The Ugly Postcards

ugly postcards

No one collects the ugly postcards. We don’t like casting light on the less-than-ideal corners of our experiences. It’s the highlights we put the stamp on to send back home. The pretty parts.

I was in Málaga, Spain earlier this year. It was Easter weekend, and the town was bursting at its seams. Which loosely translates to… no parking. We drove outside the charming pedestrian streets of the city center towards the fringe neighborhoods. The architecture changed from the intricate historic style to flat, square, overwhelmingly nondescript buildings built with more haste and less design. In short, we were driving through the area that wouldn’t likely make it to the face of any postcard.

A thought struck me at that moment. About expectations, and how they influence our first impressions. Paris is by all accounts a beautiful city, but you wouldn’t know that pulling in to Gare du Nord the first time. If that was all you had to form an opinion of the City of Lights on, my bet would be that the songs would sing her less praises.

Paris has her blemishes, just like any other city. Bangkok has her share of slums mixed with the glittering shopping malls. That’s what makes them real, and not a postcard. As a traveler, it’s our duty almost to recognize the bad with the good. Responsible ecotourism is rising in popularity, as is the concept of volunteering abroad. People are finding new ways to see the world outside of the traditional vacation model, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

I have no opinion either way, as far is which is better, vacation or travel with a purpose. I’d like to think of myself as an equal advocate for both. I’m more making an observation here about the potential of an experience to enrich when taken as a whole.

Being aware of the entirety highlights differences… in cultures, in lifestyles… in communities and the individuality that makes them what they are.

Travel opens your mind.

So let it.

  • Thank you!! Too many people see only the high points and think that travel is like a fantasy. It certainly can be, but we are really visiting another place’s reality, and that comes with highs and lows. Being aware of and open to that is key to enjoying it all I think! 🙂

  • I admit that I tend to only take pics of the pretty parts and I usually post the best of the best on my blog. But I do think it’s important to show a place for what it is. I do often explore the not-so-pretty parts of town while traveling, but I just tend to not take out my camera when I’m doing so.

    On vacationing vs. traveling, I’m an advocate of both too. I really hate all those “tourist vs traveler” comparisons, because who cares?? As long as you’re exploring and seeing the world, why does it matter in what fashion you’re doing it??

    • I think we’re all the same in wanting to capture the pretty parts. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with focusing on the beauty. I do think it’s naive though when people think that the entire experience of a place will look like the poshest parts of town.

      Totally agree with you on the “tourist vs traveler” debate. I did write a post on that ages back, but really, as long as people are getting out about, who cares how they’re doing it? Unless they are blocking all the sidewalks while they takes ages snapping photos with their selfie sticks lol. 😉

  • I think the more we let the space grow between real life and the Instagram filter, the harder it is to realize the value of some of those experiences – but you hit the solution on the head here. “Travel opens your mind – so let it.” It’s not just the beautiful beaches and mountains that should shape our lives and opinions, just as it’s not only moments of great happiness and joy that should shape our souls. Everything, every feeling, every experience, has value if we let it.

    • Can’t believe I’m just getting to answering your comment!! It’s been a whirlwind here the past few weeks, still adjusting to a brand new schedule! But, I totally agree with you that everything can and should shape us. The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly – they all add to the richness of life, which would be so boring otherwise. There’s no reason to filter out everything in search of a “Pleasantville” scenario. 🙂

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