Join me on a journey. Let’s imagine that you have three weeks off for a summer break. You agree to meet a friend in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania with very little to no specific schedule, just the planned goal to you will make your way to Zanzibar Island off the coast. Aside from airline tickets, the plan to meet your friend at a specific hostel in town and this general destination in mind, you make no plan, no reservations, schedule no activities or transportation – you just go and ask along the way.
This goes so far that you don’t worry about what shots you need (you aren’t crazy, but you assume the several you got 2 years prior probably cover you), whether or not you need a visa, and you certainly do not get malaria medication (yes, Tanzania is in the malaria belt and it is reported a high risk destination). You just said yes and figured everything would unveil itself as you went along.
I’m curious at this point does this excite you or terrify you?
Now what if I told you that along this journey, your very unplanned plans would change drastically. That you would in less than 24 hours find a dead rat in your bed, then experience of one of the most intoxicatingly beautiful places you have ever seen. You would meet the smartest, the happiest, the most annoying people in the dirtiest, most frustrating and stunning place you have ever been. Could you imagine laughing like you have never laughed before in a state of utter delirium, confusion and unadulterated joy? What if I told you you would completely throw out your original general concept of being in Tanzania for 3 weeks, board a plane to South Africa, rent a car and drive the eastern edge of South Africa through Swaziland and up to Lesotho. And on top of everything else, looking back you now have some of the fondest and vibrant memories of all your traveling days.
How it is possible that some of the fondest memories come from the craziest, most chaotic, perhaps worst in-the-moment experiences?
If I told you everything written above (including the rat) was a real personal travel story, would you think I was lying? You can read it on my old blog here.
We live in a world of over planning, over organizing and under-experiencing. I sit right now with somewhere between 5 and 7 trips on the horizon that I am planning, most for less than 4 days. 4 days – that doesn’t leave much space for error, so as I write this, I plan. I plan each hotel, all the transport, most of the activities and then I am inspired to write this. I think in my hippy dippy mind, it might be a sign or at least my true spirit crying out.
I wrote this story, a story that requires me to think about all of the beautiful journeys I have been blessed to take. It forces me to think about how many of them were perfectly unplanned. Unplanned in a way that lowered expectations. That heightened awareness and being-in-the-momentness (yes, it is a new word). Unplanned and probably the so much the opposite of perfect that they live on in my mind in ways that everything going perfectly never could.
So in essence I believe these words flow out of me right now as I lay in bed typing furiously with my thumbs into my phone, with my husband and puppy fast asleep next me, because this one was for me. To remind me that just because I’m traveling for just 4 days, doesn’t mean that I have to fit everything in. I need to leave space to find, explore, ask, be confused, lost and find whatever amazingness (I’m on a roll making up words tonight) is just out there for me to find along the way.
This past February, we traveled to Mexico with Jeremy’s family and our perfectly planned trip, unplanned itself a week before we left when we found out that our hotel reservation didn’t actually exist. I don’t know why, I can’t begin to piece together fully what the reason was for this, maybe for me to continue and practice being flexible. Maybe it was so I could have a different memory or experience than I thought I was going to have.
One morning in Mexico, Jeremy and I decided that we were going to visit Ek Balam, a Mayan site in the Yucatán that had been recommended by a friend. That morning, we were up and out by 5:45 am to get there when they opened at 8 am. When we asked the front desk of our hotel to print us directions, it led to conversation about Ek Balam vs. Chitchen Itzá, Coba and how they all compared to Palenque. Before I knew it, he talked us into going to Coba. So we hopped in the car, with no map or gps, screenshots of directions to Ek balam and headed off towards Tulum (the opposite direction of Ek Balam). Two hours later we arrived at Coba just as the gates were opening.
Don’t worry my type-A personality jumped in and tried to plan out the whole day. We will be here, we can grab breakfast there, swim here and be back at the hotel by here. Type A and my inner wanderer usually duke it out for a while – really they are in constant conflict. It is sort of like having two personalities. I used to joke that when I was on the road I was the wanderer with trace elements of the Type A and when I was at work, I was Type A with the occasional wanderer reaching out.
Now while Coba was stunning, we knew nothing about it aside front it was recommended you rent bike, so finding the tallest structure in the Yucatán came as a surprise. But a very welcome surprise. If we had veered off course, we wouldn’t have sat high above the jungle taking the in the expanse of green.
We also wouldn’t have discovered an area just outside of Tulum that we fell in love with because we decided on our way back to jump in the next cenote we saw to cool off.
Here’s what I also know, had we gone to El Balam, we also would have discovered something exceptional and I’m sure we would have stumbled upon something else.
But had we gone to Tulum, I’m not sure we would have discovered the cenote pool we did and the dirt road seemed to carry on quietly, forever away from the attraction that has now become Tulum.
As I look forward to our upcoming travels, I think I am going to plan less and subsequently stress less beforehand and see what gets thrown in my direction. I laugh at the irony of this post considering I actually made food reservations for my upcoming trip, which I never do. Hopefully there is enough unplanned in there so we can see if the trend of magical moments continues.
Tell me in the comments below, do you think you could do a trip somewhat unplanned? Do you have any personal experiences that this reminded you of?