Independent travel. I’ve spent some time contemplating that idea. The independent travel “manifesto” attached to this blog is pretty straightforward group of ideas. Simple, profound and potentially transformative – I like what it stands for. Really, I LOVE those ideas. Putting them into practice gets a little more complicated.
To begin with, I condense and simplify the idea of independent travel to “doing it on your own” and avoiding a pre-packaged experience and/or a detailed time schedule (i.e. at 8:17 we should all be finished with breakfast and then we have 23 minutes to enjoy the view before we leave on Route XYZ).
Theoretically, independent travel allows you to gain an unfiltered individual experience of the places you are visiting and allows the flexibility to expand or contract the amount of time you spend in a particular location. Arrive at a pristine lake that you never heard of before and are overwhelmed by the jaw-dropping scenery and hip scene? Stay an extra day, or an extra week! Roll into that emerging metropolis that everyone says is “amazing” and find it to be crowded, noisy and smelling like roadkill? Leave early – perhaps immediately. Cool, right?
The difficulty for me in this free-wheeling, go-with-the-flow travel approach is… me. I’m just not that free-wheeling anymore. Somewhere along the way, I became the schedule nazi – indoctrinated in the idea that all is well if we stay on schedule (and especially great if we “make good time” on the highway.) Ahead of schedule = giddy nirvana. I’m certainly not the only American male in this role. I think my brothers and I learned it from our Dad who was measuring his performance on the road to Florida while flipping pages in a AAA Triptik. GPS Navigation systems have only exacerbated the problem. (“3 hours to Owensboro?! This Navigation System is about to learn a thing or two about how the Helmers’ roll.”) In any event, I hereby confess to loving (and needing?) a schedule.
Don’t get me wrong. I know that I do not want to be hustled between commemorative photo-spots by a tour guide with a brightly colored umbrella who tells me that the bus will leave promptly in 15 minutes (“…so be sure to go to the bathroom after visiting the souvenir stand.”) But, I also don’t want to be wandering aimlessly in a foreign country with two tired kids, a poor ability to communicate in the local tongue, and no confirmed accommodations for the night.
My approach for finding the appropriate middle ground – has been gathering information on the front end, putting some basic reservations into place and leaving in enough flexibility to adapt as we go. That sounds simple, but the “loose ends” don’t jibe with my anal retentiveness. I repeatedly find myself tempted to “book a tour”, fall in line on the well-worn tourist path, and “prepare” for the trip by memorizing the schedule that is set out in the tour brochure. I also know that the canned experience would be less fulfilling. Like in most things in life, less risk equals less reward.
The more independent approach requires more effort from the traveler. It mandates a greater familiarity with the destination in advance. It requires some research. Even then, it requires a greater leap of faith and a “letting go” of the anxiety that can accompany uncertainty. My challenge is to embrace the uncertainty. I’m working on it. I suspect, and hope, after the next year I’m going have some different ideas about importance of the schedule.