The idea of heading to a new place with no idea of what there is to see and do and no plans will undoubtedly make a lot of people feel very uncomfortable. We all have the friend who plans their travels with military precision and the one who has everything planned in a series of colour-coded spreadsheets…. maybe it’s not your friend, maybe it’s you. Five years ago, it was definitely me. I would have my packing spreadsheet, my travel itinerary spreadsheet, a spreadsheet of places to go and things to see on each day. My trips were regimented and incredibly well-planned for months in advance. I’d pack in all the sights that my Lonely Planet Guide told me I should take in, making sure I didn’t miss a single ‘must-see’ at each of my destinations.
What I didn’t realise was that by doing this, I was not only setting myself up for a world of disappointment, I was also missing out on a world of experiences. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a much more relaxed, mindful approach to travelling. I’ll book one or two things, if they’re the sort of things that it’s impossible to do on the fly and that I really want to do (for example a tour of Alcatraz), but for the most part I just rock up at my destination and work out what there is to do once I’m there.
Paraphrasing the Scottish poet Robert Burns,“the best laid plans of mice and men will often go astray” and there’s nothing like a messed-up carefully-made plan to cause distress. Back in my military-style travelling days, a delayed flight, a cancelled event or a restaurant that didn’t quite live up to its hype could easily upset me for an entire day. Now I don’t get stressed if my plans get messed up. This is partially because I’ve adapted to not depending on set-in-stone plans so much and partially because I’ve adopted a more relaxed mindset when it comes to travel. Now when something changes, I view it as an opportunity. When Secret Cinema’s Back to the Future opening week was cancelled at the last minute, whilst others seemed to be spending the entire evening sitting in their hotel rooms complaining on Social Media, my husband and I grabbed a copy of Time Out Magazine, found out about Southbank’s London Wunderground and ended up getting rather drunk at a silent disco in a Spiegeltent. This still sticks in my mind as an amazing evening and I’m grateful to Secret Cinema for the cancellation, as it meant we had that brilliant alternative experience.
This relaxed approach to travel also means I tend to find out a lot more about the culture and vibe of a place, because I get recommendations of things to do from the locals or local advertising. My friends and I arrived in Omis, Croatia in 2013 with very little idea of what there was to do in town, however after a little exploring and chatting to locals we discovered that there was a week-long Pirate Festival running. Throughout the course of the week we danced on the beach to a rock band doing Croatian covers of Metallica songs, attended a breath-taking operatic concert at the foot of a Venetian fortress and hired a boat from a local fisherman. If we’d had a packed full itinerary and a determination to see all the tourist spots, we would probably have missed some amazing experiences.
I earlier mentioned that this is a kind of mindful travelling. One of the principles of mindfulness that I really like is enjoying the moment, not worrying about the past or present, but really taking in the now. Travelling without an itinerary allows you to do this. I tend to find really awesome things I’d have previously missed out on in my hurry to get to the next tourist attraction. On a road-trip around California and Nevada last summer,
we decided to have a quick stop-off in Lone Pine, a frontier town in Inyo County, CA. It turned out that Lone Pine had a lot to offer. We ended up drinking Pabs Blue Ribbon with the landlady of Jakes Saloon, chatting to a guy called Lance who had been living in his truck in the mountains for three days whilst having lunch in Seasons Restaurant and getting some great advice on things to do and see in the local area from the folks at a very creepy taxidermy museum in town. Our planned 30 minute rest-stop turned into a 3-hour visit that we still talk fondly about.
Of course I have the benefit of having found my perfect travelling buddy, who is as free-spirited about travelling as I am and I accept that it’s not practical to be 100% free the entire time. No matter how free spirited you are, trains and aeroplanes wait for no man and there are some events and trips you need to book in advance.
Free-travelling is not for everyone, but I challenge you, for one trip, try it out… head off without agenda, without expectation and with no other purpose than to see where the wind takes you and a promise to yourself to follow your sense of adventure rather than your itinerary. You never know what you might find.
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