This is the way that traveling works, for me. I have a very rough outline of where I want to go and things I think I want to see and then I head in that general direction. I’m a huge fan of being self-sufficient as far as traveling with my home on my back, or in the back, as it were. If it’s not a road trip, then it’s a backpacking trip. Hotels, motels, and hostels are a last resort, or a planned option for a shower when there is a lack of hot springs, lakes, pools, waterfalls, or friends along the way. I’ve only ever stayed in one hotel by myself, and it wasn’t even entirely necessary, but it was a nice way to take a shower in a sleepy, snowy town, download maps for the rest of the trip, and get caught up on homework uploads so that I didn’t have to waste daylight hours in a coffee shop. Paying for a place to sleep has always seemed really strange to me, even though I know it’s the way of the world.
When I want to go somewhere, I do it on the cheap. I’m a natural born saver, partially out of my need to always be prepared, and partially out of the fact that I naturally gravitate towards a minimalist lifestyle and require very few amenities to live a comfortable life. My biggest weakness is buying outdoor gear. When I am living a stable, normal life in a house or apartment, I don’t need much, and I don’t spend much, and so it’s endlessly frustrating to watch all of my hard earned income flushed down the drain every month in the form of rent, as I equate it to how many flights I could take for that amount of money, or which backpacks, stoves or jackets I could buy instead of just having a lousy roof over my head. In fact, traveling for me, 3-6 months on 3-6 months off, or a month here, a month there, has always turned out to be cheaper than it ever has been to live in one place for an extended period of time. Of course, I’ve only lived in relatively expensive places, like the coast of California, Kauai, or Alaska. But the big reason it’s cheaper is because I am so much more than okay with the lack of certainty a lifestyle like that promises. Sure, it can be unnerving to not know where I’m going to sleep that night, or if I just passed the last gas station for 100 miles with 93 left on the tank. It can be unnerving to live 3 months on less than 3 grand, slowly watching as your bank balance tips the scales into oblivion, but one of the greatest things about being unnerved is that, I still have nerves!! They’re still working, I’m nervous, or anxious because I’m alive and there’s no telling what will happen. Life doesn’t make promises to anyone.
I am not a fan of planning. I can be good at it, if I want to be, and I recognize the (minor) need for it, and am willing to succumb soul-sucking devices if it means I can move on to the fun stuff and forget about it. I do make plans, but they’re broad, reaching, and intentionally vague. The best I can do for you on a trip is that I may or may not be in this state, city, or county sometime in this week or the next, and let’s shoot for the end of the week, just in case, but I’ll let you know as I get closer. The problem is, making a plan can kind of ruin the adventure for me. I thrive on the uncertainty of the road. I don’t take trips so that I can have a rigid schedule, a sure roof over my head, and structured days. I take trips to escape all that, to get out to where the great wide open is literally one step away. I want to be out of bounds when I take trips, I want the freedom that every day life refuses to allow. I take trips so that I know that if I want to, I am able to explore any and all possibilities that pop into my head, and I won’t be letting anyone down.
So if I am going to plan, it’s going to be the kind of planning that comes natural to me, it’s going to be open-ended, fluid, out of the box planning. I’m going to figure out exactly what is expected of me, and where I need to be at what times for whatever reason, and I am going to work within those confines to make sure that everything else on the trip is as free as possible. If I need to be back in a certain city by a certain time, and I need to see one friend along the way I’m going to make sure that happens by giving them a window of time in which I will most likely be there, and updating it as I see fit. That is the extent of my rigidity.
How could a trip even be fun if you don’t know where you’re going? Don’t you run out of ideas, or get bored? There are a couple things I do on every trip to ward against this phenomenon of option paralyses, and they serve me well. First, I buy a map. One of those large, loud, obnoxious, paper maps that your parents used to use on those hellish road trips to Canada with 4 of your siblings and one gameboy. I buy one of those, why? Well, because first of all, fuck google maps and screw apple maps ever harder. Of course, I still use them, but oftentimes I’ve found that they don’t tell you the whole story, or they turn into controlling little mother cussers and change your carefully chosen route without asking and while you’re not looking. Plus, I like to have a paper map for the nostalgia of it, and for all the thousands of time I find myself out of service, and therefore out of a map. I actually still do most things with pen and paper, because I enjoy the tangibility of seeing and feeling ink spill onto the page as the pen glides to its next pause. There’s a real essence of reality to using such a palpable medium, and it’s very possible that I love it more than words.
My next step is highly technical, so listen closely. I pour over the map, looking at every broad, general vicinity I’ve considered visiting, and I look for any place with a cool sounding name. Then I take a little notebook—my current one is detective style with the front flip around cover and it’s white with gold polka dots on it, I’m very fond of it—and in that little notebook I write down all the cool sounding names of places all in a row, and then I google them. Whilst googling I use a very serious and intense algorithm and accompanying legend to determine which places make the cut and how I may reference their level of intrigue later. The algorithm is more of just a single question, occasionally paired with a second question, and those are as follows—Is it pretty? And, how far out of “the way” is it? The places then meet the legendary requirements and receive any number of symbols or colors near their names on the list, the most common symbols being an X for ‘nah, probably not worth it’, and a check mark for ‘willing to explore further.’ As I said, it’s a terribly complex system, but bear with me, we’re almost finished with the initial stage of planing.
After I’ve determined which places may or may not be worth visiting I google map each and every one from my computer, and I find out just how far they are from the next nearest one, then I reorder the list. I place them in the order of which is nearest to my current place of residence and order outwards from there, with exact times and mileage. Everything makes it on the list, unless it turned out to be a completely stupid podunk town with nothing to offer, but then there’s also a chance that I might find that lack of charm appealing so I put it in the maybe’s anyway.
Next, I try to find every body of water between those destinations, and which of my friends live in the areas that I will be passing through. Then, I either start a third list with this new information incorporated, or I simply interrupt the margins with names. I’m a total wild card when it comes to this step, and sometimes I don’t even write it down, because I’m just that unpredictable. And since I am a (partially) functioning member of society who recognizes other people’s deep seated needs for certainty and scheduling my final step is to contact the people in the margins to see if they are available in the time frame I am considering and, if they even care to see me. Then, I make note of the interested candidates, and where they lie in my set of options, and I promise to update them once I know more.
If I am anything, I am a woman of my word, which is one of the very biggest and most crucial components of my aversion to planning, because once I say that I am going to do something, you can be damned sure that I will follow through. I’ve found through a decade of traveling, moving, and trips that I like to keep my options open until they feel right, until they sit well with me. Once I’m sure, I’m completely in, no turning back, which is why I don’t take concrete planning lightly. If I tell you that I am going to be somewhere or do something, I will do everything in my power to uphold the integrity of my word. I now find it easier to draw an outline of possibilities and take them an hour, or a day at a time. There’s no telling how you or I will feel tonight, tomorrow or next week, so how could I possibly know if I am going to be in the right state (of mind, emotion, or geographic location) to follow through on a hastily made plan. To me, plans are promises, and if life don’t make those, I won’t either.
Once all of that is established I am free and clear to leave when I please, but rest assured that this whole process takes less time to complete than my description of it.