“Live in the moment”
“Where’s the fun in knowing what you’ll be doing exactly?”
“Travel should be unplanned”
I often hear these statements from travelers, armchair travelers, people I meet at the gym, backpacking neighbor, aunty at the pool and everybody else who attempts a conversation with me about a place they want to visit. Who can blame them? Especially since the conversation with me lasts over an hour where I have talked about the country, places to visit, things to do, the history, political views, religious beliefs/philosophies, where to stay and end the conversation with a promise to email an excel sheet with a travel model that I have created, which will help plan a trip end to end.
I usually just smile at the well-meaning folks and say “Whatever works for you”
In reality, it all boils down to who you are as a person. I am a brand strategist. Which means I develop brand plans for a living. My meals are planned a week in advance. I share an app called wunderlist with my husband to plan grocery + tasks at home. I am a compulsive list maker and am comfortable with a prepared life. To the outside world this may seem like joy being sucked out, but to me and a million others there we find joy in being prepared.
Travel begins at the planning stage
I have a full time job. I haven’t and will never sell everything I own to travel the world. However, I will travel the world. Every year I take a trip or two. A month after I’m back, the husband and I read up and boil down to a couple of places we’d like to see next. At this stage Lonely Planet and Nat Geo magazines become our soul mates. This stage undergoes a number of veto until the final destination is chosen.
For the next 4 to 6 months, we read. We read books about the country’s history, watch documentaries, understand everything that we can possibly do or see in the country and in some cases we go to the extreme of learning their language (we learnt Mandarin before going to China, basic Spanish before Spain and to read/write Arabic before Morocco). To us this stage is a wonderful immersion into the country which lets us put down a regret-proof itinerary. So even if I haven’t been to Voss in Norway, I do know that it is THE destination for adrenalin seekers who want to bungee jump into a fjord.
The enormity of this research has helped us identify serious travel hacks and resources to be used – such as not only should you buy Rick Steves’ guide book for Europe travel, but his app has better audio guides for most sites and its free; seat61 is the best resource for train travel around the world; Ryan air is cheap because they land in airports far from the city; and many more.
Research is good
Sometimes we read so much that we visualise the place completely months before our trip. And this is not a bad thing at all. For instance, we had four days in St. Petersburg and the State Hermitage museum alone takes a couple of days for a proper visit. But before we set foot at the museum, we knew exactly what we had to see and what could be missed. We also knew that the visit would be incomplete without a banya and read scores of Tripadvisor reviews before knowing which one to visit. Thank God we did that as that’s where I met my Russian mom.
We begin scouting for cheap airline tickets six months in advance which helps us get a good deal. Three months before the trip, we begin training physically. Travel isn’t easy, unless you book yourself into a resort and stay put for a week or two. It’s physically tiring. New food, people, hostels, more walking than you’ve probably done in a month – it’s hard. We train for three months and this includes running, swimming and weight training which helps build our endurance levels. Try hiking across the Great Wall of China or even climbing up the rock of Gibraltar without training (if your life is as sedentary as most of ours).
You get to see, observe and understand more when you’re comfortable. If I didn’t have the ferry terminal in Helsinki mapped out on my phone before my trip to Estonia, I would have missed the new exhibit at Ateneum. I’m an anxious traveler, being well prepared beats the anxiety and I come back with awesome memories.
We are all different people, and unfortunately somehow there is a misconception floating around that to travel the world, you need to be a maverick or even comfortable with the unknown. No you don’t. Understand who you are and extend your personality to owing travel.
This world needs all kinds of travellers. Be you.