Now that vaccinations are proceeding apace, and we are able to anticipate a return to a more normal life and looking forward to traveling once again, I wanted to share with you some of my thought process that goes into planning trips. Hopefully this will help you understand the itineraries that I post here.
The whole time I was growing up, we always took family trips, around both Europe (when we lived there) and the U.S. My dad was always in charge of conceiving and planning the trips, which he did in quite exacting detail. As I became mature enough and financially independent enough to start planning and taking my own trips, I found myself defaulting back to this very detail-oriented style of planning.
Many of my friends are very put off by the thought of vacationing like this – they feel like it would suck all the joy out of it. I can certainly understand this feeling, and in some ways I envy those who can travel with a lot of spontaneity – just decide almost on the spur of the moment where to go, how much time to spend there, what to see, and when to move on. However, I’ve come to know myself well enough to know that I just can’t travel like that.
For one thing, without a lot of research beforehand, you could drive or walk right by one of the most important or spectacular things on your route (say, a cave, or a waterfall, or a museum, or a manorial home) and never even know it existed. Or you could have every intention of visiting this monastery or that museum, but if you don’t know that the monastery is only open from 10-1:30 and 4-6 (seriously), or the museum is closed on Mondays, you’ll get an unpleasant surprise when you pull up to it. Finally, I know that I’m just a detail- and planning-oriented enough person that spontaneity on a large scale just isn’t in my nature. Of course I can deviate from the plan, in pulling over to take pictures (which I do all the time) or taking an unexpected detour. But in general, I need structure, a plan.
So, detailed planning it is for me. So how do I construct a plan? First, I start with a dream, a fascination. Where excites my interest? Again, I know myself well enough to know that I’m interested chiefly in temperate places, mainly Europe and North America, although I would love to explore the “Southern Cone” of South America (including Patagonia), and one of my greatest dreams is to travel to New Zealand and Australia. More specifically, I know what I’m interested and not interested in seeing on travels: I travel for natural beauty, great food, historic architecture, and authentic cultural experiences (of whatever culture). As an extension of that last item, I tend to prefer traveling to small towns more than large cities, although of course some cities have unique vibes (New York, Seattle, Portland) or sights that you simply have to see (Rome, Paris). In general, though, I think you get more place-distinctive, genuine experiences in smaller towns.
I don’t enjoy large crowds (even pre-COVID), and I definitely don’t enjoy “touristy” areas. By “touristy,” I don’t just mean areas that have lots of tourists. If you visit the Colosseum – and you absolutely should! – you will be there with lots of other people and you just have to accept that. I’m referring to areas that feel like they exist almost solely for the benefit of the tourist crowds – places that feel fake or inauthentic. Museums (not art museums, but informational museums or visitor centers) also aren’t high on my list, because they a) can take a lot of time, b) can be expensive, and c) I feel like I can learn about a place by reading online; what I’m there for is the experience of being in a place, and you don’t get that walking around a museum. That said, I have been and will go to museums on my travels, I just don’t linger there long.
So, once I’ve decided on a general location to explore, how do I decide what to do, what to see, where to stay, where to eat? I’ll talk about that more in the next post.