Traveling on my own, I rediscovered choice. Or maybe I understood it with a fresh point of view. Traveling with others, I made lists and agendas for the day. These were good-looking, comprehensive docs with travel times, alternate bus schedules, business hours, and restaurant options. Yes, I have a bias toward planning but it was start. A list provocateur. It dismissed the blank slate sorting of everyone’s preference every morning…usually resulting in sub-optimal plans and lost time. (Did I mention that bias?)
On my first trip alone, I made that list for every day. Standing in the middle of a sidewalk in Paris, on the first morning, on Ile Saint Louis, I had a breakthrough. I realized I was being driven by what the “me” of weeks ago planned, before I arrived, before I experienced what Paris was like on this day, at this time, with the very present me.
Without the need to help a group decide, choice was much different. 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. I had seen the top 10 sights in previous trips. With no one to bargain with, I admitted that I wanted to roam the food markets, brave the good cheese shops, and just BE in Paris.
Knowing what you most want to do isn’t as easy as it sounds in travel or anywhere else. You are presented constantly with new opportunities, with decisions on the fly. These are exciting. You also have the story and purpose of this particular trip that was your hope and vision through the planning.
It is hard for me to completely throw away a plan. It feels risky. My mantra now is a question. What is the best and the worst about this new possibility? I can’t control what will happen with every choice but I can jump ahead in time and think about how I will feel on the way home. What will I regret if I do not take this new opportunity? What will I lose if I give up another activity? How could this story become part of my trip story? Having a sense of purpose for each trip (even the purpose is not having one) is important to me. I let that sense of purpose and story for my trip guide my choices.
This sounds a little over analytical but here is an example where this idea kicked in. A couple of years ago, I was in the Highlands on a driving trip. On my one and only full day on Mull, I would set off from my B&B, have a gorgeous drive along the coast and take the ferry to island of Iona, famous as the cradle of Christianity for Scotland with fascinating abbeys, cemeteries and ruins. And hairy cows. It was my only opportunity to see that amazing place on the trip.
It was an obvious plan. 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 the local bookshop. These things are never on the day you are actually in town – always a tease – but this event was the next day.
Here’s the thing about choice when you are on your own. I could do anything. 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 what I’d regret if I changed my plans. In the end, I stuck with my excursion. I didn’t want to go home having given up that part of my trip story.
On that day, I made the right choice and it actually led to another opportunity. On the way home, I stopped at that bookshop, Tackle and Books (which is right on the water and worth a visit). He was gone of course with just a small, sad stack of books left. But I was there. And while I was at the counter, someone cancelled their spot at the special dinner with the author in a couple of hours. They wanted to find someone to fill the seat and offered it to me.
In the end, I had the Iona trip and a leisurely, single-malt-in-hand chat with the author. The ending is a vote for never quite giving up on having it all. The experience helped me think more clearly about opportunity, commitment, and pattern of listening to what I wanted most to do.
Three Things I Learned
You are different from me or anyone else. You may not need a list or feel driven by a purpose for your trip. The important thing is to assess in every moment what you most want to do and do it.
Don’t let your choices be driven by fear or discomfort. When you try a new thing on the road, talk to people, admit you need help, and be yourself….and give it a go. (An important note about fear. If physical danger is involved, listen to all the signals and be smart. I’m thinking more about trying to speak French with a cheesemonger.)
It is still good to know the facts that affect your whimsy… like when the museum is open, shop hours, or special events but that’s just information.