Travel blogs often portray the positive side of travel and pass over the negative experiences. To some extent, I agree with this pattern. Few people want to read about the mediocre food at a restaurant, the hike that got rained out, or the tour guide who seemed bored with his or her own presentation. Travel writing aims to inspire readers to travel, so stories like this get cut.
Nevertheless, I want to take a few minutes to show some of the imperfect aspects of travel. Descriptions of travel that only include the best experiences can make readers feel like their own trips don’t live up to the experiences they read about. And on a more positive note, even when trips don’t live up to our expectations, we can make the best out of them, whether by adjusting plans (when small failures happen) or by accepting that the failure is so large or ongoing that it’ll make a funny story later. Traveling, like everything, is imperfect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worthwhile.
Mystic, CT – Scrapping the Plan
Mystic Seaport dominates lists of things to do in Mystic, Connecticut. Yet, when I planned to visit Mystic, I decided to pass on the town’s most prominent attraction. While the steep price may be worthwhile for those who plan to spend a day there, it didn’t seem practical for the couple of hours I would be in the area. My stop in Mystic was, in reality, just a quick stop on my way to Rhode Island and Cape Cod. Mystic seemed to be the main destination on the eastern end of Connecticut, but I didn’t realize that the vast majority of Mystic’s draw comes from Mystic Seaport.
Upon arriving in Mystic, my first objective was to visit a nature reserve that supposedly lies on Mason’s Island. I cannot, in fact, verify that it is there, because despite driving around for about fifteen minutes on a very small island, I never located the reserve. Instead, I came across several signs warning me that the roads lead to private property where visitors are not welcome. I abandoned the search and made my way to the historic area downtown.
A unique bridge welcomed me to this part of town and implied a more promising destination. Unfortunately, the bridge turned out to be the highlight of the area. Several shops fill the streets, but they contained preppy clothing and overpriced prints of classic paintings, not the local art or one-of-a-kind finds I desired. I’ve never been much of a shopper, so I crossed the bridge on foot and walked down to the riverfront Mystic River Park. The park was enjoyable for a few minutes but is too small to occupy a significant of time. At this point, I determined it was time to give up on Mystic.
In an attempt to salvage my visit to Connecticut, I headed to nearby Bluff Point State Park, which consists of a peninsula with several walking trails. While the park was nice, it wasn’t spectacular. However, I no longer felt the pressure of needing to have a fantastic time. I had allotted more time for Connecticut but didn’t have enough time to visit Mystic Seaport, so I didn’t have much to lose. As I walked, I thought about my failed visit to the nearby town and realized that I was content with a brief, pleasant hike. Not every destination can be my favorite, and there’s nothing wrong with choosing a less exciting (and less stressful) way to spend the day on occasion.
Richmond, VA – An Amusing Memory
When planning a trip to Richmond, I somehow came across information about an art studio and gallery to visit. Looking for some balance in an itinerary filled with history and nature, I decided that art was just the final touch that my trip needed. Even better, it was located relatively close to the James River. I saw that several parks are located nearby, and the bridge that crosses the river and leads to the attraction even passes over a little island.
My husband and I chose to walk along the river a bit before proceeding to the gallery and immediately noticed that the parks and path along the river were empty. I am typically in favor of locations that aren’t crowded, but the lack of people here was eerie, not peaceful. The one person we encountered was loitering underneath a bridge for no apparent reason. Before getting too close, we decided to turn back and cross the river to head to the gallery.
The bridge soon also showed signs that this was not a good area to linger. After noticing an abundance of syringes (yes, syringes) on the ground and a number of people carrying bags of cans to a center that paid for the aluminum, we realized that driving may be the better way to reach the attraction. We made the lengthy walk back to the car and realized just how far we had strayed from our parking place.
When we finally arrived, the location itself was not entirely a failure, but it also was not a distinct success. The building contained more studios than I expected, limiting the amount of space used for galleries. While the artwork displayed is constantly changing, there was one exhibit at the time that was particularly disturbing. Overall, the amount of time and energy we ended up putting into getting there was not worthwhile.
While our failed attempts at exploring on foot and my lack of enthusiasm for the art were a bit frustrating at the time, this outing now makes for an amusing memory to look back on. The pattern of failure after failure became so laughable by the end of the day that I don’t even regret the mistakes. I will, however, do a little more research before choosing another obscure art attraction to visit.
These are just two examples of countless small and large incidents that I encounter when traveling. But that’s okay, because trips aren’t supposed to be about perfection. If traveling were about going to places we like, we could find one place and keep going there year after year. Many people do, and I have no objection to that. But to me that is vacationing, not traveling. Traveling is about exploring new places and learning about them. It’s about deciding what you do and don’t like about them. Changing plans along the way can help offset minor disruptions in the plans. And when the day seems like it can’t be fixed, maybe it will make a funny story to tell later.