Anyone who possesses a desire to travel has at some point fantasized about a dream destination. My first travel fantasy materialized at 12 years old, when I fell in love with Bermuda. Or rather, with the idea of it: once stumbling upon the name, I spent countless time wistfully Googling picturesque beach images of turquoise waters softly lined by infinite stretches of pink sand. It took only a few searches to decide with full conviction that, when I finally gained the independence to travel, I too could wiggle my toes in the plush sands of that immaculate paradise. It took over a decade to reunite with my childhood wanderlust, and with it the realization that as exquisite as fantasies may be, they never measure up to reality. And that is ok – so long as we understand their function in our dreams.
Fantasy is Beautiful, But it is a Façade
When I landed, the Bermudian night air was sweet and soft like velvet, pregnant with the subtle scent of salty sea breeze and moist foliage. A soft lullaby gently waltzed through the air, sung by thousands of tiny tree frogs hidden amongst the trees. I made my way to the closest beach as soon as the sun rose, anxiously eager to see all the idyllic images that once populated my computer screen come to life.
Superficially, Bermuda’s beauty was just like I imagined: picturesque, pristine, breathtaking. Yet, there was something instinctively alienating about it, a tension that was not present in my fantasy. This beauty did not feel passive, but rather hungry for attention. The horizon fiercely drew a line between the sky and the ocean, a competitive chasm that only the occasional seagull dared to cross. The sky was piercing yet unassuming, a delicate cerulean blue softly dotted by puffs of creamy white clouds. Coy by day, the sky rivaled the ocean only at sunset, when its complexion blushed shades of baby pink and periwinkle and its clouds sighed pale grey lavender.
While the sky painted a lovely watercolor of pastels, the ocean defiantly flaunted its striking azure beauty like a peacock during mating season. Rather than the flat turquoise I pictured, the ocean was a brilliant watery gem, reflecting shades of aquamarine, lapis lazuli, sapphire, and the occasional glimmer of emerald. Greedily borrowing sun rays from the sky, it adorned its majestic blues with splashes of melted diamond. Fluffy white foam lazily licked the shore, darkening a sand so speckled by coral sediment it’s rendered a soft, subtle shade of dusty rose. Rocks and coves quietly stood by, observing this single-handed competition for attention and content to simply benefit from being within the halo of this scene’s irresistibly powerful allure. Fauna flourished in fair distance, where it could claim its own exquisite beauty without intimidation from the ocean.
As I continued to explore the island and interact with locals, I developed a creeping suspicion that this subtle air of animosity extended beyond just the landscape. While Bermuda markets itself as a utopia to the outsider, life from within appeared much bleaker. A few long rides on public transportation – which only the sporadic budget-conscious tourist bothers taking – gave me enough of a sneak peak into the discontent and frustration felt amongst lower-income inhabitants to shatter my innocent child idolization of Bermuda. Behind the island’s perfect façade are harsh realities of political corruption, price extortion and dissatisfied locals with little option to escape. These are realities that are neatly swept under the carpet, only exposed in the rare instances when a visitor dares to explore and ask questions outside of the carefully delineated tourist boundaries.
While I saw in Bermuda a striking beauty and welcome escape from one’s personal reality, I also saw a makeshift dream meticulously packaged for the typical American tourist. And, unlike many of the stereotypically beautiful tropical islands it emulates – which have a tendency to carve out tourist-friendly pockets of wonderland within poverty stricken areas – Bermuda permeated a uniform wealth and privilege easily accessible by visitors and higher-income locals (not surprisingly mostly of European ancestry).
The Difference Between A Fantasy and a Dream
Bermuda wasn’t what I expected – likely because I falsely mistook my fantasy for a dream, an all too easy misunderstanding to make. Dreams are fickle and mischievous creatures. They have an unparalleled ability to germinate out of just a tiny flicker of inspiration. The second we give them any attention, they grow and reproduce, each development burning us with a desire and itchiness for more.
Yet, just as quickly as dreams are born from inspiration, they too die of neglect. Sometimes they are lost forever, passing breezes of the imagination blown away by the winds of our constantly churning thoughts. Other times they re-emerge, like an old lover who you once feverishly cared for but has now become a fond and distant memory. Few dreams last throughout the course of our lives, and even fewer uphold their integrity. For as much as dreams inspire and push us to strive for better, they can also become a distraction. If not pursued conscientiously, dreams will encourage us to run away with them, to avoid the problems that must be resolved for us to be capable of successfully following them in the first place. In stubborn pursuit of some dreams, we risk forgetting why we wanted them in the first place, or worse – why they were born.
When dreams become so much of an escape that they fail to create meaning in our lives, they mutate into fantasy. Regardless of how long-standing or temporary, a dream challenges us: to pursue goals, face fears, and think outside of our comfort zone. Even a transient dream provides more substance than a fantasy. Too often dreams are confused with fantasies, which provide the comfort of a hiding place at the expense of reality. A fantasy is an easy getaway that we can build for ourselves, exactly how we want it and without foundation. It doesn’t ask much of its creator other than an active imagination and the ability to regress into a corner of the mind where our problems and fears are nonexistent.
Which leads me to…
If We Face Our Fantasies, We Will Also Face Our Reality
During a difficult period of my life, my 12-year-old mind sought out a refuge in which to hide from an instability it didn’t want to face. In retrospect, I understand that my pull towards Bermuda spurned not out of desire to go to that specific country, but rather a hunger to witness extraterrestrial beauty in a world where reality seemed stifling and mundane. I once longed so vehemently to see Bermuda, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that I forgot about this fantasy once I began actively pursuing my real dream: traveling to connect with people, for the sake of better understanding others and myself. The thought of Bermuda only re-emerged years later, not out of desire, but sheer convenience – it went from being an unattainable paradise in my child mind to an affordable and easily achievable weekend trip from New York. Somewhere along the shift from fantasy to reality, Bermuda completely lost its allure.
I spent too much energy fantasizing about the idea of Bermuda, and not enough understanding what role this experience would serve in my dream of traveling. I set myself up for disappointment by dismissing reality and setting unfair expectations. How can I expect any place on earth, no matter how beautiful, to be perfect and utopian? There is no such thing. Quite the contrary – from my experience, the more beautiful a place is, the more problems it has. While dreams are rooted in goals and passions, fantasy blindly ignores reality. Fantasy demands perfection, a sheer admiration with no regard for flaw. Bermuda’s imperfections – primarily its narrow-minded strive to be a tourist utopia and its sterile yuppie culture, designed to please the upper class – were a welcome reminder of why my love for travel is driven by an intimate understanding of people and culture over thoughtlessly basking in polished, postcard beauty.
Despite its futility, however, a fantasy should not be completely dismissed as it does serve a function for the dreamer. What began as a fantasy anchored in insecurity and fear, became an opportunity to reconnect with my inner child and finally reassure her that, after all these years, her vivid imagination was a small piece of a bigger dream. It was a lesson, that a dream is not a dream unless it asks us to evaluate what we value – and act upon it. If anything, fantasies are the beginning of a very nascent dream, one that can come to fruition once we seek to understand what led us to long for them in the first place.