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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Top 5 life lessons from mountain biking – Part 5

by Steve Brock on November 7, 2012

My final (well, for now) life lesson from mountain biking is both my favorite and one of the hardest to perfect. All the other life lessons so far – discovering how going faster may be safer, finding your rhythm, focusing your attention and the non-intuitive nature of balance – are all learned behaviors. This final life lesson isn’t about learning something new but about remembering something old.

Or maybe, it’s about forgetting what gets in the way of what used to be second nature. In any case, it’s all about this simple lesson:

Relax and play.

As with turning, this lesson may not seem inherently logical at times. As I’m riding my mountain bike on trails, my initial reaction is to vise-grip the handlebars, clenching them like a lifeline as I fly down a steep slope over angry rocks and roots that I swear reach out for me as I pass. But the tighter I grab the grips or the stiffer I hold my body, the more punishment I take. Holding on tight makes the ride harder, not easier. Too much like work. Not enough like play.

If I relax my grip, loosen my stance and dance with the bike, I fly over the hard stuff, decrease the likelihood of a tumble and I have a much more enjoyable experience. Kids don’t have to be reminded to relax. Where did I forget this?

Mountain biking is really about goofing around in the dirt. Sure, you have a two-wheeled machine beneath you rather than a pail and a shovel in hand. But that same glee we experienced as a kid is ours for the taking. If we remember to forget.

Forget the fear. Forget about what you look like. Forget about what might happen. Relax. Play. Simply enjoy the ride.

I’ll let you make the connections here to travel and life. But ask yourself this: When’s the last time you played? Sheer, goofy, uninhibited play? Dancing like a maniac or running around whooping or “wasting” time doing something that makes you giggle like a five-year-old, something that causes you to forget about all those burdens that weigh you down as an adult?

Maybe today, this very day, you need to carve out just a few moments of time to remember to forget all the adult messages and rules that tell you how ridiculous and maybe even irresponsible it would be to relax and to simply play.

I’m finding that taking time to relax and play, on a mountain bike, on a trip or at those moments of time when I feel I can least afford to do so isn’t childish. In many cases, relaxing and playing turns out to be the most mature – and satisfying – thing I can do.

Try it.


Just for the fun of it.


If you haven’t already done so, check out the rest of this series: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4a and 4b

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Travel and the serious work of play

by Steve Brock on May 20, 2011

In the pursuit of meaningful travel – travel that moves your soul, touches your heart, connects you with others and seeks out life-changing experiences – I sometimes forget something.

I forget the joy of playing.

I forget that sometimes the most meaningful thing we need is simply to have fun. In my busy, responsible, adult life, I forget the value of play. I’m thankful, however, that travel can remind me of its importance.

Travel and play actually share several commonalities:

  • Both take you out of the ordinary into a different reality from your daily work or routine.
  • Both, in the best cases, require or spark creativity and imagination.
  • Both are for a distinct period of time, a self-contained event.
  • Both can be done alone or with others, but when done with someone else, you forge certain bonds through the shared experience.
  • Both are – at least at key moments – just plain fun.

 But play, as with beauty, is best experienced rather than analyzed.

I was reminded of this last weekend on a short trip I took with my family to Port Townsend, Washington.

The day was drizzly (which, in the greater Seattle area, is as surprising as saying that water is wet). We stopped by Chetzemoka Park, a small sanctuary of green overlooking the Straights of Juan de Fuca. My wife and I had just informed our youngest son, Connor, that we wouldn’t be purchasing some item – I don’t even recall what it was – that he wanted. This left him in a bit of a funk, a mood not uncommon to 13-year-olds, other teens and the parents of said teens when having to deal with said moods for extended periods of time.

As the rest of our family explored the park, Connor spotted a tire swing and plopped down on it, glumly sitting there in the gray. I called over to him if he wanted me to spin him. No response.

So I did it anyway.

The initial “Daaaaaad!” of protest quickly disappeared as I pushed on the tire and simultaneously spun the supporting chains. Within a few seconds I heard a single giggle. Within a few more, as speed and centrifugal force gained momentum, a continuous flow of laughter emerged from my son.

And from me.

That small moment on that short trip reminded me of a very serious fact.

I need to play more often.

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