By guest blogger Tom Wright, Lawyer & Chef
Surprises are often more rewarding than expectations; I will repeat that later.Thus far in my life I have been blessed with the ability to travel extensively. I lived and studied in Europe for a good part of my graduate studies and have also made many other trips abroad. My many travels have left me with a valuable lesson that I now pass on to you – enjoy the experience as much as the destination, and don’t get lost in micro-planning.
I remember it oh so well… endless days of searching Trivago, Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, flight consolidators… the list goes on and on and on. I recall days becoming weeks and then being afraid to finally pull the trigger; there was always the lingering hope of finding a slightly better deal or trying to organize too much. Perhaps that is the moral of this story; the joy of travel can be lost so easily if you try to plan and anticipate every move like an instruction set.
My mother is so guilty of this. She simply cannot travel unless she has a set itinerary for each day and pre-plans the gaps of the next day late at night in bed. It’s exhausting to watch and heaven forbid an unforeseen change in weather that throws a monkey into the wrench.
If you are one of those folks who just can’t entirely couch whatever neuroses you might have, and need to pre-chisel every moment of your travel plans into stone, then maybe a cruise is just the thing for you. Other than debating various excursions, and whether to do the buffet or the up-charge restaurant, there isn’t much need for planning. As much as I have enjoyed a cruise or two over the years, it’s a bit mindless and uninspired way to explore, at least to me. You pack, and probably bring far too many things that will never be used or worn, board the boat, start drinking, arrive at a port, get back to the boat, and start drinking again – perhaps a failed attempt at a limbo on the lido deck in the interim. Don’t get me wrong, for some people it’s paradise, but let me suggest an alternative – we’ll call it semi-planned travel.
Some of the most memorable experiences in my life have been the result of adventure with little or no pre-planning. For example, let’s take a 5 -7 day trip to Paris. It’s one of my favorite cities on earth and has something to offer for just about anyone, and I mean anyone; I have been there many times.
There is as much debauchery to be had as there is culture – if you just seek it out, and depending what you want. Sure, you can review the Fodor’s guides and Lonely Planet until you’re blue in the face and the page corners are smeared, and still spend weeks searching on the web about what to do and what to see. Or, you can try a simpler approach that requires a modicum of intestinal fortitude, but I believe is far more rewarding.
Fly into Charles De Gaulle with only a couple days worth of hotels coordinated and wing it. Yup, you heard me right. Just wing it.
The world is a wonderful place and people are far more friendly and gracious than you can imagine, but you have to be willing to give it, and them, a chance. Meet people, wander—instead of worrying so much about where and when to go, and preoccupying yourself with minutia, turn the trip into a series of serendipitous events.
Without hesitation, the best “adventures” I have ever had resulted from minimal planning. I flew into Paris years ago with nothing but a small bag, my phone, and my wallet, and within an hour I found a lovely hotel in the north part of the city for about half of what I had found online. In the morning, I was woken to the sound of pigeons cooing on my balcony – and my bed post; I had left the doors open. A cheery employee knocked on my door and dropped off fresh croissants, coffee and homemade marmalade. I stood on my balcony in boxer shorts with a cup of coffee and smiled.
As opposed to checking a “schedule” and running to the Louvre or Versailles, I grabbed a small back pack and wandered up to Sacre Coeur, the magnificent church on the north side of the city and I simply explored without a particular game plan. I had no goal for the day or preconceived itinerary – I just wanted to wander the city and I figured this was as good as any place to start. I met buskers and artists, students and tourists, shop owners and even pan-handlers. I actually sat with one fellow and tried my hand at a charcoal sketch of the façade of the church for a bit and again realized why I had never pursued art more seriously.
A few hours later and a half mile south on my way towards Pont Neuf and Notre Dame, I enjoyed lunch at a café with a couple traveling from Germany and drank a bit too much, but that’s ok. Paris is an amazing city and just as good with a buzz. In just a few short hours I had been given a handful of recommendations of places to eat and things to see that are rarely found in guidebooks. I was getting a feel for the town and the local color, and it was becoming not just a series of destinations, but an experience. Think about that nuance for a second… an experience versus a destination. I honestly believe that is what is most important in travel. It’s one thing to go somewhere, it’s another thing to experience it – the latter is far, far more rewarding.
Of course I made my way to the Louvre and Versailles – you have to. Equally enjoyable for me, though, was sitting along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées enjoying a bottle of cheap local beaujolais nouveau with some locals who I met simply by joining them at a communal table at one of the many sidewalk cafés that litter the city. We talked about their travels and mine, and then exchanged numbers and met up at a hidden nightclub the next night that left me with memories and visuals that are best not repeated in public.
Travel wisely, travel with purpose, travel with a sense of wonder and adventure in your heart, and just once or twice, take a deep breath and try your hand at traveling with an open mind and a somewhat blank slate; see what magic happens upon you. Surprises are often more rewarding than expectations.