I included a quote in one of my Twitter posts yesterday as I was simultaneously planning three of my upcoming trips:
“A schedule defends from chaos and whim.” – Annie Dillard
I love that quote because it reminds me that scheduling is necessary to keep me sane but also a constrictor. The last thing I want to do on vacation is defend from whim! With each trip, I’m getting better at finding the balance. I used to pack every minute in to see two days worth of attractions in one, in that stereotypical if it’s Monday, it must be Barcelona syndrome (sorry Mom!). My trips lately have been more serendipitous, with open time that sometimes means stumbling upon a soccer game in Fes or stopping to watch a moose courting ritual in Denali.
My balance these days has been to schedule one thing that I don’t want to miss for every day of vacation. That gives me something I look forward to and a slight structure to my day while still leaving plenty of wiggle room. And I try to make just-in-case hotel reservations (or throw my camping gear in the car) so that I’m not wandering around looking for a place to stay in the middle of the night. It just doesn’t seem safe to me, especially when traveling solo, and especially because I’m batting a 0 when it comes to finding acceptable options on the night of arrival.
In the meantime, I still research the heck out of my destination. Some of it is logistical: things like gathering train schedules, maps, and average costs. I do that so I don’t stress while I’m actually traveling and in fact, being armed with that kind of information makes it easier to change plans on a whim. Some of the research is “armchair travel” with reading on the attractions, restaurants, and unique accommodations at my destination (anyone else want to sleep in a Slovenian wine barrel village?). And more recently, I’ve been researching the local history and culture of my destination to better understand where I’m headed.
In the end, sometimes I feel like I know more about my upcoming destinations than some locals do (it works both ways: I’ll admit to not knowing everything about Richmond, either!). Maybe that takes the mystery out of things, but I have so much fun in the reading and anticipation that I’d never give it up. I can get months worth of enjoyment leading up to a single week-long trip. The only problem with that is that a week to explore somewhere new ends up seeming less and less adequate since there’s more and more I want to see and understand. It’s a great problem to have and amazing inspiration to realize I’ll likely be returning and thus can just enjoy the time I do have.
Are you a planner or do you prefer to go with the flow?