Early in my independent, on-my-own travel, I rediscovered choice. Traveling with others, I made lists and agendas for the day. These were good-looking, comprehensive creations with travel times, alternate bus schedules, open and closing times, and restaurant options. It helped keep us out of the morass of starting with a blank slate and sorting everyone’s preference every morning.
On my first trip alone, I did the same thing. Standing in the middle of a sidewalk in Paris, I realized I was being driven by what the “me” of months ago planned, before I got there, before I experienced what Paris was like on this day, at this time. What did I want to do today – not what I thought I’d do or what was expected of a week in Paris – but what did I want to do? No one was watching or evaluating. I changed everything on that page.
Knowing what you most want to do isn’t as easy as it sounds. Some of the choices begin when you are first planning where and when you travel. You have decisions on the fly and these are exciting.
I’ve learned three things about choice when I am on the road – and sometimes this helps me at home.
- What is your style? Are you someone who is more likely to feel tense if the details aren’t nailed down or do you need your freedom? I do like having that spreadsheet…I still choose every day, I’m just very informed…
- Build it ‘free’ days. On a solo adventure, every day is kind of a free day but between travel days and big experiences, how about a truly free day to wander the city or walk the byways>
- Assess the unexpected. In your carefully crafted trip, you’ll have unexpected possibilities. Do you stick with the plan or grab the new idea and run? My mantra now is ‘what is the best and the worst about this new possibility’? Where is the uncertainty? What will I regret if I give up my plan? How could this story become part of my trip story?
What you don’t want to do is find yourself frozen on the sidewalk, unable to either continue the plan or change it. A couple of years ago, I was in the Highlands on a driving trip. On my single full day on Mull, I would drive the coast and take the ferry to island of Iona. It was my only opportunity and it would take the day.
Then I saw a newsletter in my room at the B&B. One of my favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith, was signing his new book, set in Tobermory, at noon in the local bookshop. These events in newsletters are never on the day you are actually in town, but this event was.
What to do? I could ditch the Iona trip and chance a good experience with this beloved author or I could follow my plan. I thought about what I’d regret if I went to Iona and missed out seeing the author. Then I thought about not seeing Iona. What would I feel like once back home? In the end, I stuck with my excursion. For me, there was more certainty achieving a great experience taking the ferry to Iona. I didn’t want to go home having given up that part of my trip story.
In the end, I made the right choice and I had a new opportunity. At the end of that very good day, I just stopped at the bookshop to see if any signed copies of that book were still available. Maybe there was a new possibility to add to my story.
So, this part of the story is really cheating because, in a rare stroke of luck, I had the best of everything – the store was sponsoring a dinner with the author that night and there had been a cancellation. They were frantic to find someone to fill the seat and offered it to me.
The important thing is that I was perfectly happy with the day when I walked in the store expecting a book.
What will you choose?