As a culture we plan far too much. Our calendars are so full of appointments, meetings, workouts, deadlines, and coffee dates that if we lost them we wouldn’t know where to turn. My life in college was a prime example. I was in so many groups, had so many jobs, and juggled so many assignments that I sometimes felt like a robot, trudging through my calendar and to-do list without thought.
The road trip was a big, dramatic way for me to turn this around; it was a huge success. We crossed the country without a plan. No deadline, no itinerary, no destination. Just each other, a general direction, all materials we might need, and an atlas. The result of this approach was that we never felt rushed, we were able to thoroughly enjoy the places and moments we loved and rush through those that weren’t jiving so well. The lessons I gained from these experiences have transferred into my stationary life – I’m more flexible, spontaneous, and present than before. I hope my “How to Travel Spontaneously” tips can help your next adventure provide you with the same.Sure, sometimes the lack of direction was challenging. Several nights we struggled to find a campsite, sometimes we highly underestimated distances, and a few times we missed stops we would have known about had we done more research.
Yet, these setbacks were what made the journey as authentic as it could be. We had no preconceived standards for what the trip would be like. Each time we hit an obstacle we had to work together and our relationship grew. Sometimes getting lost put us right where we had no idea we wanted to be.
So here’s my proposal. Next time you have a few days vacation consider these simple tips. It doesn’t have to be a two-month road trip, we followed these rules on Labor Day Weekend and had a fantastic time.
How to Travel Spontaneously
1. Pick a direction and then don’t plan a thing.
Pick a vague somewhere you want to go: ie. a town, a national forest, a region of your state. On Labor Day we picked Manti-La Sal National Forest near Moab. We knew nothing about it and had no maps. On Friday after work we just packed up and headed towards it. It never hurts to check the weather though.
2. Pack everything you might need.
Make sure you’ve got all the necessities. I mean, you’re adventuring in your car, so why not. The La Sals are near Moab so we figured it’d be straight-up scalding desert, but we ended up at 10,000 feet and I was immensely grateful for my warm clothes. Also, maps on maps on maps is always a good thing… cell service doesn’t reach everywhere.
3. If you’re not enjoying yourself, move elsewhere.
Don’t punish yourself. This is the biggest reason I hate itineraries. The best part about car adventures is the ability to change course on a whim. We had intended to stay in the southern La Sals to avoid Moab Labor Day traffic and tourism but once we got there realized it wouldn’t provide a fulfilling three-day adventure. We packed up and headed north. We end up climbing an awesome mountain with an old friend, something we hadn’t remotely anticipated. The detour made the trip.
4. Listen to other travelers.
Our road trip would have been unrecognizable if we had followed an itinerary and ignored friendly travelers’ advice. When you’re on the road you’ll run into many other people who are also on the road. Likely, they’ve been cool places too. If someone suggests a sight, a monument, a park, or a city and you’ve got the time: go. Most of the best places on our road trip were suggested to us by locals and travelers. For instance, Big Bend – we had no idea it existed until we got to Austin, TX and it ended up being one of the best weeks of the whole trip, albeit a long, long way out of the way.
5. If you are enjoying yourself, stay as long as you can.
There’s no reason to leave unless you have to get back for something (for instance, work on Monday). When we were at Big Bend during the trip we predicted we would stay for three days and ended up staying for nearly six. Every moment was spectacular. If you’ll regret leaving, then don’t. If you have an itinerary and you’re worried about missing out on the other stuff you have scheduled, well, you can’t guarantee the future plans will be better than the present. If the present is good, why end it early?
I hope these tips can inspire you to get in your car this weekend and just drive. Nothing will immerse you more “in the moment” than spontaneous traveling. Let me know how it goes!