At what point are you ready?

by Steve Brock on June 12, 2016

RunwayTravel planning can be as simple or complicated as you want.

Some people need only reserve their plane ticket and resolve the rest as they go.

Others need every room, dining experience, transportation detail and daily itinerary locked down before they leave. Oh, and it would be nice if they could adjust the weather too, but…

There’s no single right way to plan a trip. It comes down to your need for control, your personality type, your comfort with winging it and myriad other issues. But no matter what your planning style, at some point you have to answer this question: “Am I ready to go?”

The answer isn’t simple because implied in that main question is a second one: Ready for what?

To me, I have dig deeper than train schedules, visa requirements and hotel availabilities. I need to do more than just prepare my itinerary. I have to prepare me.

To do this, I have to ask myself (as do you) some tough questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this trip?
  • What do I want to be or become as a result of this trip?
  • How do I want this trip to change me? For example, do I want to be more adventurous? More open? More patient? Less critical?
  • Depending on how I want to change, what will I do on this trip to achieve that goal? And most important, what will I do before this trip to help achieve that goal?

Trips are wonderful learning laboratories. They give us the opportunity to try on new perspectives and even build new habits. We’re away from work and daily routine. We’re freed to experiment and explore. But the learning that they provide occurs best if we seek out that learning and prepare for it.

I’ve got a trip coming up with my family. A big one that includes several countries in a region I’ve never visited. All my reservations – well, most of my reservations – are in place. But am I ready? Not yet.

I’ve not answered all of the above questions yet. Not thought through how to make this trip meaningful not just for me (the one whose done all the research) but also for my family who will show up at the airport with only the faintest idea of what lies ahead.

The irony of travel planning is this. I can spend days or even weeks preparing for a trip, learning about the history and culture of a place. All that has tremendous value. But if I don’t think through some of those questions above, I may come home with a great experience, but not the best one possible. And to me, life’s too short not to pursue the best option.

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The freedom of lists

by Steve Brock on May 29, 2014

Packing Checklist


Sometimes you’ll have the most fun when you start by doing the least fun kinds of things.

I just read this article: “How to have a hassle-free trip” by Christopher Elliot, special to the Seattle Times in the NW Traveler section, May 25, 2014. Here’s part of it:

“The smartest travelers plan ahead and have a fondness for checklists. Did you pack the right clothes? Remember all the power cords? Your passport?

Lists are your friends. Smart travelers know when to wing it and when not to. Sure, your friends and family might poke fun at you for keeping a list for everything, but they’ll thank you when you’re the only one with a power adapter in France. Travelers who keep lists are far less likely to get into trouble on the road.”

Oh so true.

Planning and list taking seem like what I do at work. My vacation or leisure travel is intended to get me as far from work as a pork chop is from a kosher meal. But here’s one of the many paradoxes of travel: The better you plan the more freedom you’ll have to play on your trip. Put more time in up front and you have less to deal with when you’re on your journey.

Lists work the same way. I love David Allen’s book, Getting Things DONE. Ostensibly, it is about productivity. But it is also about creativity, meaning, the more productive you are at getting your tasks done, the more time and mental space you’ll have for the more important creative ideas. And one of the keys to this is making lists. Get things down on paper and you don’t have to use up precious short-term memory worrying about them. Or better, get things down to a routine and you hardly have to give them a second thought.

For business travel, I will lug the same carry-on bag for an overnight trip that I use for a month’s worth of travel. Do I need all that space for a single change of clothes and overnight toiletries? Nope. But everything I need for travel is in that bag. I have a separate shaving kit I keep in it along with a back-up change of clothes, extra phone/camera chargers, an umbrella, vitamins and snacks – even laundry packets, sewing kit and a clothes line (which I’ve never used on a business trip…yet) are in there. Sure, I probably lug around a few extra pounds every trip, but I never have to worry about forgetting something. And that’s the key.

You may not need to keep a bag all set to go like I do if you’re only traveling a few times a year. But you can still keep lists. If you have to rely on your memory for items on a trip, you won’t be free to enjoy the experiences. Moreover, you’re likely to forget an essential. So as uptight as it may seem to some of you “just go for it” travelers, I tell you this: Lists and habits can be liberating. They actually add to, not take away from, your freedom.

In one of those quirky serendipitous moments reading a book that has nothing to do with travel, I came across this off-hand line in The Mystery of Christ by Robert Farrar Capon p. 119. He’s a priest counseling a woman through the grieving process following the loss of her husband. He suggests she try a certain experiment where she has to mentally pack up some misgivings she has and leave them alone. Here’s part of his advice to her:

“…This is a game, for heaven’s sake. And, like all games, it has to be taken seriously or it’s no fun. Either you go by the rules, or you’re not playing at all.”

We think of fun as fun, not serious. But sometimes the most fun comes when we take some aspects of life seriously. Like playing by the rules.

Or keeping lists.

Now go make that list.

Then forget about it and have some fun.

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Unnecessary trips

by Steve Brock on May 14, 2013

Some of the best trips are the ones you don’t need to go on.

Untanum TracksI’m referring to the unplanned, spontaneous kinds. The ones with no worry about reservations or itineraries, no concern for what you’ll see or do. They are the trips that just happen, not out of necessity, but just because you can.

Don’t get me wrong: I love planning trips. Oftentimes, anticipation is one of the best parts of travel. However, along with the preparation and forethought can come unnecessary expectations of the place you’re visiting, the people you hope to meet or the ones with whom you’re traveling (including yourself!).

Sometimes the unexpected trip is better: You just show up and take whatever comes your way.

My family and I did this a few weeks ago. We knew we had to be in Ellensburg, Washington on a Saturday for my oldest son’s performance at the State Finals for high school musicians. That was the “necessary” trip. However, we stayed overnight and took off Sunday morning to hike a nearby trail (Untanum Creek Canyon) I had once heard about.

The only planning consisted of making the decision the night before to go there and then asking for directions the next morning. The rest was a spontaneous, totally “unnecessary” trip on a gorgeous day that included crossing over a suspension bridge, under some railroad tracks (pictured above), hiking along a creek past beaver dams and seeing a herd of bighorn sheep on the walls of the canyon that surrounded us.

Untanum Creek Canyon

Would the day have been any different had we planned it out and made it an intentional destination? Who knows? But by not thinking much about it before we got there, it added to the surprise factor of the day. It made our explorations feel like more of a discovery despite the dozen other people on the trail who clearly planned out their adventure more than we did (the backpacks were a good indicator…).

Fishing on the Yakima River near Untanum

I’ve recently been reading Paul Theroix’s book, The Tao of Travel. It contains quotes from his own travel books and insights from many other traveler writers over the years. One quote of his I read last night applies here:

“Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.”

When you incorporate little surprise trips within your daily life, both are enhanced. Sure, you have to carve out the time for even the short trip. But too often I find I use lack of time as an excuse to do nothing.

Instead, this recent family hike reminded me of how much room there is in this world: room in my schedule if I make it so, room in the places around me to explore and room in my life for growth and possibility.

When I consider it this way, maybe these small, spontaneous adventures aren’t so unnecessary after all…

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