Travel buzz-kills are a singular kind of torture, born out of impossibly high expectations for a destination. The considerable time and money invested in getting to a place only intensifies the ensuing melancholia.
Florence, in all its multifaceted, Italian wonderfulness, was one of the biggest buzz-kills of my 2003 European backpacking trip. Though suppose I was partly responsible, most of the blame for my high expectations laid with my so-called friends and their nefarious overuse of superlatives. I was assured that my head would spin around like a sprinkler from Florence’s beauty and the snowballing rapture would cause melted brain matter to ooze from my ears.
Instead I found the worst tourist crowds I'd ever seen, unremitting peril from scooters being driven like they were in a chase scene from The Matrix and, in comparison to recently departed Venice and Verona, Florence's beauty felt underwhelming.
The ensuing spirit drain, whether it’s due to extenuating circumstances, 'act of God' or just plain reality, could suck the joy out of a Hacky Sack circle.
So, how does one rebound from a travel buzz-kill? The following are some common buzz-kill scenarios, and suggestions on how to recover from them.
Unmet expectations, set impossibly high by stoopid friends
Knowing that I probably wasn't going to be able to quickly recover from my Florence buzz-kill, I did the next best thing: I left. Happily, my next destination, Rome, was so extraordinary that it erased my letdown.
Leaving is always an option. Though this isn't always possible, I was able to return to Florence a few years later with expectations set accordingly, resulting in a rewarding visit.
Terrible weather that you (probably) couldn’t have predicted
It’s always perfectly sunny in postcards from the tropical paradises of the world, but those lush rainforests and endless rainbows come from somewhere. It rains in the tropics – if that comes as a surprise, that’s pretty much your fault. But other times you’ll get caught by weather that you never could have seen coming.
It's one thing to have a springtime trip to Venice rained out. It's another thing to simultaneously endure unrelenting high winds and the coldest temperatures in over a decade, which, as your girlfriend mentions incessantly, you did not appropriately pack for.
In these cases, since piles of money have already been invested, don't hesitate to spend just a little more to buy the necessary clothing to comfortably get through the trip. A second-hand store should have utilitarian, if not attractive, jackets and umbrellas that can be discarded or donated at the end of the trip if they're too bulky for the ongoing journey or trip home.
Closure of a major site, because you have the worst timing in recorded history
Be it for renovations or special events, eagerly marching up to a major site only to find it closed, in some cases maddeningly reopening the day after you depart, is a recipe for an expletive-soaked travel breakdown.
Once you've come to terms with a major element being struck off your itinerary, it's time for damage control. Can the itinerary be rearranged? Is there another site within striking distance that can act as a consolation? How about an activity or tour that will substitute?
‘Act of God,’ which is really just another way of saying ‘worst timing in recorded history’
Bush fires during a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Tasmania? Hurricane during your honeymoon on Maui? Flooding at Machu Picchu? Again, get the stuttering cursing out of your system, then formulate a Plan B.
When appropriate, this could involve volunteering to help with clean-up duties, where the atypical cultural exposure and bonding with locals could turn out to be more memorable than the originally planned visit. In other cases, closure of road A is precisely what is needed to get you to explore backroad B, where something new and unexpected will be awaiting the open-minded traveller.
Transportation interruptions a.k.a. ‘Why, God, why?’
Things like equipment failure and labour strikes are simply out of our control. And really, there are much worse things in the world than being briefly stranded on a trip.
Tempting as it is to freak out, this is usually a minor inconvenience, involving, at worst, expenses like an extra night in a hotel and/or a ticket change fee. Meanwhile, use the extra time to hoard one last trip memory. If the transportation interruption happens on the way to your vacation, then it's OK to freak out a little.
When 'all-inclusive' is inclusive of the bad decision to opt for all-inclusive
Most commonly this mushroom cloud of disappointment comes in the form of organised tours and resort packages, which, unlike a cruise ship, can be escaped even if only temporarily.
If the pre-paid unpalatable food and box wine prove to be too much of a bummer, even the resort-iest, tourist-iest zone will have a neighbourhood/town nearby where the locals are most likely enjoying better and sometimes outstanding food.
Heartless, personified buzz-killers saying 'You should have been here 10 years ago, blah blah blah'
Who cares? These people are best ignored. Whether the guilty party is a pathological buzz-killer or genuinely disappointed during their return visit, this is your first, and therefore unique, visit to the destination in question and most likely 10 years later that experience will also be different. Ad infinitum. Valid or not, this complaint should be considered irrelevant to the visit you're currently enjoying.
Reality turns out to be hilariously tiny
The real Stonehenge is bigger than the replica in This is Spinal Tap, but sometimes reality is a disappointing miniature of the version in your imagination. The Mona Lisa may take on gargantuan proportions in your mind's eye, but is only 30 × 21 in (77 × 53 cm). Dublin's River Liffey is more like a glorified canal. Beer in Germany isn't always served in huge steins. Plymouth Rock isn't even a notably large rock compared to other nearby rocks.
All one can do here is laugh, take pictures and move on to bigger and better things.
Leif Pettersen is a Lonely Planet author, freelance travel writer and polyglot. He’s visited 51 countries (so far) and can be found @leifpettersen.