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Travel - Expectation vs Reality

Traveling is the next big thing. A quick scroll through Instagram or Facebook and you’ll see posts of people traveling all around the world living their best lives. There are a countless number of influencers on social media who make a living by traveling the world and advertising for brands. The concept of traveling inspires many people and many people live through the lives of those who post content about it. But when you’re seeing all those posts on social media, you’re only seeing one side of the story.

Now, I want to start with a big disclaimer. I can only really speak about my experiences traveling with others. I’ve traveled to quite a few places under all different types of circumstances. I’ve traveled to Iceland, Costa Rica, Mexico, London, Paris, a bunch of islands in the Caribbean, and half of the states in the U.S. I have flown to different countries overnight, driven 16 hours overnight across the country, been delayed for hours in airports, gotten flights cancelled, been stranded on islands in the snow, and the list goes on. And there are moments where I’m pushed to my limits and moments where I’m blown away by what’s in front of me.

I wanted to use this article to shed some light on the reality of traveling through my perspective. I want to open up the curtain and show a little point of view that doesn’t always come through on Instagram and Facebook.

I love traveling. I just wanted to make sure I start with that. If I didn’t like traveling, I wouldn’t do it constantly, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t spend all this time writing articles about it. I’m sure I could think of something more fun to do. Maybe.

I haven’t seen the whole world. I would love to see as much as I can one day, hopefully once everything settles down a bit with this pandemic. I’ve been traveling for years for all different reasons. I think the easiest way I can break down the differences between reality and expectations while traveling is to tell a couple stories.

For my trip to Iceland, we took an overnight flight leaving from Newark, New Jersey to Keflavik, Iceland the next morning. This was one of the cheaper flights and we figured we'd get there early the next day and get a good head start at experiencing what Iceland had to offer. Once on the 6 hour flight, I quickly realized that I can’t sleep on a plane. Every time I would close my eyes, I would just sit there. I think it was because of the upright seating position (I also can’t fall asleep in cars). On a plane, I never want to be the person to recline my seat because I always feel bad about the person behind me. When riding as a passenger in a car on a long road trip, I’m more inclined (ba dum tss) to put my seat back but I still never seem to get comfortable.

I remember that first day in Iceland being really exhausting. I hadn’t slept at all the night before and my motivation was slipping. This feeling amplified even more when I sat down in my manual transmission rental car and I immediately struggled to drive it through rush hour traffic. Once getting out to the countryside where roads went on into the endless horizon, things started feeling a little easier. I didn’t have to remember how to drive a car all over again. But I was starting to get tired and as I drove down infinite stretches of highway, I could feel my eyes starting to close. I had finally made it to one of my dream destinations and I couldn’t even stay awake. This all changed when I saw the first waterfall in the distance. The adrenaline kicked in and suddenly I was ready to take on the world.

Iceland is 4 hours ahead of New Jersey, so going to sleep at a normal time that night ended up being easy because of my lack of sleep. Typically when I sleep in a new place, I’ll wake up at least once in the middle of the night and quickly forget that I’m staying somewhere new. There’s those couple seconds where I open my eyes and think “wait, where am I?” The first two nights, we camped outside next to a waterfall. I have to say, going to sleep with the gentle roar of a waterfall in the background was very relaxing. If you wanted to know more about my adventure to Iceland, I wrote a few articles about it.

I’ve done a couple overnight drives. I’ve driven overnight to Nashville, South Carolina, Chicago, and most recently Walt Disney World. The 16 hour drive to Florida was the longest one yet. On these trips, I never drive the full time. When I’m not driving, I usually stay awake and keep my eyes off the road so I can try resting them a little bit. I’ve found energy drinks and podcasts to be very useful on these trips. I still don’t know if energy drinks actually give me more energy or if it’s a placebo effect. I guess either way it does the job. I used to listen to music in the car, but recently I feel like listening to music makes me more tired. The melody of the songs are almost as hypnotic as the highway in front of me.

I’ve been enjoying podcasts. I was honestly never a big podcast person. On the trip to Walt Disney World, we listened to a podcast series called My Solo Road by Divine on the Road’s Sydney Ferbrache. I started following her Instagram account, @divineontheroad, a while ago because she built out her own van and travels the country with her dogs. I’ve always felt inspired by that lifestyle and hope to one day have my own van build or Airstream travel trailer and be able to share my travels on the road. Her podcast covers a lot about van life and life in general. It’s very relatable and I would highly recommend checking it out!

For some of my trips, there was a lot of pre-planning. This would be figuring out where we’d be on certain days. This would be booking room or campsite accommodations and figuring out what to do each day. I love the spontaneity of travel. I like not knowing what tomorrow is going to bring. There were a few trips where this was possible. On our road trip through the mid-west, our stay in Chicago was only supposed to be for one night. Upon arriving there, we liked it so much that we ended up staying there for three days before moving to the next location. On that same trip, we randomly decided we wanted to visit Minnesota, so we did that too. Why did we do it? Because we just wanted to.

