Have you ever taken a trip where you planned every little thing? Hotels, restaurants, toilets, and even, God forbid, gone on a tour? Now, tell me this. How much time did you spend on your trip feeling anxiety over the schedule and what you were supposed to do next? Maybe you worried so much about the next activity or location that you didn’t even take time to be present and enjoy where you were actually doing!
Here is the great thing about spontaneous traveling: Everything is so surprising and unexpected that you can’t help but pay attention. The greatest meal I have ever had was at a restaurant near my hotel in Italy. I was tired and had been traveling all day so I went there because it was close by.
The owner loved the U.S. and had all kinds of American paraphernalia on the walls. He brought the most mouth watering pasta I’d ever tasted. He called it carbonara but it looked more like tortellini stuffed with cheese and bacon and cooked in oil and cloves. Of course the noodles were homemade (not like those touristy restaurants in Rome that tell you they’re serving homemade noodles and then you see 10 boxes of Barilla stacked up in the kitchen.) He told me it was his mothers recipe as he put his hand over his heart and looked to the sky. For dessert I ate tiramisu that must be what clouds taste like. At the end of the meal he gave me limoncello and a free bottle of wine on which he signed “to my USA friends.” These are not the kinds of memories you acquire through picking your restaurant 5 weeks in advance.
The same can be said for life. You can be so busy planning for the future that you forget to pay attention to all those unexpected little moments that can only be enjoyed in the present. At 25 I still have no idea how my life will turn out and I’m okay with that. There really is no point in planning every little thing in life because most plans don’t work out at all or not how you expected.
A good example of this is when I started traveling through Europe for the second time (sorry, that will be my only travel snobby line in this article, I swear.) It was New Years Day 2015, and I made a decision that would change the trajectory of my entire life.
I dumped my abusive ex-boyfriend and left all my possessions in Ecuador where I was living at the time. I had no plan, no job, and no specific location to call home. It was one of the most unplanned times in my life and yet it also lead to one of the best years of my life.
You don’t need to have everything planned in order to live your life. Take a chance on fate and be surprised where it leads you. You could have a fabulous Italian meal, meet your future husband, or find your real passion.
So, coming to the present. My husband asked me to go on a quick road trip with him to Switzerland and I almost fainted with happiness as I had really been craving some travel. We left that weekend after he picked me up from work. The first night we were very tired from driving and I quickly picked a hotel 10 minutes away from us on booking.com before Jan’s phone battery died.
We woke up the next morning to a spectacular view over Lake Gruyere and thanked our lucky stars we had paid the extra 13 Euros for a room with a view. The first spontaneous decision of our trip had been a success.
We had just one full day in the Swiss Alps and we were determined to make the most of it. We first put Grindelwald in our GPS and set it to “avoid highways.” We drove through mountains that looked like postcards right in front of our eyes and we didn’t see another car for the first half hour.
After spending about 20 minutes in Grindelwald and realizing how touristy it was we decided to change course. We sat at a cafe and Jan looked on Google Maps for the smallest, most remote road he could find that you could still drive on and we set out for it. Being in a flat country like Netherlands, he’s pretty enthusiastic about mountain roads.
Driving on this very steep dirt road lead us to a view over Lake Brienz that was so blue nobody would believe I hadn’t saturated the hell out of the pictures. Eventually, we parked our car and walked down to a river coming down from the snowy part of the mountain. Clearly remote, and not often touched, we walked down by the rocks like giddy school children. The spray from the water brought with it the chill of winter and ice. It was so loud you couldn’t even hear yourself speak and we felt the full force of nature.
None of this would have been accomplished by looking at Trip Advisor let alone sitting on a tour bus. It is true that human beings love order and plans; we like to know what is coming next and we like to be comfortable. But, it’s also true that we crave excitement, and new experiences. We love the feeling of adrenaline in our veins and unexpected surprises.
Next time you’re on a trip, “avoid highways” and enjoy the slower, but unknown scenic route. And if you can, try to do this in life a little more as well.