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It’s Not What it Looks Like: 6 Destinations Where Reality Exceeds Expectations

You know how you’re like “I pretty much know the things I like” and then you try something new and then you’re like “I didn’t expect to enjoy that so much.”? Sometimes the thing we expect to love most about a trip is not at all what we actually ended up loving most. Here are 6 of our favorite examples of that happening.

by Reid Flynn

posted September 2, 2020

Sometimes our expectations don’t match our reality. Sometimes it’s in a bad way, like when that Tinder date doesn’t quiiiiite match their profile photos IRL. But sometimes, our expectations are blown out of the water by reality—in a good way. When it comes to travel, this is almost always the case.

When you’re thinking of where you want to take your next trip, you probably do a little research on what you simply must see—the Eiffel Tower in Paris, ancient ruins in Rome, the beach in Greece. But once you get to your destination, you end up going above and beyond and making memories doing things you never imagined you’d do. In short, you come for one thing, but you stay for something even better.

Here are 6 examples of destinations where what you come to see ends up taking a back seat to an unexpected new favorite experience:


Come for: Eiffel Tower views
Stay for: Café culture

The time has come. You’ve picked out the perfect beret. Your baguette game is strong. You’ve conquered your fear of heights. So you go to Paris and you get your long awaited rendezvous with the Eiffel Tower. You go to the top to see the entire city, you picnic on the smelliest of cheese and finest of wines at the base. But it hits you on your last day in Paris: the activity you loved most was not your date with the city’s most famous steel resident, it was the free afternoon you spent posted up at a café in the Le Marais neighborhood.

From your vantage point on any given sidewalk café in the City of Light, you can sip espresso, munch a buttery croissant, and observe Parisians going about their everyday life. They’re just like us! But fancier. Make note of their elegant fashion choices, peep young lovers walking hand in hand, and enjoy the kooky bohemians going about their day. The sweet sound of French is the perfect soundtrack to your day at the café.


Come for: A tropical getaway
Stay for: The freshest fruit of your life

It seems like everyone is talking about their Colombia trip these days. And with good reason. This Latin American gem is the perfect place to let off some steam on the beach in Cartagena or rack up the adrenaline zip lining in Chicaque Natural Park. In short, people come for the great weather, the friendly atmosphere, the vibrant street art, and maybe the arepas. But you’re missing out if you don’t sample the fruit.

Maybe you’re more of a Ron Swanson “meat and more meat” type of person. Don’t be. In Colombia you can—and should—eat pineapple and papaya that will make you say “what the heck have I been eating all my life?!” But you should also sample exotic local treats, such as pitaya, guayaba, and the elusive Frankenstein-looking-and-sounding fruit: mangosteen.


Come for: Ancient ruins
Stay for: The locals

Have you ever been to Rome? It’s ok if not—I have a feeling the Eternal City isn’t going anywhere. But when you do go, I’m sure you’ll want to see all those famous things left behind by the toga generation. You know, like the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum—and also some earthly delights left behind by their descendants such as Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel, and the Spanish Steps.

Time and again though, visitors report that the best thing about Rome isn’t an inanimate object, it’s the people who live there. You can spend your plane ride home swiping back through your camera roll on pics of the Piazza Navona, but your mind will be thinking fondly of the Italian grandpa running the sandwich shop who didn’t like what you ordered and decided to make his own favorite sandwich for you. Think back on the charming shopkeepers who haggled with you, the limoncello purveyors who taught you how to drink the liqueur properly, or the many old nonnas leaning out their window, watching over you while a pot of red sauce boiled on their stove.


Come for: Tokyo
Stay for: Kyoto

All aboard the sushi boat, we’re going to Japan. Of course you want to see Tokyo. You want to have your mind blown by the world’s busiest crosswalk at Shibuya, you want to slurp ramen as loud as you can, you want to see a robot cabaret (seriously, you want to see it). Tokyo is stimulation overload. It’s New York City turned up to 11. It’s bright lights and high energy, and of course you’re going to have a wild time there.

But like the balance in all things, wild times must be followed by a bout of thoroughly restorative and rejuvenating chillaxing. Enter Kyoto. Kyoto is all chill, minimal thrill—in the way your body will crave. The temples, shrines, and reminders of traditional Japan abound everywhere. In fact, in ancient times when Kyoto was the capital city of Japan, the street grid was purposefully aligned to maximize the feng shui of the city. Hit a hot spring bath house, realign yourself with the universe, and by the time you head home we guarantee you’ll find yourself moving at Kyoto speed.


Come for: The days
Stay for: The nights

Ah, Greece. Zeus could have lived anywhere, but he chose this place for a reason. And it’s easy to see why. Head to any island—there are 6,000 of them—and bask in that Mediterranean sun and those pristine beaches. Face it: you’re here for the best beach days of your life. And you’ll certainly get those. But sometime after your late-afternoon third taverna lunch of the day (because there’s no such thing as snacking on too much feta and olives), after the sun sets magnificently over the horizon, while you’re crushing it on the dancefloor of a beachside night club—it will hit you: the best part of a Greek island vacation is the nighttime.

Long after those tan lines fade, you’ll picture Greece and be unable to see anything but the cotton candy skies at sunset, hear anything but the heavy bass at the club, and taste anything but that late-night gyro you got on the way home.


Come for: The people
Stay for: The people

Oh yes it’s true. Sometimes our expectations and reality do indeed align. And if you’re going to Ireland, you’ll find that the Irish people are, as advertised, the best thing about Ireland. It seems everyone is equal parts extrovert, storyteller, advice giver, professional Guinness drinker, joke teller, craic haver, and new best friend. From any given barstool to Blarney Castle—the locals want to listen, help, or entertain—and man, are they good at it.

You may be saying “yeah they sound great, but I’m going to Ireland to hike Reek’s Ridge, or hang out with some sheep, or chill out in a quaint little fishing village and make friends with the fishermen and learn the secrets of the sea and never, ever come back.” To which I say, first of all, take it easy buddy. Second, even when you’re out doing those things—immersing yourself in the history of castles or the supremely underrated natural beauty of the countryside—when you look back on your trip, you’ll look back most fondly on the sing-along at the pub after the hike, or the charm of the guide who showed you around the Cliffs of Moher. It really is the best.

And speaking of people—let’s not discount the people you’d be sharing all of these moments with. The fellow travelers experiencing everything the world has to offer, just like you. The built-in new best friends to share every people-watching giggle in Paris with, and every night out for the ages in Greece. That’s just the beauty of group travel. And in that regard, reality always surpasses expectations on an EF Ultimate Break trip. Yep, until you experience those bonds that can only come with traveling together, you won’t believe it. Take a trip with us, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

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Written by Reid Flynn

Reid is a copywriter at EF Ultimate Break. He loves cheese, playing guitar, and speaking loudly about indie rock to anyone who will listen. His favorite place in the world is Amsterdam.

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