The freedom of having no set plan is a nice feeling. There are few feelings better to me than just going out and seeing where the day takes me, especially when it's somewhere new. There are some people that like to plan everything. I had a friend who once booked a trip and showed me her itinerary. She had it all written up in a spreadsheet and it was planned out, hour by hour. She wanted to make sure she didn’t miss anything. And, while I don’t think I could ever be that organized, I do think having some kind of structure is important.

When I was in Iceland, we had an idea of what we wanted to see. We had done plenty of research leading up to the trip. But once we were there, we were so overwhelmed with everything we were experiencing. We just took off and started driving and figured we’d stop if something exciting showed up. We would finish the day sitting in the tent trying to plan out the next day. While we decided what to do, we realized we were too far away from places we had wanted to visit. We also needed pre-reserved tickets for some of the more tourist-y attractions on our list. We thought we would just wing it when we got there, but it backfired on us. We still had the chance to see a lot of great waterfalls and sights, but we would have gotten more out of the trip if we had planned a little bit in advance. I’m still a big advocate of being spontaneous, but I try and have a foundation first. I have some structure in place where, if I want to deviate from that structure, I will. If I don’t know what else I want to do, I still know I have something to fall back on.

I’ve climbed to the top of the Hollywood sign. Wanting to be an actor my entire childhood and then wanting to direct films through my teens, visiting Hollywood was always this crazy dream of mine. When I first visited Los Angeles, one of my must-do’s was to see the Hollywood sign. I found out quickly that hiking to the Hollywood sign isn’t exactly for the faint of heart.

From where we parked, to the sign, it was a round trip of about 4 miles. These 4 miles were in direct sunlight, with some pretty steep inclines. I got tired really fast and there were a few times where I just wanted to turn back. But I kept thinking about how I’ve wanted to walk up to that sign my whole life. Once we got up to the sign, we were awarded with a beautiful view of Los Angeles. Looking down at where we parked really put some perspective on the journey up. Every time I look at the picture I took behind the Hollywood sign, I think of that heat beating down on my face and neck. I think of how weak my legs felt as I kept trekking higher and higher. The signs saying “Beware of Rattlesnakes” are burned into my memory. The amount of people at the top of the Hollywood sign was more than I see on a normal day. But standing up there, looking down at the world, I felt really accomplished. I felt like I could put my stamp on the day.

I used to wake up early and drive to the beach to take photos of the sunrise. I live about an hour from the beach so this would mean getting up around 4:30 in the morning, packing all my camera gear, and driving to the coast. During the hour long drive, as I slowly woke up, I would question myself. Why would I get up so early to take a couple random pictures?

I would arrive at the beach before the sun came up over the horizon. I had a tendency to shoot sunrises in the winter. For some reason, I would never do it in the summer. So I would be standing on the beach, with the cold ocean breeze blowing on me. I wouldn’t be able to feel my fingers if they weren’t covered up. My ears were burning in the cold winter air.

But then I saw it; that vibrant glow coming up over the horizon. The warm glow of the sun reached out and touched everything in its sight. The entire beach lit up. It was such an incredible sight.

In that moment, my complete lack of sleep didn’t matter. I forgot about my hour long drive to the beach. All I cared about was the beauty in front of me. Seeing morning sunrises were one of the things I loved most about traveling. All of the hardships of travel were completely erased once I saw the reason I traveled in the first place.

This is a photo of me in Zion National Park in Utah. There are very few fancy photos of me floating around, so it’s one of my favorites by default. The night before, we had driven around three hours from Las Vegas to Zion and set up our tents and our campsite in the dark. I stayed up late taking photos of the night sky.

I didn’t even see the mountains that night. I didn’t know what Zion National Park looked like until the next morning when I crawled out of my tent at sunrise. We traveled when the government had shut down in January 2019, so all of America's National Parks were closed. We didn’t really know what to expect when we got there, or if we were going to be asked to turn around. When we arrived at the park, there was one campground open and it was only half full.

This is probably my favorite photo from my trip to Washington D.C. It was also the only photo I took with a big story behind it. This is a photo of the National Archives building. The National Archives building contains some of America’s most important documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.

One night, a friend and I decided to go around Washington D.C. and take some fun shots of the buildings. I stood in front of this building, set up my tripod, and started taking some long-exposure shots. After a few minutes, a security guard walked out and confronted me. He asked me what I was doing. I told him my friend and I were just going around taking pictures of the architecture in the city. I even offered to show him the pictures on my camera so he could see what I was taking. He declined and said it was okay. He told us to have a good night and went back into the building. At the time, I wasn’t even aware of what the building contained. It was only until afterwards that I realized the significance of the National Archives building. It was an experience and I have the picture to remind myself.

These are just some of the experiences I’ve had while traveling. Behind every photo is a story. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel and see many new perspectives. Not every part about traveling is perfect. Many parts of it can be exhausting; the overnight drives, long flights, lack of sleep. But in those moments where you’re staring at something that takes your breath away and leaves you in awe, every bump along the way smooths out. After every long hike and every sleepless night, the only parts of each trip that stay at the front of my memory are the ones that changed me. Pain is only temporary. The experiences that change you, that show you new perspectives, will shape who you are and stay with you forever.

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