracted.com

  • I understand this entirely and funny those are two cities I left at least a little disappointed. Havana for me was good but not the outstanding I had dreamed of. And I honestly didn’t like Paris at all. But at the same time I know it’s that I don’t love big cities that is part of the reason I didn’t love either of these two. Thanks for sharing.

  • I am so glad I’m not the only one that thinks Paris is overrated! I went there years ago an am determined to return though just to see if an older and wiser(?!) me can appreciate it a bit more…
    Lorna (www.daychaser.wordpress.com)

  • I was, and continue to be, underwhelmed by New York; had high expectations of Geneva and was disappointed; had very low expectations on Jamaica and, even so, I still disliked it. Some places are not for us!

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