Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Travel Tip Tuesdays: How to Improvise

What do you do when the best laid plans go awry? How do you regroup and and head out on another, albeit different, adventure?

Life is unpredictable to begin with, and travel just amplifies that. I generally consider myself to be a flexible person, but unexpected changes in a trip have sent me reeling more than once. 

Sometimes your show in Salt Lake City is cancelled without warning and
 you have to spend the night at a rest stop on the salt flats. (It was the
most awesome place I've ever spent the night on my travels, incidentally.)
On my first-ever solo trip, I planned to stay in Washington for two months. A couple weeks before I was set to leave, my family was unexpectedly kicked out of our house (our landlord was foreclosed and he didn’t tell us). In the scramble of finding a new place to live and moving, I had to shorten my trip to one month. Although it was annoying, it made me focus my plans a lot more and rethink my strategy, since I now had a bigger budget per day.

I could tell some version of the story over and over: an adventure to California turned into a pilgrimage for a broken heart; a fun and random summer tour became one of the best trips of my life; a grand six-week solo tour of Europe transformed into a hard-earned lesson that I wasn’t so solo anymore. Each of these unexpected changes has been difficult in one way or another, but they’ve also taught me a lot about flexibility and improvisation.

It’s hard to nail down such abstract topics, but here’s my best advice.

Get rid of the picture in your head. Everyone does this a bit, some more than others: you get the picture of the way things are supposed to be (sometimes down to the smallest details). If everything works out the way it does in the picture, everything is fine, but if things go contrary to that, your day is ruined. There’s nothing wrong with making pictures in your head, but the moment that things start going differently, banish that picture. Don’t think of what should’ve been; focus on what is happening now.

Ice cream is also helpful for making everything better.
Take a step back. Breathe. Calmly go through your options. Say your worries or frustrations out loud, and then try to come up with solutions. Think about what an awesome blog this will make when all the trauma is over. Buy yourself some tea and strategize for your next plan. More than once I’ve felt a bit stranded as night was approaching. When this happens, get yourself to a place where you can spend the night as soon as possible. (On a budget, hostels are great for this. On an even lower budget, an IHOP or Denny’s will do, too.) Things always look better in the morning.

Be proactive. In a trip, it’s best to avoid sitting around letting things just happen to you. After you’ve given yourself a moment to breathe, start working on your next game plan. Again, don’t spend time worrying about the way things should have gone: ask yourself, “How should things go now, under these new circumstances?”

Look for the good. On my first trip to California, I realized early on that I was way too depressed to enjoy much of anything. So instead of trying to be a hardcore tourist, I focused on taking walks in nature and spending a lot of time hanging out with other guests at the hostel. Even if you’re generally miserable, it’s still possible to enjoy the little things. Relentlessly seek out the good wherever you are, and don’t allow yourself to wallow in anything.

Remember, this is an adventure! As kids, whenever my mom would get lost on the way to something (as she often did), she’d jokingly say, “We’re not lost, we’re having an adventure!” It was goofy, but that motto has stuck with me all these years. And honestly, I can’t think of a better way to describe the attitude that makes travel fun, exciting, and gloriously unpredictable.


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