Why I’m Terrified of Visiting my Dream Destinations

Have you ever had a dream so good that you wanted to stay asleep forever? You know, the kind in which you cuddle with puppies in a quaint meadow, but then the puppies turn into Ryan Gosling, the meadow becomes a secluded waterfall and you find a way to ensure world peace.

Well, for me it’s the same with my dream destinations – when they seem too incredible in my head, I just don’t want to wake up… So I don’t visit them. There are two places in particular which I have built up in my head so much that visiting them terrifies me – the Thai island of Koh Phangan and Cape Town in South Africa.

I fell in love with Koh Phangan after reading “The Beach”, a fantastic novel by Alex Garland. It tells the story of Richard, a young English backpacker, who discovers a hidden beach populated by a small community of travellers. Things go totally awry after a while, but the initial descriptions of the tropical paradise remain etched in the crevices of my brain.

As for Cape Town, I have no idea what it is that makes me want to visit the place so badly. Eh, just kidding! Have you ever heard a South African speak? Theirs is possibly the coolest, sexiest accent in the world. But my initial enamourment with Cape Town also started with a book – I read Troy Blacklaws’ “Karoo Boy” in high school and it made a huge impression on me.

The thing with books is that they let your imagination roam wild. On the one hand, that means you’re always a paperback away from a trip to paradise. On the other hand, it means you are constantly setting yourself up for disappointment.

There are probably a few places in Koh Phangan that still haven’t been overrun by sunburnt backpackers in neon tank tops, but could the real deal ever compare to the magical island in my head?

And if I visited Cape Town, would I hang out with penguins on the beach or would I – a solo female traveller – fear for my life in a country with one of the highest rates of rape in the world?

As the quote above suggests, the only way to get something done is to just do it*. But I’m really afraid of taking that first step and going to my dream destinations, because I fear they would let me down. I can either continue living in sweet oblivion or get out there and be forced to shed my rose-tinted glasses.

The question is – do I love living la vie en rose more than I enjoy living la vida loca? Is living a lie/half-truth/complete fabrication of my idealistic mind preferable to exploring the real world?

I feel as though many of us have this obsession with travelling the right way when it comes to our dream destinations. Everything needs to be perfect – or else! Whether your ultimate bucket list trip is a safari tour in Kenya or a journey through Russia on the Trans-Siberian Express, you are so afraid it might not meet your expectations that you put it off indefinitely. Maybe you will go next year when you have more money, so that you can do it properly. Or perhaps time is standing in your way – you will either go for a month or not at all.

The truth is, your experiences will never go the way you envision. Life has a way of ripping up all your neat plans while laughing at your naïveté. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When I was thirteen, I thought my life was about to end – while I was on holiday in England, my parents decided we would leave Czech Republic and move to Austria, where my dad was offered a great job.

They saw a fantastic opportunity which would broaden our horizons by allowing us to explore a new culture – I saw a death sentence. Leaving all my friends behind, learning a new language and living in a foreign country seemed awful and impossible. As is often the case, my parents were right. Although the move was never part of my life plan, it was hands down the best thing that ever happened to me. Without it, I wouldn’t be the free-spirit I am today and I am grateful for it every day.

Letting go of our glorified fantasies can be terrifying, but also immensely fulfilling. Yes, perhaps Koh Phangan is just a melange of shroom-fuelled Full Moon Parties and commercial hostels crawling with teenagers on their gap yah. Perhaps there is no juju and mojo left in Cape Town.

But even if that’s the case, who’s saying the dream cannot live on in my head? I think it’s better to go and see for myself, even if I cannot do it “properly”. The alternative is never finding out at all and who knows – my dream destinations might be even better than I think. After all, it’s pretty cocky to assume that my imagination is better than Mother Nature’s.

What do you think? Do you have a dream destination that you’re scared of visiting? Should I just say screw it, “book a ticket, get a visa, pack a bag” and let it happen?

*This article was in way, shape or form sponsored by Nike. Bummer.
PS: Did you know that there is even a psychological disorder which springs from this fear? It’s called “Paris syndrome” and is caused by people’s inflated expectations and Paris’ inability to meet them (sorry, Paris!).

  • MidnightBlueElephant
    Posted at 19:48h, 06 January

    Was The Beach taking place on Koh Phangan? The movie is said on Koh Phi Phi and I think that can only ever be a disappointment after the movie or the book. But there is still many islands to be explored in Thailand that will let you recreate the feel of the story, might not be Koh Phangan, but definitely exists.
    In regards to South Africa and as someone who has just moved from there after 7 years: do it! The country still has many problems, true, but with a few general safety precautions you will be fine and have a great time. Email me if you ever need infos or tips!

  • HippieHitsTRoad-Tara
    Posted at 12:27h, 29 March

    Hi Sabina,
    I totally know how you feel about being scared of going places because of expectations. I’m usually good at not having expectations, but, of course, sometimes I still have them, even if I don’t realize it. I’m in Dublin now, and I went out on Friday. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I had heard Dublin nightlife was great and I was excited to go out. At the end of the night I found myself a little disappointed: the bars close at three, and despite some great live music at a couple different places, no one was dancing and the overall mood just felt a little off to me. At the start of the evening I didn’t think I had expectations, but I guess I did. But even though it was different, I still had a great time!

  • Natasha
    Posted at 11:37h, 12 April

    Sabina, I know exactly what you mean, so I save those special destinations for special events in my life. Thats what I do and so far so good. Time will tell !

  • Bonnie W
    Posted at 08:21h, 31 July

    Great post! I can see a lot of people feel the same way & I’m one of them! I used to get so annoyed when things didn’t play out the way I’d envisaged, but it’s half the fun, you just don’t know what will happen and the places I’ve stumbled upon by chance are normally the most fun experiences!

    Bonnie x

  • Claire Wang
    Posted at 04:15h, 02 September

    Funny, because Paris wayyyyy exceeded expectations for me. Maybe because I only stayed for three days… but who knows?

  • Deepika Gumaste
    Posted at 14:34h, 01 August

    Oh my god… what a post. I totally get it what you mean Sabina. I mean I was petrified of visiting Paris. But I did and ten it totally blew my mind. I also am flying down to the roof of the world (Himalayas) this weekend and I have a similar feeling. I hope it is shattered! 🙂