Through Central and South America my question to every hospedaje, hostel and hotel receptionist was “Tiene agua caliente?” (Do you have hot water?). More often than not the answer was “yes, but…” and I would find myself faced with the dreaded electric shower head. While I have heard that some find the electric shock of the electric shower to be a nice wake up in the morning, I hated it and complained loudly the first dozen times it happened. Well, perhaps more than just the first dozen. Traveling provides many new experiences, but perhaps more important than the electric shower-head, is the new perspective those experiences can bring. Things don’t seem so bad once you have something worse to compare it to or as good once you have something better. We’re often asked how did you like (insert famous structure/country/city here), and its hard to respond. “Well, where have you been before?” we often ask for it doesn’t matter what we think of it, it matters how we think it compares to the famous structure/country/city you’ve been to before.
In trying to make places relative, we say things like: “Rio de Janero is the love child of New York and Miami,” to an American or “Capetown is like the San Francisco of South Africa.” While this works for some people it won’t mean anything to you if you haven’t been to New York, Miami or San Francisco. When travelers refer to Buenos Aires as the Paris of South America I have to question- have you been to Paris? Because what I love most about Paris—the sidewalk cafes—are severely lacking in Buenos Aires. That is not to say that Buenos Aires isn’t incredible, because it certainly is, but it is not Paris in South America.
Managing expectations becomes a chore, and when we’re trying to size up whether its worth the time, money and effort to go somewhere we often read between the lines and try to figure out what new experience or perspective we’ll get from going there. Sometimes its as selfish as, I just want a few days on a cheap beach with cold beer (ok then we’re off to Mozambique), and other times its I’m looking for the real Africa (then we’re off to Lesotho). Not every travel experience is going to have a profound impact on you, let’s face it, the fifth time you’ve gone to a beach isn’t not life changing, but maybe the little recharge you get from being somewhere different, from meeting a new person, maybe that small experience changes your perspective and makes yesterdays problems seem small in comparison. So next time you’re frustrated at life, work or home, remember you don’t need to go around the world to change your perspective just a new experience.