We see motivational quotes pop up all over the place from social media to television commercials. When the above image popped up today on Instagram or Pinterest (I can’t remember now, I got so flustered), it immediately raised an eyebrow. Is this sarcasm?, I thought. If I said it, it would be.
Many may disagree with me, but here’s why it ruffled my feathers so: sometimes NOT planning while on a trip is the best and fastest way TO adventure. Travel is not about the schedule or the plans. It’s getting LOST in a place, allowing the destination and the people in it to take YOU!
I’ve been on many, many, many trips. Some are business, some are pleasure. But the common thread in what makes a trip great for me are the UNPLANNED moments that leave lasting impressions. It’s that random person you met on the train, the stranger who helps you read a map and ends up telling you all the hidden gems only the locals know about, the artist on the sidewalk with a story that makes you cry, or the musician in the subway who once played with Louis Armstrong.
I can think of countless times while traveling that such people or happenstance left an impact that changed everything and made the experience memorable.
For example, when Lanee and I were in Istanbul, completely lost and finding Turkish to be like Chinese in terms of comprehension, we ended up at a nondescript hookah bar on a random, but beautiful, street. Sitting at the next table was a lady who seemed to be in her late sixties, perhaps, eating with who we assumed were her sons, but who knows. She struck up a conversation with us and what had been an incredibly frustrating day turned into one of the highlights of the trip.
She was fascinated with our wanderlusting ways, being from Los Angeles, and why we were two young ladies traveling alone. We laughed, we shared food and hookahs, and in the end, as our bill came, she insisted on paying to welcome us to her country! We were floored. It was a random act of kindness from a total stranger that so rarely ever happens.
THOSE are the moments I am talking about. The stories that develop from CHANCE. No plans, no itinerary. Just exploring and being open.
Another example, when we were in Fiji. We landed on a private island resort that shall remain nameless for reasons we’ll explain in a future post, BUT — our bure mama invited us to the grand wedding that was taking place that night. We said, “no, no, we’re not wedding crashers!” She insisted and literally dragged us to it. What happened next was one of the most bizarre travel experiences we’ve ever had.
We were led to the stage and along with the six other guests on the island, we were incorporated into the wedding party! It was a beautiful, traditional ceremony, filled with Fijian happiness and pride. Surrounded by strangers, we went with the flow and celebrated, toasting to love, because really what else are you supposed to do? Never in a million years could we have predicted that we’d attend a wedding, let alone BE in a wedding during our trip. It just happened. Had we had a place to be or a schedule to follow, we never would have been available to let life happen as it did.
So — to see the quote at the top of the page bothered me. It’s not “priceless” to have every detail planned. Whomever wrote that probably PAID someone to do exactly that.
It’s “priceless” to end up in a Fijian wedding ceremony by accident. It’s “priceless” to get lost and find a special street and an angel of a local who takes you under her wing. It’s “priceless” to hitch hike in the Cook Islands and meet two widows on their way home from a funeral who instead of crying, offer to share their homemade coconut donuts with you, while they laugh about finding single men! (True story – happened two weeks ago…)
When I really thought about this, I realized one key thing. The person who wrote that quote or who feels that way about travel is not in fact, a traveler. He or she is a tourist. Big difference. No offense meant to the tourists out there, but we advocate for travelers. Sure, when we’re in New York we visit Times Square, and when we’re in Paris, we visit the Eiffel Tower. They are iconic symbols of the destinations. But true travelers know that life is what happens when others are busy making plans or following strict itineraries.
Clearly, some details must be planned for the majority of us, unless you’re backpacking and staying in hostels. Both of us have been there and done that, but that’s not our jam anymore. Flights and hotels need to be booked. Some adventures that require a guide or a reservation need to be planned ahead. But for heaven’s sake, do not schedule every hour of the day before you’ve arrived. Leave yourself open to exploring! Talk to locals, talk to other travelers, and put on your curious hat.
Safety is important – I’m not advocating you get “lost” literally, though we’ve done that too. Print out maps, be prepared, do your research. Have a list of places you’d like to see, things you’d like to do, restaurants or bars you want to visit, and have a loose plan. But — leave blocks of time open each day to explore. Chances are, if you make the space for happenstance to enter, it will. And I guarantee, THAT will be the highlight you share with friends and family upon returning home.
You decide: are you a traveler or a tourist?
If chance encounters have left a lasting impression or a certain trip was memorable because of unplanned happenstance, share with us in the comments below, or tweet us @VoyageVixens. We love hearing others’ travel stories!!