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Posted by Jessica on Jun 2, 2009
In Defense of Traveling Your Way

Our friend Rachel recently returned from a refreshing holiday in Mexico. Rachel and her rock star boyfriend Jon (both previously featured in Tim's post about President Obama's inauguration) enjoyed several carefree days in Playa del Carman, digging their toes in the sand and munching on fresh guacamole by the ocean. Looking at some of her holiday pictures, I imagine their biggest concern on vacation was something along the delightful lines of, "I wonder which fabulously adorable and nummy restaurant we should eat at tonight? Oh how does one choose?"

Two of the vacation pictures that Rachel shared were some fabulously cheeky ones showing each of them posing in front of a billboard. The billboard advertised the nearby ruins of Chichen Itza, pyramids dating back to the Mayans (another way of saying they're old). Although they were in the area of the ruins for several days, the photos of Rachel and Jon in front of the billboard were as close as they made it to the archaeological site. Cool beers, refreshing ocean breezes, and a relaxing time together took precedence over a checklist of sights.

And rightly so.

Now, don't get me wrong. I imagine the Chichen Itza pyramids are fabulous. I imagine Rachel and Jon thought the pyramids would be fabulous too. But you know what else is fabulous? Knowing what you need most on a trip. And when soaking in the atmosphere and just being – rather than seeing and touring – are what someone needs the most? I say go for it. Guidebooks and "must sees" and UNESCO heritage sites be damned. We all need to stick our toes in the sand now and again, and not give two hoots about anything else.

Not everything has to be planned

I belong to a few travel message boards online where I enjoy reading about the trips people are planning. One of the more popular questions people have is along the lines of "Here's my itinerary to this country. What does everyone think about it?"

One of the more frequent problems with the proposed itineraries is that the original poster is usually trying to do too much in too little time. From a logistical standpoint the itineraries are often unfeasible, and that's before you consider the limits of human endurance. Still, to each his own. I mean, if someone is dead set on seeing 12 countries in 8 days? Have at it, my friend, have at it. Travel is all about what works best for an individual. Some of us move quickly, some of us move slowly, some of us rarely move. And who am I to judge?

That said, I can't help but notice one particular over-planning zealot that visits a travel board I frequent. The traveler – let's call her Stacy (for no reason other than I can't remember any Stacy currently in my life) – has recently discovered the travel board and is now posting about every upcoming trip she's embarking on.

But her posts are not the usual "This is my route through this country. Have I missed anything or am I trying to see too much?" posts. No, instead they are a breakdown of every single day in every single city in every single country she's planning to visit. She lists what she'll see in the morning, what street she'll walk down to get there, where she'll grab lunch, what she'll take pictures of in the early afternoon, what tour she'll take in the late afternoon, where she'll eat dinner, and what time she'll go to bed. I'm talking detailed planning that's almost to the hour. It's so bad I'm half expecting her to research all of the restaurant menus ahead of time and call ahead with her order.

Now I'm a firm believer in everyone's mileage varying while traveling. I'm also a firm believer in people traveling in a way that feels best to them. But I've never seen such compulsive planning when it comes to travel. Not even a tour company is that exact.

Maybe planning so precisely makes Stacey feel more secure about her travel plans. Maybe you're like that too. And if so, no worries there. Just plan as much as it makes you feel comfortable before you leave. But be okay with throwing it out the window when you hit the ground. Be open to those little moments of random happiness that occur when you least expect them. And let yourself live a little. That's one of the reasons you want to travel, right?

You don

No matter how laid back you are about traveling, chances are you will have a few things you want to see, do, experience, or taste at your destination of choice. And it's fun to know the highlights of a city, or the best restaurants, or those little out of the way places that a lot of people miss. But it's also wonderful to give yourself time to discover a place on your own without the guidebook open every minute. And unless you're planning to move some place, chances are you won't be able to see, do, experience, or taste everything you possibly could. If you're okay with that ahead of time, it'll help you avoid disappointment later.

