How can I make the most of a disappointing trip?

How can I make the most of a disappointing trip? The Travel Psychologist

By Dr Charlotte Russell, Clinical Psychologist

Picture the scene. You’ve spent months planning and saving for your trip, and you’ve been excited to finally get there. But pretty soon you start noticing small things that begin to put doubt in your mind. You try to get on and make the most of it, but you feel feeling uneasy. You get a sinking feeling and it dawns on you that the trip isn’t turning out to be what you were hoping for. How can we deal with this situation when it happens?

What is disappointment?

Disappointment is a very common and understandable emotion. Life often doesn’t go as we hope or expect. We experience small disappointments daily, for example your coffee not being as hot as you’d like or there being no seats left on the tram. In our relationships people don’t always behave as we hope or expect, for a myriad of different reasons. We also experience big and sometimes life-changing disappointments that can be very hard to adjust to. With bigger disappointments we will experience a process of coming to terms with what has happened.

What happens when we don’t deal with disappointment effectively? 

Sometimes if we struggle with the process of adjustment, disappointment can become quite a destructive emotion. At times we may be unwilling or unable to accept what has happened and may fight against it rather than to process it. This can result in a number of behaviours that aren’t really helpful or constructive including aggression, blaming others and at times becoming a little fixated on the issues, even to our own detriment. I’m sure we’ve all been there, myself included! When we look back we can see that we perhaps didn’t deal with this situation in the most helpful way.

From a travel perspective, this kind of reaction can stop us from making the most of our trip even if it is not what we’d hoped. A good example of this is in hotel reviews. I’m sure we have all come across reviews where the person has been unhappy with some aspect of the hotel and has ended up writing an incredible list of pernickety details, and sometimes pictures, telling everyone how bad the hotel is. The tone is punitive and not at all constructive. Chances are that when they were racking up this list, the person was not enjoying their holiday and making the most of it!

What might cause travel disappointment? 

In my recent Instagram poll 82% of those who responded had experienced a holiday disappointment. The top reasons for this (based on this very small sample) were that there were unexpected issue at the destination and/or the person just didn’t connect with that particular destination.

In line with the kinds of disappointments that happen in everyday life, causes of disappointments can vary hugely.  The website Get Away Today have listed Common Vacation Problems including missing flights, planning too much or too little, disliking the hotel, getting sick, bad weather, or hidden costs. We can see that experiencing any of these on your long-awaited holiday would be disappointing and frustrating.

I also asked our Instagram community whether they had been able to ‘make the most’ of their trip despite the disappointments they experienced. Their responses were interesting:

How can I make the most of a disappointing trip? The Travel Psychologist

The responses suggested that people varied in how much they were able to make the most of their trip despite feeling disappointed. This of course may be related to the nature of the situation that they were dealing with! However it also suggests that having ways of managing disappointment in order to make the most of our trips can be beneficial. More on this later.

Importantly the majority of those who took part (86%) felt that they learned from their holiday disappointment on future trips. Like anything in life taking learning away from things that haven’t gone well is really important for improving future trips, and for our personal growth.

Tips for managing holiday disappointments

So disappointments unfortunately are sometimes going to happen. Here are some tips for making the most of your trip even when disappointments occur:

· Prior to your holiday remind yourself that it even if you have invested a lot in the trip, it is unrealistic to expect everything to go perfectly and to feel 100% happy all of the time . This is a recipe for being disappointed. One way to mitigate this is to think in advance about how you might ‘reframe’ or view any challenges. For example, seeing the hassle getting through airport security as ‘worth’ the chance to get away. It can also help to think about how you might want to respond if things go wrong, for example committing to being calm and constructive if things do not go as hoped.

· Recognise that disappointment is an understandable reaction when things aren’t as hoped. It is more helpful to acknowledge the difficult feeling than to try and avoid or suppress it.

· Be specific in what you’re disappointed by and recognise what you can still make the most of. When the hotel breakfast is not great it is easy to think “This hotel is completely rubbish and my holiday is ruined”. Its more helpful to think “well the breakfast isn’t great and that’s disappointing but the room is comfy and it’s in a good location, so I’ll make the most of it”

· We can reduce the chances of fixating on the negatives by intentionally focusing on the positives, for example, naming and recounting experiences that we are grateful for on each day of our holiday. It can also help to stay fully ‘present’ for the small everyday pleasures during your holiday by using techniques such as mindfulness.

· Find something you do like at the destination and stick to it. I’ve actually had a couple of holidays where I just didn’t connect with the destination. On both trips however I did manage to find a restaurant and district that I did enjoy, and I just spent more of my time there. There’s always something that we can find to connect with, even if the overall vibe of the destination doesn’t fit for you.

· Remind yourself that there will be more opportunities to travel in the future and this trip is not your only chance to get things perfectly. This can help us to step out of the ‘scarcity’ mindset that is usually quite unhelpful for us.

· Remind yourself that we have to try different things in life to decide whether they are right for us. Same thing goes for travel. If we realise that a specific type of trip, destination or hotel type isn’t right for us then we can take this information and use it to improve our trip next time. Over time we get to know what suits us best.

· Focusing on the positives can also help. Acknowledge the experiences that you’re grateful for on each day or your trip. Also try to stay ‘present’ the small everyday pleasures like the feeling of calm when you’re sat drinking your coffee, or the sensation of the waves on your toes and feet. You may not have the best table for breakfast, but I’d bet that it’s still a step up from where you eat breakfast at home.