I started thinking about the issue of expectations and adventure travel after receiving a trip evaluation from a woman returning from her second trip with us. To paraphrase, she said that there had been some disappointments on the first trip so she had gone into this trip with no expectations; she had had an amazing time and totally loved it. My first (internal) response was - yes, exactly, when we don't have expectations, then we can be fully open to whatever happens. And since the nature of adventure travel is that there is some inherent unpredictability, we want to be open to embracing what presents itself, not clinging to our expectations of what we thought it should be.
Bu then I thought - OK, but does it follow that a company can offer anything and you shouldn't complain because you're so living in the present moment that you don't notice that all the cool things on the itinerary aren't actually happening? That doesn't seem right. Not having expectations shouldn't mean that there are no standards and that anything goes.
Many adventure travel companies do try to set expectations in their trip descriptions, either implicity or explicitly. From a purely business standpoint, much less an ethical standpoint, you don't help your business by misleading people about the experience they've signed up for. Yes, sometimes things change, but no one wins by setting it up for that to happen.
Sometimes people don't even know what their expectations are until they're not met. A minor example? Americans often dislike that dinners in Italy are usually large and late; in Spain they are even larger and later. You probably wouldn't have put dinners at 6pm on your list of expectations until you were trying to get to sleep with an uncomfortably full stomach. Experience is how we learn what is truly important to us and how to deal with an expectation that can't be met. Maybe we learn to leave food on our plate; maybe we carry Tums with us; maybe we just don't travel in Italy.
The bottom line is that we all have expectations, and to the extent possible, we need to know what they are. If we do, then we can decide if they are something we can let go of, adapt to, or make sure they will be met. So read the itinerary carefully. Ask the company questions. Chat with people who have been on the trip. Do everything you can to make sure you get on the right trip. And then be open to the experience that unfolds.