On Disappointment and Frustration in Travel

When traveling overseas, you’ll have the wonderful opportunity to plumb the depths of your own disappointment and frustration. What a joy. I knew this already as I had traveled as a child and still distinctly remember the kind of things that came as crushing disappointments at that age. (And… it looks like some things never change.)

I come back to that tired phrase– the experience stretches you and makes you a better person! Well, it’s true. It can. But it can be a thoroughly unpleasant situation to sift through the disappointment and frustration and turn them into self-reflection-fueled change.


We run into disappointment all the time. Being new everywhere we go, we have to rely on random guesses or the advice of strangers. Which honestly, the latter are still random guesses, as we don’t know these people and can’t really be guaranteed good taste or good directions on their part.

I’m embarrassed to admit the amount of times my day/night has been ruined because of a bad food experience. The bad food in and of itself doesn’t ruin my day… it’s the craving something, waiting for it, thinking you’ve found it, looking forward to exactly what you’re going to order, wanting it so bad and imagining the enjoyment of eating it… and then it disappoints.

It’s the disappoint over failed expectations that ruins my days.

And it’s not just food, although like I said, that’s the embarrassingly frequent culprit. The thing about being nomads is that our constant is actually being new. We’re never sure if our driver is taking us the best route. We’re never sure if the street vendor is charging us the right price. There are ways to wager a guess, sure. But we have to walk into most situations with a measure of trust, and that leaves us open for some disappointment.

And disappointment in humanity can be some of the worst kind.

Thankfully, we’ve met plenty of nice, honest people who help hold up that heavy ideal, my idea of good in this world. And no matter where I’ve traveled, there is certainly always something I can eat to sustain myself. And because we’re willing to look hard, or make it ourselves, there is always something I can eat and truly enjoy too.


But there are those days where we end up paying a lot of what we call “stupid taxes” (or as my friend Krista kindly– and perhaps more accurately– renamed, “ignorance tax”). We overpay on lots of things because we just don’t know what we’re doing. That leaves us feeling helpless. Two adults who had a pretty good handle on adult life in the States, failing at things children instinctively understand in this new place.

Of course, it goes beyond just money. Finances are an easy, tangible target, but ultimately superficial. Anyone who sets out to travel to a new places is aware that many things will be different there. A clash of cultures is to be expected.

We love to explore new cultures and even though we are so far from mastering any of them, we revel in the new and unknown. It’s interesting. As a result, frustration with new cultures has been kept to mostly a minimum for us. However, there are a few things on which we seem to be a little too stuck in our ways.

Yesterday, we had an absolutely horrid experience at the doctor’s office. From no one being in the building during their open hours to people clambering to cut in line in front of us, it was frustrating to say the least. A local acquaintance waved this all off as very normal, but it’s the times that we learn it the hard way that build a slow boil of frustration inside. Frustration that Tyler has to remind me to keep in check so it doesn’t overflow into rage against something I don’t understand.

Because isn’t it always the people, systems, things we don’t understand that throw us off the most?

Yesterday, I thought I might punch someone at the doctor’s– at least medical attention would be close at hand?— and I also threw away an entire chocolate milkshake because it was too heavy to carry all the way home. (Yes, you read that right.) I think it’s safe to assume I can still be a child brat. Travel gets to me. Some days just really are the worst. But… travel stretches you and makes you a better person!

We allow ourselves to wallow for a few minutes in disappointment and frustration. On bad days, maybe we’ll even give ourselves a few hours. And then, we endeavor to be those adults we know are somewhere inside. We dive back in and say our apologies and put together a game plan and decide tomorrow will be different. Even if we know all our work to feel at home here will be washed away with the next plane ticket to a new place, it’s worth it to figure out life here. The best parts of traveling overseas are experiencing new things, and letting them change you. I used to think the change came easy, and some days it still does, but the best changes can sometimes come with a little sting.

How do you experience disappointment and frustration in everyday life? What lessons have you learned while traveling?


feature photo: we’ve been eating nothing but peanut butter sandwiches this last week.. can you tell who’s sick? haha. it’s also kept us busy and away from the blog. sorry for the absence!

  • This is so good. My husband and I don’t travel as often as you guys but it’s easy to get frustrated with another culture when you aren’t used to anything in it! I guess that’s the beauty of it. Personally when I have an eternal outlook on things during the day (which is rare but I’m growing!) then I have less and less frustration and disappointment. But when I do, I always end up in prayer to a graceful God who knows my weaknesses and helps me anyways 🙂

    • Yes, being able to meditate on something above and beyond the situation can do wonders in cooling you off and taking the whole thing down a notch. It’s a growing process, right? haha

  • Diane Ringenberg

    This is a very honest article, and shows the true balance of living abroad. In China, we often had “ABCD” A Bad China Day. It was a real thing. You are not just traveling overseas, you are LIVING overseas, and that brings a whole new set of difficulties into play: pharmacies, doctors, dentists, transportation, groceries, communication, legalities, etc. Learning a country’s particular “way of doing things” can be very challenging, especially when the country you are in comes from a completely different moral base. In the US, we all come from a basic “good moral base” of fairness (to an extent). But in some countries, there is no moral base whatsoever, and that can be the hardest, most frustrating, of all. Travel is wonderful, and living/learning abroad is great…. but it can be just down right hard too. Carry On! And we love your youthful enthusiasm! 🙂

