I’m sure we’re all seen photographs in publications and on Instagram. A cute traveler with the perfect combination of expensive-but-well-worn-gear, hair that’s not washed but magically still adorable, explaining exactly how their trip went wrong but was still fun. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely internalize those images. Every time I plan for a trip, I imagine myself in the places I’m planning on going, down to my outfit- what will look good with the scenery? What pants will give me the maximum hiking comfort, make my ass look great, and not cut off my circulation when I’m sitting cross-legged in a car for 5 hours? What will the photos look like?
All of this is fine. It’s fine to care deeply about the way your photos look. It’s fine to only want to publish images of yourself that are cute, and ones where your hair looks nice. It’s fine even to want to match your shirt to your landscape and to imagine yourself in those places for weeks, if not months.
What isn’t fine, however, is not going on those trips because the reality doesn’t match what you had in mind.
In 2015, I was lucky to travel to Israel with a group of 40 other young adults. Moral issues about access and oppression notwithstanding, it’s an iconic trip that many others have taken, so there’s plenty of photographic fodder for the imagination. In my mind, I would have long flowy hair, long, tanned legs, and those loose harem pants that hug your body nicely. I don’t even remember what I thought the trip would look like or who I thought I would meet, because I was so focused on the hair and the pants.
As it happened, I shaved my head 6 months before I decided to go on the trip, so instead of the flowy waves I had imagined I was stuck looking more like a fluffy chicken.
The crazy part? After an email came to my inbox to remind me that I wanted to do this, I considered waiting a year so that my hair would grow out and I would look like the desert sun-kissed babe I knew I could be. Somehow I had enough sense left to realize how ridiculous this was, and went anyways.
And guess what- the trip was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, for none of the reasons I had expected. My legs weren’t tan. My hair was chunky. I didn’t have the “right” clothing, or the “right” look. And guess what…people loved me anyway. I made life-long friends. Where I thought I was clueless, shapeless, and uninteresting, my peers on the trip looked at me and saw someone who was confident and collected. Instead of judging my haircut, they envied my ability to instantly connect with others.
You would think that I would have learned my lesson, but I guess I’m just hard of hearing when it comes to obvious life lessons. Last summer I worked on a farm in Norway- you know, lakes and trees Norway, beautiful sculpted men and women Norway, $8 coffee. That Norway. I had high hopes- beautiful fjords, a warm farming community, waking up early to collect eggs. We had a hard time finding a farm that would host us, and when we finally found one (a beautiful family, on a beautiful centuries-old farm, in oh-my-god-holy-shit-this-is-a-real-place Norway, I almost let the difference between my imagined egg-collecting bliss and the beauty in front of me ruin the trip for me. Instead of early mornings on an idyllic farm, I got amazing one-on-one time with the cutest Norwegian girls you’ve ever met. I traded a farming community for walks along the best access road I’ve ever seen. And guess what? You guessed it. It was the best time of my life.
The lesson here? Don’t be stupid: go on that trip, even if your hair isn’t the length you want it to be, even if you don’t have the right pants, or the right camera, or the right ANYTHING. It might look completely different than what you expect.
And that is exactly the point.