“Planning the next moment drains your energy. Being present to this one replenishes it.” – Living Compassion
I love to travel.
My mind loves to doubt.
Every time I’m on a trip, regardless of destination or length, my mind wonders if I should have done it differently or visited somewhere else altogether. If I’m alone, it tells me I should have gone with others. If I’m on a group tour, it tells me I would have been able to do a similar trip for less money and with more flexibility on my own. There are endless permutations for travel. Sometimes if I’m flying overseas, I don’t plan trips beyond booking a ticket, a return date, and a few nights’ hotel stay, since the sheer complexity of contemplating the optimal expedition would exhaust me before I even left for the airport. And too much planning can kill an adventure: when money has already been spent on hotels for certain dates, or restaurants reserved or days filled with too many activities, there is less room for spontaneity. Often when I arrive at a destination, I’m not quite the same as who I was when I conceived the trip. Frequently the sensory stimulation of an unfamiliar environment sends my perfectionist critic and other killjoys into hibernation; I’m less concerned with details and am more relaxed and spontaneous. Why spend a lot of time figuring things out in advance, only to have them change once I’m on the ground? As an intuitive, I often glean just as many cues from my immediate environment as from guidebooks, or I let my energy level or the weather determine what I’ll do on a particular day, rather than follow a list or suggested itinerary.
Some people thoroughly research their trips, drawing a fairly comprehensive image of what to expect before they leave home. I met a couple like this in Olympic National Park; the wife told me, sotto voce and with a resigned shrug, that her husband had planned every minute of their vacation. Others might decide in advance which dots (cities, activities) they’ll connect, but will wait until they arrive to figure out the order of things. Still others might piece together a trip around a theme (e.g. seeing old mining towns, or national parks), creating a mosaic of similar experiences. And some folks, like a woman I ran into at Glacier National Park who has been there 31 times in 34 years, return to the same place as if on an annual migration, creating a nuanced and intimate portrait over time. Travel styles are influenced by the time available, the participation of children or health concerns.
On my road trip, various hoteliers and visitor center staff have encouraged me to explore their particular area “because I’m already there” or I’m “so close.” Focusing on a region is another style of travel, the equivalent of creating some realistic detail in a small section of a painting. Friends who’ve followed my trip on Facebook have suggested favorite places that are relatively nearby (e.g. 2-3 hours away, minimum). I’m sure many of these destinations are worthy of seeing, yet it’s the middle of summer and some of the more popular sites, especially on weekends, are crowded and expensive, making them less appealing to me in this moment even if, in a different season, I might choose to visit them.
Early in this trip, which began when I decided to attend some Feldenkrais events in the Bay Area, my mind started its usual frenzy of doubt.
What are you doing?
Why are you here?
Shouldn’t you have planned this?
Since I am in my own country and don’t need to devote bandwidth to navigating another language, the voice of my inner critic seems louder and more persistent than usual. This last minute road trip I’m on, I think, was a way for my adventurous spirit to circumvent the objections of my monkey mind by simply plunking me in the middle of a journey, whose purpose, aside from taking advantage of a window of time, wasn’t clear at the outset. Rather than creating a realistic painting or a carefully composed artwork my trip so far has allowed me to create my own impressions of parts of the country, so that I can be informed by my physical experiences and memories rather than relying on hearsay or political caricatures gleaned from the news.
My planning mind, which is oriented towards foreign destinations, would not put Arizona, Nevada, Oregon or Montana on a bucket list of must-see places, yet my eyes feasted on their spectacular scenery. In those states and others, tuning into local radio gave me a sense of the the particular values, concerns and issues of those populations, more so than reading the news. In Arizona, I listened as candidates for presidency of the Navajo Nation advocated their platforms in Navajo and English. Absorbing the 107 degree heat of the Mojave Desert gave me a visceral sense of what it might be like to live there, as well as gratitude for the hotel and gas station operators, many of them immigrants, who make driving through that region possible. To watch the barren California desert morph into irrigated fields of flowers and fruit trees, then transition into the rolling hills of the Bay Area and eventually reveal the snowy peak of Mount Shasta, is more impactful than studying a topographic map.
My trip, formulated on the fly, literally created from moment to moment without much concern for overall architecture, precise detail or how it will come across to others, probably most closely resembles an Etch-A-Sketch doodle. Some creative acts and the spirit’s need for adventure can’t be easily explained and might look like child’s play, or even a mess. And that’s OK.