Happiness studies have shown that pre-vacation anticipation gives as much or MORE happiness than the vacation itself. Within days of returning, vacationers don’t report being happier than those who never left.

How could this be?

My (unscientific) theory? Their vacation expectations were too high!

Here’s the deal: I’ve lived in Colombia for two years. During that time, I’ve hosted many would-be adventurers—people who have traditional, stressful and/or confining jobs that leave them lusting for adventure. When they manage to get a week off, these folks are determined to have the BEST TRIP OF THEIR LIVES.

Sound familiar?

The expectations of these travelers often parallel those of their daily lives. For instance: that reservations will be as-seen-on-the-internet, 10+ minutes of wait-time is TERRIBLE, itinerary deviations are dreadful, and a missed bus is a disaster!

Well, after a few years of playing tour guide, I’ve come up with a few “expectation-setting guidelines.” Rather than “lowering” your expectations, let’s call it reframing them. In other words: change what you see as unfortunate into a different adventure opportunity.

You wanted to see the world, right? Get excited to take in the details around you with–

5 Ways to Reframe your Travel Expectations:

1) Wait time –> People Watching

Stuck at a bus stop? Can’t figure out why that speedboat trip you woke up for hours ago still hasn’t left the docks? Observe how the locals deal with the situation. Check out the crazy local fashions, the wild hand gestures flying, the frenzied cadence of the local accent. Find a local to laugh with at the other tourists making a scene, and then congratulate yourself on how very cool you are.

2) Reservations gone wrong –>Hidden local gems

In many places worth adventuring, a strong internet presence is still of the future. This means that there are probably plenty of other available choices despite what the internet told you. If your reservations aren’t what you hoped, take to the streets. You’ll avoid the touristy crowds and probably make a few local friends as you hunt. Adopt a low profile, a genuine smile, and a confident attitude to help avoid getting fleeced.

3) Crowded spaces –> Human connection

It’s no secret that North Americans cultivate a larger personal bubble than many world citizens. Did you know that physical contact can lower stress and blood pressure? When you’re surrounded by strangers, enjoy the sensation. Try a smile! Making a positive human connection will brighten even the most uncomfortable of situations.

4) Missed bus –>Day trip

Miss a connecting bus? Forget to buy tickets for your planned daytrip early enough? Look outside your itinerary and consider other stops, or spend time exploring the nooks and crannies of a place you’ve already been. Or, if the distance is manageable, walk it—the view is undoubtedly more interesting by foot.

5) Misunderstandings –> Humor

It can be scary going to a country where you don’t speak the language. Many travelers keep to the beaten path because of it. Don’t be afraid to take some risks, and always be quick to laugh at yourself. Most awkward situations end up as “good stories” for afterwards…why save the laughter for later?


Do make sure that above all, you travel wisely. If you’re off the beaten path, check on safety first. Don’t make yourself a target. Don’t be stupid. But don’t let fear of a destination’s reputation rule your actions. It turns out that people everywhere are actually more often kind than not.

At the end of the day, if you “lower” your expectations, your trips will always be as fantastic as you hoped they would. As we say on the coast of Colombia, coge lo suave! Take it easy. Travel with an open mind and heart, and doors will open to adventure everywhere you go.