Expectations and Reality | Sam Starr

Expectations and Reality

Expectation – A long-awaited arrival of a long-distance love, ending in a rom-com worthy kiss in the airport. Reality – A missed flight, a frantic fiancé, and a quickly dwindling checking account.

Expectation – A sweet and memorable time together in cozy corners of quaint neighborhoods. Reality – An obscure hostel, lingering cigarette stench, and BED BUGS.

Expectation – A week of carefully planned-out yet exciting cultural experiences. Reality – A permanently closed tourist attraction, a lost bus pass, and a scamming taxi driver.

… But you would never know it from the social media posts, would you?

After moving to China for a five-month teaching commitment, I was ecstatic when I found out my fiancé, Sam, would be able to visit. I spent several days planning the perfect itinerary – full of adventure and culture with the perfect amount of R&R sprinkled in between. The tickets were booked, rooms were reserved, and a countdown on my phone was set. After two months apart, Sam and I couldn’t wait to see each other again! We both envisioned over and over what our week would be like when we were finally reunited. Obviously, I don’t think either of us envisioned the week going how it actually went.

Without going into too graphic detail, a lot of things weren’t what we thought they’d be like, didn’t happen the way we planned, and just plain went wrong. It seemed like as soon as we’d recover from the last incident, another offense would occur. I’ll admit that I wasn’t the best sport about it all, although Sam did his best to keep me looking on the bright side (“at least the bugs didn’t bite you, just me”). After three nights in Beijing, one night in Harbin, and two nights in Dalian, my home base, I think Sam was excited to get the hell out of Dodge, err Dalian, so to speak.

It’s funny to recount our sordid tales to our friends and families because from the looks of our social media accounts, you would never know. We posted about historic landmarks, bizarre foods, interesting Chinese quirks, and each other, all while ignoring the extreme bad luck we were experiencing. Social media truly is just the highlight reel.

It’s so easy to look at all of these photographers, travel bloggers, and social media influencers and assume that they must have it made. We assume that everything goes well for them, that they have the best experiences, and that we should all try to create this pixel-perfect lifestyle that they’ve so effortlessly created. What most social media users don’t see is all of the stuff that went wrong in order to get that picture. They don’t see the travel mishaps, the uncomfortable sleeping locations, the wasted money, and the disappointments. They don’t experience the ache of joints crammed on an 8-hour train ride, the scent of day-old meat wafting from the local hole-in-the-wall, the infuriation and humiliation of getting scammed by a local taxi driver.

Travelling isn’t always easy, and it’s definitely not always pretty. Poverty, pollution, and injustice plague even the most tourist-friendly destinations. Those are topics you don’t typically see on social media. We’ve all become so good at portraying some version of ourselves and our lives that isn’t real. It’s exciting and enviable and perfectly curated, but it’s not real. We throw on the highlight reel without cluing in our audience to the fact that it’s just a glimpse of what we want you to see. When we only see the good, we begin to believe that we’re the only ones experiencing the bad. We’ve become so good at deception that we can’t even tell the difference between fact and fiction anymore.

So how do we combat this issue? Start by telling the truth. They say pictures are worth a thousand words, but I think captions can do a pretty good job, too. Speak your mind. Tell your friends and family and followers about your experiences. Ask your favorite influencer about a time when a trip went wrong - I bet they have a pretty good story to tell. Talk about the imperfection behind your perfect picture. Share with others what went wrong and how you learned from it. Don’t be afraid to be real and vulnerable and genuine. Some of my favorite stories to share involve my (in the moment) worst, most traumatizing travel moments. A little humility, plus laughter, goes a long way.

When we only share the highlight reel, we’re really doing a disservice to ourselves. We’re stripping our lives of the depth and richness that comes with both the good and the bad. No flowers without rain. I loved Sam and I’s time together because it kind of represents life. Insult and injury and irritation may exist, but it’s eclipsed by joy and excitement and curiosity. We need the bad to remind us how great the good really is. And the good is all that really matters anyways.

Sometimes reality doesn’t meet our expectations in the way we think it should. But sometimes it does. Rain. Flowers.

Expectation – A week spent experiencing ancient history, breathtaking scenery, exotic foods, and a dynamic culture, all with my favorite person by my side. Reality – (See above.)