Travel is awesome. That much is true. It's all sunshine and friendly locals guiding you to their favorite off-the-beaten-path hangouts.
Except when it's not, like when the kids are tired and grouchy, when it's raining for hours, when your business travel experience was plane-meeting-plane. Fortunately it doesn't have to be that way. This is the "sunny side" guide to the myths and realities of travel—and how to make travel better.
Myth #1: Family Travel Is All Smiles.
The dream: Everyone in the family unit has the same idea of the perfect vacation: heading to the city to check out the history museums and appreciate the notable achievements of our civilization.
The reality: The toddler's ears won't equalize and your pre-teen just described Snapchatted her friends and said spending a day at the fine art museum was "lame."
What a smart traveler knows: Get everyone's list of their dream experiences in your destination city; a little democracy goes a long way. And for you go-getters: Plan breaks to ensure that each family member's travel thresholds are not surpassed. A family vacation should be a vacation from over-packed schedules.
Myth #2: Business Travel Is Also All Smiles.
The dream: Smooth flights. Upgrades. Interesting conversations. Good sleep. Closed deals.
The reality: Red-eye flights, tight waistbands from one too many client dinners, noisy rooms next to the elevator, and your face time with your family is sadly only getting done via the FaceTime app.
What a smart traveler knows: Always plan in one true travel experience. Take those extra hours and check out a local gallery, or stay up late and visit that tiny jazz club you've always heard about. Just skip the drinks so you're on point for the client marketing reveal meeting in the morning.
Myth #3: Just Pack a Bag and Go.
The dream: You'll pack one bag, buy a ticket to some random destination, will pick a hotel when you get there and will come back with amazing stories.
The reality: The hotels were full because a big business conference was in town, and there's a reason no one goes there in the off season..
What a smart traveler knows: Having travel goals is wise. The reason that the world's best travel writers come back with amazing stories is that they've done their homework. Do the same.
Myth #4: Kids Gladly Carry Their Own Luggage.
The dream: They are cheerful, future ambassadors to the world.
The reality: They'll gladly play games on your iPad while you carry their Star Wars luggage.
What a smart traveler knows: Rather than luggage, pick a fun backpack emblazoned with their favorite character. If they still won't carry it and you don't have a free hand, at least you can always sling it over your shoulder along with your purse. And it will easily stuff under the seat in front of you, rather than taking space in the limited overhead bins.
Myth #5: The Beaches Will Be Empty.
The dream: Ah, a secluded strand with an empty hammock and only the sounds of the waves. This Caribbean island is just like the brochures.
The reality: The supposedly secluded beach has overcooked bodies packed so densely that it's more like a display case in the fish market.
What a smart traveler knows: Go during the shoulder season when most tourists have departed and the weather is still enjoyable. If you're there during peak season, rise early and enjoy your coffee on the beach for sunrise (bonus: no sunscreen needed at early hours) and then spoil yourself with a mid-day nap while the throngs overtake the beach.
Myth #6: That Famous Attraction Will Be Relatively Empty.
The dream: It's all magical moments you'll cherish forever, because no one else actually appreciates the grandeur of this sight.
The reality: It's appreciated by everyone. Keep moving or you'll stop the ticket-line queue.
What a smart traveler knows: This is when it's worth the splurge to book a behind-the-scenes, small-group tour with a well-educated, local guide. Swift entry and interpretive guiding will mean a deeper experience.
Myth #7: We'll Lounge for Days at the Resort.
The dream: We'll be chillaxing for days in the cabana.
The reality: That secluded over-water bungalow was great for the first 12 hours. Now we want to do something.
What a smart traveler knows: Before your trip, contact the resort and inquire about the day trips and excursions that are available. Even better, decide which side trips you really want, and then book a local guide with a small taxi to take you there. It will be even more engaging than hopping the resort's excursion bus with 40 other guests.
Myth #8: It's All About Style.
The dream: I'll comb the second-hand stores for a vintage suitcase and I'll be a stylish throw-back to when travel really was a luxurious experience for the lucky few.
The reality: You'll have to carry that suitcase the mile from your arrival gate to your rental car on a day with 60 percent humidity. And with that, the vintage suitcase just became a cool living room storage decoration.
What a smart traveler knows: Style is best applied to small travel accessories. Your original Wayfarers are a much better way to show your love of all things retro. Pick up simple fashion accessories as your keepsakes; they're easy to pack and you can wear them to look the part.
Myth #9: It Will Never Rain.
The dream: You can just pack a bikini (or trunks) and your sunglasses; this is the dry season.
The reality: The dry season was not so dry. Your guide blamed it on climate change.
What a smart traveler knows: Take advantage of a rain day under the inn's porch with that book you packed, making the extra two pounds in your suitcase actually worth it. Then grab your camera and a small umbrella for a fantastic session photographing the city's streets as the rain ends. The drizzle, the soft light and the look of wet-but-empty streets can make for some memorable imagery.
Myth #10: Road Trips Are Always Amazing.
The dream: It's just like the car commercial: open roads, sunsets and relaxed, carefree days on scenic, two-lane highways.
The reality: "Scenic drive" sometimes translates as a moving traffic jam in peak season, and you should have taken the last exit to fill up for gas. The kids are hungry and want to know when you'll get there.
What a smart traveler knows: Shorten the daily mileage plan, leaving more time for on-a-whim exploration down the side roads or for lingering over a second cup at that cute coastal café. Plan to always get to your hotel before dark so you're not navigating the city's streets at night when you're hungry.
Despite any heavy dose of reality, we'd still trade all the money in the world for a lifetime of not-so-perfect road trips, family travel memories, clothing stained with great experiences and rainy days we spent mesmerized, watching the water puddle among the cobblestones while we played cards in a street café.
(All images ©Shutterstock.)