    • Thanks Diane!! Love hearing from your perspective as you’ve done it before and have great stories and advice to share. Maybe we need a code like ABCD too to let each other know when it’s been an stressful day! And it does seem like certain places are operating on an entirely different system. As I pondered standing up to the guy who cut us in line, I had to wonder if he would even care that “I got there first!” or if that would seem ridiculous here. haha

  • kimberly oyler

    i would say my number one disappointment while traveling is not being able to find peanut butter in every country. ha! just kidding. sort of.

    i wish people talked about disappointment in travel more. even as i am about to embark on this new travel adventure, i am already keenly aware of how many not magical moments are mixed in with the really truly magical moments. i don’t think many people realize that these grand travel lifestyles can include a loooooot of disappointing moments. AND its so hard to talk about it without sounding ungrateful. i am rambling at this point. but anyway, thanks for all your honesty in your travel experience! its all apart of the adventure, right?

    • Kimberly, you’ll be relieved to know that every country we’ve been to has had a steady supply of peanut butter. But I feel you… when I was little and we visited Peru, my family had to find some peanuts, clean the outdoor meat grinder, and grind up some peanut butter for my sister and I because these two little gringas needed their spread. haha. And thanks for the encouragement too <3 These are things I think about a lot, and it just helps me to write about it and tell people our life is freaking awesome but it is also real which means it is also crummy sometimes. That's the beauty of traveling!

  • First off I hope you begin to feel better quick! Being sick outside of ones comfort zone is so difficult. I remember a particularly bad day in Paris where we couldn’t find any places for take-away coffee and needless to say I made a huge stink out of it and blew it way out of proportion. I should have just gone in somewhere and drank it inside!

    We have friends who lived in India for four years and I remember them telling us that basically bribery is how to get anything done in their culture…especially with official documents or things for work. Crazy!

    • Thanks Catherine! It’s actually Tyler that’s sick. Sorry I missed our call this morning. I replied to your texts but I don’t know if either of you got them.

      And I love your story of coffee in Paris… I think everyone (at least every girl with emotions?! haha) has one of those stories. I think it’s the stress of being totally out of your element and wanting just. one. constant. As for India, I can imagine. I’ve been to some places where money talks like that. I can’t imagine living there long term though! That would be culture shock on a totally new level!

  • Thanks for the encouragement, Mikayla! Such sage advice.. don’t ponder or you’ll miss the vacation!! I definitely have to keep that in mind so that I don’t look back and regret my bad attitude 🙂

  • During my travels when I was still working, being alone was my biggest frustration. Whenever I would go home, there was no one to share the experience with, no one to have a private joke with. Also, the language barrier tested (and lengthened) my patience, but then I remember that diversity was God’s idea. In Babel, the people actually wanted to stick together so God dispersed them to fulfill his original intent for humanity to subdue the earth. I love that in Revelation, we don’t end up with a monoculture, but all cultures of the world worshiping at the throne of God. These grand things helped recalibrate my perspective whenever I travel, locally or abroad.

    On a daily basis, the disappointments I get are usually self-perpetuated. It happens mostly when I don’t fulfill the goals I set for myself–which arises from a fear of never doing enough, and as you said, failed (or unrealistic) expectations. I have to write it down somewhere, or channel the frustration through conversation (especially when there’s a compounding effect of getting frustrated over being frustrated). A cup of strong coffee helps, too 😛

    • Isn’t it funny how being alone 24/7 AND being with your spouse 24/7 are equally as challenging? haha. Life is just meant to be balanced and holistic.
      Your take on the tower of Babel is really interesting. I’ve never heard it told from that perspective. But I can see how it would make the diversity of culture in this world more meaningful. And I love that image of all the cultures of the world worshipping together. It’s something I often come back to.. it’s just so divinely beautiful.
      And your coffee is my ice cream 😉 That’s what always turns my stressful day around. haha

  • Oh man, even when NOT overseas, it stinks soooo bad to end up at a crummy restaurant. I hate paying a ton of money for a mediocre meal. We’ve discovered that the more we “research” restaurants and food, the more disappointed we are when it’s not good. The times that we just happen upon a restaurant and eat there on a whim is always better! I hate to say it, but yeah, sometimes people’s recommendations are super disappointing!
    You’re right though. Travel is so good for you. It teaches so many lessons and tests your patience in ways you never knew!

    • Researching is such a trick thing!! My husband loves to pick places based on reviews, and we often go off the recommendations of locals, but you’re absolutely right… it just builds the anticipation so if it’s a bad experience you’re doubly disappointed! We’ll have to try more “on a whim” picks next week 🙂

  • Jeff Bucher

    amen to this post…the frustration goes in cycles I think. You feel you’re comfortable with a place/culture, then something happens and you realize you’re helpless all over again. Very humbling.

    • Thanks for chiming in Jeff! It’s people like you guys who are permanently living it and digging deep in a different culture that inspire us.