Now, there are often going to be major tourist sites where you're going. But you know what? You don't have to see them all. You don't even have to see any of them. There's nothing about traveling that says you must see the "must sees" when you go someplace. And anyone who tells you that you missed out, or that you should have done something, or that it was probably a "once in a lifetime" chance that you missed? I'm guessing they're just jealous you're not stuck on the same path they're so intently following.

Remember, traveling doesn't have to be minute by minute plans. (Hell, in most countries that kind of planning will fly right out the window as soon as the bus company goes on strike or the monsoon season begins.) And it doesn't have to be about UNESCO heritage sites or major tourist attractions either. Sure, those places are important and visited for a reason and will undoubtedly share a bit about the culture of the country you're traveling in. But that doesn't mean you have to see them if you'd rather do something else. We all experience cultures differently – some of us are history buffs, some of us are foodies, some of us are music aficionados, some of us just like to people watch.

Find the thing that brings you bliss and then follow it. And don't worry about all that other stuff. To bastardize a popular fast food chain's slogan: It's your trip, do it your way.

(And before anyone points it out: Yes, even if that means over planning. Just don't say I didn't warn you later on.)

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Subpolka
June 2, 2009 at 2:14pm
Heh. Thanks – yet again – for the validation. I've finally made peace with our lazy vacation and am proud to declare suntans and beer guts our greatest accomplishments.

Did I mention that I purchased two guidebooks, obsessively highlighted the pages and compiled a Must-See itinerary prior to our trip? Ah, well. :)

Jessica the hedgehog
June 2, 2009 at 5:46pm

Did I mention that I purchased two guidebooks, obsessively highlighted the pages and compiled a Must-See itinerary prior to our trip? Ah, well.

Have no fear, my friend: You could always use your notes when you go back. Or just stick with the ocean and the guacamole…either way sounds fantastic, don't you think? Your photos made me want to go too. :)

Janet
June 4, 2009 at 3:54am
Oh, so true. My four day visit to Dublin was all about the beer. We took trips to see things outside the city, yes, a UNESCO site. The best part was getting lost in the pubs, did I mention beer? The best best part was having beer bought for me.
A 7 hour trip for beer:)
Jessica the hedgehog
June 5, 2009 at 5:33pm

Oh, so true. My four day visit to Dublin was all about the beer…A 7 hour trip for beer

I respect your dedication to one of the finer beverages in life! Tim and I really have to get ourselves to Ireland one day too. :)

Klaus
June 6, 2009 at 12:37pm
I challenge you to go to Rome in Italy… the must-see attractions in that city are so close together that it gets addictive to see one more, and another one…
Jessica the hedgehog
June 8, 2009 at 2:37pm
LOL! We will hopefully rise to that challenge one day, good sir. Italy is definitely one of our "must see" countries. :)
swany
June 11, 2009 at 7:43am
I loved this post! We practiced traveling "our" way 40 years ago, to the extreme disapproval of Tim's grandparents. And yes Klaus, we were in Rome when we realized we were bone tired and could not take in another attraction. So we went back to our hotel to sleep, even though we would be moving on the next day and what we had not seen would be lost forever. Neither of us regrets the decision! And who knows, we could still go back!
June 11, 2009 at 9:14pm
haha, "Stacy" sounds like someone I've seen on the 2 travel-style comms I watch on LJ, I have high suspicions it is her. I've only been on them a couple mos, but judging from the highly irked comments left on her posts last time (of her breakdowns of like every 15 minutes of their days) it seems as though she has been on at least 3 or 4 of them for quite some time and does this each time they travel. ACK! I am all for plotting out the things you definitely want to see and trying to figure out the days you will do it, when you have limited time, but going to such lengths about it… I just could not fathom that. lol.

