”I’m on my way / I don’t know where I’m going / I’m taking my time / but I don’t know where” -Paul Simon Me and Julian Down by the School Yard
Which frightens you more: planning, or no having a plan?
My youngest is a planner. She has everything mapped out and if she is not following that plan to the letter, there will be trouble. The hardest thing in the world for her to do is go anywhere without a detailed plan. She needs to know when she is going, where she’ll eat, what she’ll see along the way, and when she’ll be home. A missed train or a city detour are almost as bad as an Orc ambush, and not nearly as bloody.
My oldest is a pantster (someone who flys by the seat of his pants). On the same trip, he wants to explore, he wants to walk down side streets simply because he never has before. His favorite place to eat is somewhere he’s never heard of, especially if they are serving something he’s never tried. He carries a small backpack with everything he needs no matter how long he’s out. He could care less about schedules.
Which way is a better way to live? Which is a better way to wander?
A Better Way to Wander?
I recently wrote about my failed attempt to book a trip to walk the Camino. I’m happy to report that the Fates saw fit to give me another chance and I’ll be heading to Santiago via Barcelona and Sarria in April. When I learned of the opportunity, I happily shared it with a friend at work, who has also walked the Camino.
“Guess what!” I exclaimed. “I’m going to the Camino.”
“You are! When?” She responded.
When I shared my plans, she immediately began to tell me all the things that were wrong with my trip. It was:
-The wrong time of the year
-It wasn’t enough to “get the full experience.”
Usually, this kind of response would have sidelined me. But, this time. I just laughed. “I’m going to hike my own hike.” I told her.
Hike Your Own Hike
I meet dozens of people every week who are traveling to all parts of the world on all kinds of adventures. I have helped outfit people for treks in the Himalayas, AT through-hikes, and trips around the local park. Some of them come to me with long lists of the gear they “need.” Others come looking for advice. Some want inspiration. Others seem to be hoping I’ll talk them out of whatever they’re planning.
Many of these people come back to see me after their trips. They tell me about their adventures and they share how I helped them, or what they learned through the process. It’s one of my favorite parts of the job. I can’t remember a single time when someone came back to tell me that I steered them wrong. Now, before you worry that I am a bit too inflated…I onlyshare that to say this:
I have never chosen gear for any of these people.
Some people in my industry think that to be a good outfitter, you have to have all the answers. You have to match the perfect piece of gear to the adventure, etc.. Certainly there is value in the knowledge of the available gear and what works best under which circumstances, but the trick to being an outstanding outfitter is realizing that, ultimately, the wanderer is going to hike their own hike, thus they need to choose their own gear. A good outfitter is a guide, not a porter; they offer assistance, not a crutch.
What You Don’t Know
When we set out on adventures that we haven’t set out on before, there is no way to prepare for every contingency. Who would want to? My daughter perhaps. But, the reality is that there is no way to prepare for things like missed flights, storms, closed roads, etc..
Guidebooks are helpful to get a big picture, but they cannot keep you up to date on everything. Apps are more timely, but they have their own quirks, including service interruptions at the worst possible moments. The best source of information that a wanderer can carry—something that will get them through almost anything—is this:
”Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.” -Gilda Radner
When you don’t know what’s next, anything can happen. Does that fill you with excitement? Dread? That is a clue to whether you’re ready to wander. If it fills you with dread, you need to work on optimism. Excitement, you may not be cautious enough. If it’s a mix of both, you’re probably on the right path.
The Next Move
If I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.” -Vincent Van Gogh
Here is the paradox of wandering: Arrival is the enemy of the wanderer AND s/he must arrive with every step.
Arrival is the Enemy
Tourists plan everything. They arrive where they set out to. They see what they went to see. They take pictures, buy the T-Shirt, cross the place off their “Bucket List” and then set off to another place–usually home. Wanderers plan to see what’s there, whether they expect it or not. They see what is. They experience what life offers.
Arrive with Every Step
Wanderers cultivate the ability to arrive with every step. They journey like Thich Nhat Hanh walks. They practice presence with every step, so no matter where they are, they have arrived.
Planning Like a Wanderer
Certainly, I’m not proposing that you set off to the far reaches of the world with nothing but the clothes on your back and a stellar attitude. Instead, I am suggesting that you approach trip planning in a different way.
A certain amount of research is appropriate. Study the weather patterns. Are there seasonal peculiarities when you’ll be in-country? Are there specific cultural niceties that, if ignored, might make you ill-favored or land you in jail? Study the history of the place, but be careful of your sources and explore the most local histories available. But, and this is a big BUT, don’t make a checklist of things to see, places to go, things to try. Leave those to chance.
Arrive the moment you step out your door and with every step until you return. Be present in every circumstance, no matter how trivial or annoying. Expect the most amazing things in the most mundane moments.
Last year, while visiting London, I stopped to get a coffee at a local shop. The barista asked if I was visiting and I said, “Yes, this is my first time in London.” He came out from behind the counter grabbed a napkin and began writing furiously. He gave me restaurants to try and the names of people who might get me in if they were crowded. He told me which dishes were best at each, he offered tricks to public transit and even offered to join me on a tour. If I had not been present, I would have missed some of my favorite places on that trip. I would have been a tourist instead of a wanderer. A simple mundane moment lived presently changed my entire visit. That’s not the kind of thing one can plan for.
Let’s get Practical
Okay, I know…I’m avoiding the practical. How do I suggest that one pack for such a journey? So glad you asked. But, this post is too long already, so I’ll tell you what: Come back on Friday and I’ll give you some pointers that have covered me on MANY journeys to many locales. Or, better yet, click that little email sign-up button on the right and I’ll send you the post, so you don’t forget to check back.