Sunday 17 October 2010

In Praise of Planning

How much travel planning people want, need or feel able to provide themselves with varies immensely.  We expect it to be hard work getting our sedentary lives shut down or put on hold, but aren't we as free as the air once that's sorted?  Well it depends.... I will admit up front that I have been accused of over-planning, usually by people whose trip requirements were longer than the Mississippi and rarer than a hotel room in Haifa during Sukkot. 

On the other hand, the only trip I didn't plan at all was a bit of a disaster.  That was the one where I found out just how rare hotel rooms are in Haifa, not to mention the rest of Israel, during Sukkot.  You see, it was no idle metaphor.  Every day of that trip, we embarked on the grueling search for somewhere to sleep that hadn't been booked up weeks ago. Then we went to see something for half an hour.  We didn't know what we wanted to see so we ended up working blindly through the sites on our archaeology pass.  That was the only trip I've ever taken where we walked out of a literal flea-pit and into a five star hotel that cost ten times more than our intended budget.  Actually, it turns out lots of people's travel blogs read similarly, so I guess this kind of misadventure is popular, whereas planning isn't?

Too bad, I'm about to make the case for the underdog.  Check out the universal advantages of planning:

  • The best value for money places tend to go first, and if you've planned ahead, they'll be going to you. 
  • You'll have the opportunity to find out where the best value for money places are.  They're usually a short distance from anywhere you've actually heard of, so you're not likely to happen on them by accident.
  • If you're at all attached to the idea of some specific facility or going somewhere really popular, you increase your chances of actually acheiving your goal.
  • There are more interesting things in life than walking down a street full of hotels looking for a room, and if you plan, you will be doing them
  • There are also more interesting things in life than wondering where to go from breakfast to lunch, and looking for that place from lunch to teatime.
  • You won't turn up somewhere you always wanted to visit half an hour before closing time, or worse, on the wrong day. 
  • You will allocate enough time for the things you want to do, because you will have an idea of the practicalities involved.
  • You may find out that the first thing you thought of doing isn't really what you want to do at all. Then you get to change up front, a thing that might not be possible, if you already got started.

I have a couple of more personal reasons for favoring planning, that don't fit neatly in a bullet point.  They won't apply to everyone, but they're worth bearing in mind:
  1. When you're young, free and single, you can backpack around the world, bumping into people you like, changing direction, lingering in places, or moving on quickly, hampered only by your minuscule budget.  Later on, when you have grown-up responsibilities and no desire to stay at home for 20 years, things will inevitably be different.  In this post, I had some fun pretending that Antonia and I were free-living, independent spirits on a girlfriends trip.  Needless to say, that's all a big fat lie.  When radically interdependent people (aka a family) start traveling together, impromptu excursions by one or other of the members require the most planning of all.  It seems better to just admit that, and move on.

  2. Permanent travel isn't the same as a vacation, there is usually stuff people would like to get done on the go - work, education, a writing project...  Cruising around the Internetz, I discovered the concept of bucket lists - a list of things you would like to do and acheive in your life, and why not, in your travels. This seemed like a good and fun idea, so I started jotting down things like 'see the Statue of Liberty'. and 'learn to ride a horse (despite being deeply allergic to the beasts)'.

    After a little while of this, I started to remember some of my productivity goals - art and writing projects I would like to get done on the trip, not to mention books I'd like to read.  Looking at this list, it seems ambitious, but the whole idea is to challenge yourself, isn't it?  Finally, for some reason, I decided that success in my travel roles and responsibilities should be included in the list.  When I did that, I noticed that first, I am apparently responsible for making sure everyone else can meet their productivity goals, as well as all the infrastructure and management of the trip whether it's done in a planned way or not; and second, my duties look potentially time-consuming. 

    I decided that the least I could do for myself was manage these responsibilities in a way that had the least impact on my other goals.  In practice, that means this: if the US embassy approves my visa application in two weeks, the first thing I do is make all the bookings for the US trip.  Three-quarters of the accounting and nine-tenths of keeping a roof with WIFI connection over our heads will be taken care of in one fell swoop.  Once that's done, I'll have nothing much left to worry about except being in the moment, dreaming of Oceania and getting on with my projects.

    (I'll post my bucket list soon).

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