As I prepared for my first solo road trip in over 5 years, I found joy in browsing Google Maps for good campsites. I wrote out a packing list. I cleaned and tested my camp stove. Later, when I gathered and checked off my list, I sorted my supplies by *uses*. The joy in preparation ignited my musings from a previous post; I reflected on how to distinguish a casual weekend vacation from a deep purpose-driven trip. One difference I find is that meaningful travel is something of a treat. Like romance, there is a tingling feeling in anticipation.
If you let it, one adventure can bring three entirely separate ways to appreciate and relish meaningful travel. A well-curated trip elevates the experience of travel; the trip becomes more than a physical adventure. It becomes a treasure trove for the psyche. I will explore these three separate ways to find joy in meaningful travel in a three-part series. These are the special joys in: (1) planning the trip, joy in (2) staying present in the moment of travel, and (3) later reflecting on those moments.
The planning and anticipation stage is the first component of enjoying a trip. Here is the difference between that quick drive-thru meal on your way home and going to a special, reservation-required restaurant. You consider several reviews, pick the ambiance, and the cuisine, and set out the right outfit. You were excited in advance and then chose a complementing bottle for your meal. Then you find the right nook with a vista to sit and enjoy your moments with glee. To dine for a special occasion, then, is to relish with anticipation, take in with appreciation, and then reminisce. The whole experience can be cherished by setting aside space for enjoyment.
In the planning stage of an adventure, I start by thinking through the contours of a trip. What shape, in the best case scenario, will this trip take? The Container of my travel includes the big W questions: where, what, who, and why details of any destination. This naive planning stage is one of my favorite parts of travel. Here we are full of anticipation and opportunity to make a dream come true. A clear idea of what you want from a trip creates the space for the imagination to dream up and fill in the colorful details.
For the contours of my recent road trip, I knew the first W. I was leaving Atlanta to get my dose of nature. The WHY was that I missed hanging under trees. Hence, the WHAT: I brought with me a hammock. On this road trip, I intended to see my cousin in Maryland. Thus, my route for natural beauty was calculated with her home as an eventual endpoint. I had about one week free, so I developed a rough itinerary of stops, balancing driving times with full-frontal green being.
As you plan a meaningful trip, consider your W questions: Will you pick a wide container? Or a tall one? The foundations of your adventure plus your imagination get you enjoying your travel even before you have begun. For me, the big questions and considerations go roughly in this order:
- Why are you going? What are your main motivations? What do you want to do?
For example: do you imagine storefronts to shop? Do you need it quiet to relax? Or craggy mountains to explore? Perhaps you are on the hunt for a particular flavor.
- Who will you go with?
Another key parameter is who will you travel with. As I am very used to solo trips, it takes a bit more adjustment to include loved ones. Soon I will take my mother and step-father on a city adventure; I need to consider good pit stops while street strolling so they can cool off and recharge. When I recently went to DC for a family member’s wedding, my nearly two-year-old niece, Jenna changed the very shape of our trip to DC. My family juggled planned outings with mandatory nap times for the little one.
- Where will you go?
This to me often ties into #1. If your why is to relax, perhaps Thailand is calling your name in the form of beaches and massages. If your time away is to indulge your history hobby, perhaps Colonial Williamsburg is appealing to you. For Cajun cuisine set against a jazz background, New Orleans might be the right tune.
If you are a bit bookish, there are so many joys that come from getting a good background scoop pre-adventure. Many great travel guides will have a historical or political context primer. My family once traveled to Turkey during the middle of an internal civil rebellion. We didn’t do much research beforehand and it took us by surprise when we ended up in the middle of a protest on the Asian side of Istanbul. I would not recommend that to a novice traveler.
- Time-related questions: When? And how long? This consideration is key for festivals, and seasonal activities.
The contour and agenda of a trip are entirely shaped by how much time you have. For example, when I wanted to see India, I knew a week or two was not going to cut it. I spent about five months backpacking the country over a decade ago; it was great. I would need at least another year before I covered even half of the states.
If you are into a seasonal activity, remember the opposite hemisphere has an opposite season. For example, summer in the USA means wintertime in Australia. These considerations are important if you are trying to catch a ski or sweat. The cherry blossoms in Japan bloom only in early spring.
- What will you do?
All this thinking ahead can be exciting. The caveat is to avoid being overbooked on a holiday. I try to balance plan and openness with the parameters in mind. For example, as I learned the hard way, if I were to return to Cusco and want to hike the Inca Trail, I will need reservations well in advance. But the meals and city strolling, I would keep open to adjustment.
As I reflect now, my solo road trip went well. I find myself giving thanks for thinking through the elements of my drive. I am pleased with my plan. Because I had no unexpected items missing, I had no irritating Walmart wanderings. I had extra water, dish soap, and even a plastic bag to collect trash. As a result, I enjoyed a glorious sense of autonomy and nature reunion. I enjoyed the feeling of self-sufficiency camping in remote places. The preparation portion took about 10% of travel time, but it made hiccups on the trip easier to manage.
I encourage any traveler to think through their excursion. All good journeys require a bit of wiggle room. Still, that is no excuse to show up ignorant and ill-prepared. The very anticipation of the destination is the beginning of enjoying your travels. Happy plotting.