Getting it Wrong

“Oh my god, you’re going to FREEZE!” I heard this over and over and over in the lead up to my trip to Antarctica.

Less hyperbolic pals had more practical advice. “More poof,” said Peter, referring to my lack of a fluffy down jacket.

“You have room, take the ridiculous hat. And that’s not that much stuff,” said the husband, eying my travel inventory. “You wait, compared to other passengers, you’ll have next to nothing.”(This was confirmed when, on disembarkation, a crew member said the following of my cabin-mate’s suitcase: “GOOD LORD, is there a small child in there?”

I was cold once during the 11 day excursion to the Antarctic peninsula, and it was my own fault. I’d forgotten my neck gaiter, a small but essential item that kept the wind from funneling into my jacket, and my gloves were wet. It was my last day out, I was sure I’d be fine. I was… wrong.

On the average, the temperatures were in the 40s. It snowed one day, wet heavy flakes that stuck to everything, but I was indoors, in shorts and a t-shirt, drinking tea. During landings I was warm, dry, surprisingly content, actually, thanks to judicious packing and more poof.

“It’s going to be hot there, right?”

“Oh, sure. They’ll be going in to summer. I’m packing very light.” This was the conversation I had almost daily prior to my trip to Vietnam. I packed a rain shell, one set of long underwear, one pair of long pants.

You know what happened, right? Right.

Northern Vietnam was under the shadow of a massive cold front that had been dumping snow all over the region. It poured in Hanoi, relentless cold rain. When my luggage arrived (24 hours after I did — and I was convinced I’d never see it again) I pulled my long underwear out first and wore it for five days. On the junk on Halong Bay, we hauled the fluffy duvet blankets up to the main deck and wrapped ourselves in them while we ate, while we admired the view. We held cups of tea in our hands to keep them warm and fought for seats away from the drafty windows.

I was grateful when we finally reached Hue, where I unpacked, for the first time in a week, shorts and sandals.

“Cancun doesn’t seem like your kind of place.” I had an excellent day trip to Chichen Itza accompanied by a four generation Mexican family on vacation.

“Yosemite is too crowded.” Camped on the east side of the park, we hiked for hours each day and saw… no one.

“You shouldn’t travel alone.” My fondest memories of India are from the week I spent solo, walking the Himalayas, staying in tiny guesthouses in the clouds.

“Hawaii is boring.” I don’t even know where to begin.

It’s not always my bad planning or traditional wisdom that is wrong. It’s that our ideas about what places are like are incomplete.

Sure, Antarctica is cold, it’s bitter cold. But where most visitors go, it’s just not that extreme, weather wise. The seas can be bad, it can snow. But in high season for visitors, the weather is suspiciously like a Seattle spring. As for Vietnam, we were just unlucky with the weather — and that was beyond our control, save that we were (somewhat) prepared for less than ideal conditions. At any point, we could have loosened our wallets and bought foul weather gear; we chose to hold out for sunshine. It worked.

I take great joy in having my preconceptions about a place broken wide open. I was delighted to find myself giddy in touristy Cancun, wrapped in an alpine silence in Yosemite, secure and looked after by fellow travelers and locals alike while I roamed the lower Himalayas alone. My preformed ideas about a place are just a starting place, a framework from which to discover what’s really there, what exists beyond my utterly ill-formed notions of  what a destination “should” be like.

“… but it’s too [fill in the blank]. Why would you go there?”

To find out I’m wrong. That’s why.

Except for Vegas. I hated Vegas. I wasn’t wrong about that at all.

This month’s topic for The Travelblog Mob: March 15th is Everything You Know is Wrong Day. Fellow bloggers on the topic have this to say:


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10 thoughts on “Getting it Wrong

  1. North Vietnam can be chilly at any time — part of its the elevation, part of it the positioning of the Himalayas. Glad I’m not the only person who fails to travel light in favour of travelling warm.

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