I was on the phone with a St. Louis travel agent for a story I'm researching, and our conversation turned to the mismatch between a traveler's expectations and what happens once he or she arrives.
Agent Stephanie (sounds like something out of "Get Smart") sent her daughter and a friend, both in their 20's, on a motor coach tour, only to get a frantic phone call the first night. Her daughter wanted to come home. Everyone on the trip was so much older.
Stephanie convinced her to stick it out for a day or two. The young traveler probably had been expecting a lot of people just like her, and freaked out when she found parent-aged people.
But things turned around. The daughter and her friend got friendly with two women, one 30-something, the other 40-something, and they hung out together. The rest of the group "adopted" the two young women, as nice "old people" are wont to do. Stephanie's daughter ended up loving the trip.
I had a similar jolt. I booked a tour of Thailand, expecting a lively group of men and women. Instead, it was three women, including me, and a guide. I spent the first night fuming. I was so disappointed.
At dinner that night, we sat at a table for four. It felt constricted. Where was the big, laughing group I'd pictured?
Over the days, I calmed down and settled in. By having Sua, our guide, to ourselves, we learned a lot of the culture. We talked with him about his life and his time as a monk.
When we trekked through the mountains, we weren't a big obnoxious group of English speakers invading. We tread quietly. Once I changed my expectations, I started appreciating the advantages.
I slept in bamboo huts and nice hotels, took a boat on the Mekong River along the coast of Laos and shopped my wallet dry at the night market in Chiang Mai. It had been wasted fuming.
We can't help having expectations. Good travelers know that sometimes you have to adjust them.
Photo: Ellen Perlman. Sua, our Thai guide, "borrows" someone's home and cooks us dinner over a fire pit in the middle of the main room.