Also, hi! *waves* haha. I just saw a comment you left in a comm on LJ (about traveling and travel blogs) and decided to check out your site, you guys sound really interesting and fun and I admire your just up & leaving for so long! I think, while it would be really great to do it, I would be too overly depressed to return to reality after, and that I should not travel for very extended times. Unless of course, I somehow hit the jackpot and never had to go back to work again! ;P So yeah anyway I've been browsing all over your site here. I LOVE IT! The whole style, of every aspect of it, is just great! I also love what you did with the hedgehogs, I've been wanting to do something of that nature since seeing Amelie years ago! And, hedgehogs rock. ;D I used to have one, they're so cute. <img src=' style='position:relative;' height='17px' width='17px' />

June 11, 2009 at 9:15pm
uh, and I have no idea why my comment has all that empty space! <img src=' style='position:relative;' height='17px' width='17px' />
Jessica the hedgehog
June 12, 2009 at 7:58pm

We practiced traveling "our" way 40 years ago…we were in Rome when we realized we were bone tired and could not take in another attraction. So we went back to our hotel to sleep…

Swany – I too am an avid supporter of napping in foreign countries. (And as you've probably guessed, Tim is as well!) Sightseeing on tired feet with a tired brain is no fun at all! :)

Jessica the hedgehog
June 12, 2009 at 8:12pm

Also, hi! *waves* haha. I just saw a comment you left in a comm on LJ (about traveling and travel blogs) and decided to check out your site, you guys sound really interesting and fun and I admire your just up & leaving for so long!…I've been browsing all over your site here. I LOVE IT! The whole style, of every aspect of it, is just great!

Melby – Hi! It's nice to meet ya! Thank you so so much for your kind words about our travels and the website. You have me grinning from ear to ear. :)

I think, while it would be really great to do it, I would be too overly depressed to return to reality after, and that I should not travel for very extended times.

*nodding* Yeah, that's one thing that we definitely experienced when we "re-entered" our lives back home. It took me about a year to get over my post-travel depression (for lack of a better description). It probably didn't hit Tim quite as hard as it hit me, but that was because he had work to distract him straight away.

Our traveler friends warned us that it would happen once we got home…but I think I naively thought it wouldn't. And then wham! It was definitely tough, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat for another long trip. (But hopefully – since I wasn't good at listening to our friends – I'll at least listen to myself and be more prepared for it next time!) :)

Jessica the hedgehog
June 12, 2009 at 8:16pm

uh, and I have no idea why my comment has all that empty space!

Melby – No worries! There are a few sizes for the comment cards…and sometimes a comment will go over one size but not be quite big enough to fill the next size up. My comments look like that all the time. :)

Noah
June 14, 2009 at 11:53am
I should have saved my last comment for this entry! :)

I certainly agree that a vacation is whatever each individual makes of it, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. However, those highly detailed itineraries seem more like work than someone's actual job! Perhaps a compromise is to throw a rough schedule together for some can't-miss sights, and then, should fun demand it, be ready to jettison the plans and simply enjoy yourself.

I agree with you, though, that whatever makes folks happy is fine with me.

Jessica the hedgehog
June 15, 2009 at 2:40pm

I should have saved my last comment for this entry!

LOL! You're right, it would have worked quite nicely here too. :)

I totally agree with your compromise. We're just starting to take a look at our Bogota chapter for our trip next week, and I find myself thinking, "Hmmm that might be nice to see" about a few things. (For example, there's a gold museum in Bogota that's supposed to be very impressive.) It can be nice to have a rough idea of a place before you get there, particularly when it's for shorter time periods. But I'm just as eager to throw everything out the window when we arrive too! :)

June 21, 2009 at 10:17am
Ha – yeah, one of my favorite things about biking is that it means I don't need to feel guilty about skipping all the must-see tourist sights. Instead, I enjoy the little interactions along the road… Perhaps it would have been easier if I'd just skipped the biking step and went straight through to the "not feeling guilty about missing major tourist attractions" but it's too late – I'm hooked :)

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