We're On A Boat!
Yes, really. However, instead of a generic travel blog-style post curated to portray a life of non-stop awesomeness, this will be a different kind of story. It will be a story about human psychology, about expectations versus reality, and about admitting mistakes.
We begin in Sicily. We’re on “vacation”. It’s the middle of July. We’re attempting to plan the next month of our lives. This is proving difficult as there’s really just too many unknowns to effectively plan anything. What we do know is that we have return flights to Warsaw in 5 days. We improvise a short-term plan. We’ll book a place in Warsaw for a week after our return. Then we’ll figure the rest out later.
We jump on Airbnb and immediately come across a listing for a houseboat. The listing has amazing photos (the actual Airbnb photos are below). It promises the “comfort of a real apartment” … “equipped with all the facilities to spend a great vacation” on “the only mobile houseboat on the Vistula River”. Most importantly, the houseboat has a huge rooftop deck.
I check the other parts of the listing and it has all the pre-requisites: wifi, a/c, kitchen, 1 positive review. Looks amazing. Sounds amazing. We book it. Immediately we both begin imagining ourselves drinking white wine on the deck during sunset with all the new friends we’ve made in Warsaw. That’s what you’d be thinking as well, right?
Just like that, our expectations have been set. A mental image has been formed. The houseboat will be amazing. On top of that, somehow we assume, in addition to all the sunset decking, we’ll also be able to figure out the rest of our summer plans. So this is our mental state as we arrive in Warszawa.
It’s around 10 PM on a Thursday night. We arrive at the houseboat after a long day of traveling. We meet the hosts. Immediately, we begin to notice things. Things that don’t quite match the mental expectation of how the houseboat was supposed to be. Little things and big things. We both get that feeling that something isn’t quite right. You’ve been there, right? It’s just a feeling. I couldn’t tell you exactly what’s wrong, but you just know something is off. We proceed with the tour of the houseboat. Everything happens quickly, but since your animal brain and rational brain are sending different messages, you can’t really do anything other than just go along. Our hosts leave. We look around. What’s going on?
The reality does not match our expectations. We review the photos from the listing. Things sort of look the same. And by sort of, I mean that if you look at the photos, then remove half the furniture, then all the decorations, and then cover everything with spiders, then yes, it’s sort of the same...
However, here is where the human mind is really quirky. Since we have already set our expectations to sunset decking with wine and friends, we don’t want to, actually we can’t, let that expectation go. That expectation is the whole reason we’re on this boat in first place. If it’s now achievable we’ve made a mistake, which is bad (and never, ever allowed right). So, despite reality telling us otherwise, we continue to cling to our expectations. We rationalize: “We’re tired. It’s been a long day. I’ll kill all the spiders. We’ll crank the a/c and go to bed. Tomorrow will be a brand new day, we’ll do some decking then, and everything will be all right.”
Wrong. Things continue getting steadily worse over the next 48 hours. The “fully equipped” kitchen has no pots to cook in, no salt, no paper towels. The a/c can’t even come close to cooling down a metal boat in the summer sun. The wifi is a public hotspot with a weak signal that cuts out every hour. The wastewater tank backs up and the boat smells like sewage until the hosts come and pump it out.
Yet we persevere. We do enjoy several glorious moments on the deck. We watch the ducks float by from our bedroom window. However, by now our minds have slowly begun to synchronize our former expectations with the reality at hand. We continue to rationalize that the many things wrong are bearable because of the few glorious moments experienced. It’s not so bad, we say, and the weekend marches on.
It’s now Monday morning and we have three more days on the boat. The temperature outside keeps rising. I have several work meetings in the morning and in the afternoon we will be looking at apartments. The afternoon is brutally hot. Lots of walking. Lots of sweating in business clothes. Misery. And all that awaits now is the boat, with more heat, spiders, and stench. How are we going to make it to Thursday?
That night, the a/c cuts out. I hardly sleep. More just stew in the heat. On Tuesday morning, reality finally sets in. Our glorious visions of decks, wine, sunset and friends have evaporated. Roasting in a stinky tin can covered with spiders is all that remains. It took 5 nights for us to get here. 5 nights of reality before we could fully admit that our expectations were never going to be met. I find it truly amazing that we could cling to our initial visions for even this long. Despite reality continually reminding you that this isn’t working, your mind tenaciously clings to its vision and tries to make it work. You ignore, you rationalize, you hope. It takes overwhelming evidence to change your mind, and even then you tend to hold on to that first belief. The human brain is amazing.
We now finally confront reality and decide admitting our mistake and moving on is the best course of action. Yes, we’ll lose some money, but that’s better than spending one more minute on this stupid boat. We book a cheap hotel. When we arrive, we find functioning a/c, an amazing shower, a fully equipped kitchen, a soft bed, and no spiders. Not even one.
It was the best hotel room I've ever had.
Some brief moments of glory (that led us to persevere for so long) below...