I love to travel. But I’m beginning to think that I like planning my next trip more than the trip itself.
I read a study recently that said merely thinking about a getaway boosts a person’s happiness for up to eight weeks prior to the trip. That makes perfect sense to me. Certainly I spend more time planning than traveling. While many people pass their leisure hours poring over Facebook or Pinterest, I’m checking out TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet or the New York Times travel section, learning why Lithuania is one of the top 43 places to visit in 2013. And I’m always leafing through travel magazines (Afar is my current favorite) fantasizing about exotic locales.
My family didn’t travel much when I was growing up. I’m from Garden City, and the nearest big city (depending on your definition of “big”) was Wichita. So when we wanted to take a weekend getaway, we’d drive the 3 1/2 hours east to shop at the mall and eat at Red Lobster.
Almost all of our longer vacations were to Colorado — also not too far away — where my aunts and uncles live. For many years we’d stop in Denver to get the convoy together and drive to the mountains to go camping. Then, when the adults decided they didn’t want to sleep on the cold, hard ground anymore, we started going to a lodge nearby instead.
That’s about as far as we’d typically go. After a certain number of hours in the back of a minivan, some sort of switch would go off, and my sisters and I would go from minor bickering to cage match. So, that’s one reason long hauls to new destinations were rare.
I’m not complaining; I loved going to Colorado where we’d ride ATVs, hike, shoot and sit around the fire. But going to the same place each year meant we didn’t have the pleasure of researching new places and imagining new experiences. It also meant that all of those trips kind of blur together in our memories.
Maybe that’s why I’d prefer to go to as many new places as possible. There’s no confusing whitewater rafting in Jackson Hole with wine tasting in Sonoma, even years later.
My trip-planning obsession hit a new level last summer when I was working on logistics for our belated honeymoon. My husband is a teacher, so following a fall wedding, we knew he couldn’t take off the time for a proper vacation until summer break. And after a year of almost constant wedding planning, it seemed like I had nothing to do, no purpose in life, so I threw myself into honeymoon plans.
First we thought Puerto Rico, then Peru, then Mexico. We couldn’t decide. But I planned trips to all of those places.
I knew that in Puerto Rico, we would stay at the Hotel El Convento in San Juan. I picked the best zip-line company. I knew we’d want to carve out time to see the bioluminescent bay on Vieques, and that we should schedule it in the week following a full moon. Sounds like a great trip, right? I hope we get to take it someday.
In the end we decided to go to Hawaii, which required a new plan entirely.
Of course, I didn’t mind going back to the drawing board. I like forming a vacation from a shapeless lump of clay into a masterpiece, going from the most general questions (What island should we visit?) to the most specific (What kind of cocktail should we get?).
But the sculpture metaphor isn’t quite right, is it? Because a trip doesn’t take shape until you’re on it. You can check Google street view to see what kind of neighborhood a restaurant is in, but can’t know that while you’re walking there you’ll discover a great art gallery. You can make sure you reserve a window seat on the plane, but you can’t know that you’ll end up talking to someone who knows about an underground concert that night. And if you’re not open to those new experiences, to being in the moment, then what’s the point?
Next week, the hubby and I are headed to Europe. We’re going to swing through Italy, France and England. Naturally I’ve been doing tons of research.
But travel is all about the unexpected, for better or for worse.
So while it’s fun to think about going to Venice and sipping a spritz next to the Grand Canal (which I’ve read is a quintessential Venetian experience), I’ll try to make sure my expectations don’t get in the way of whatever serendipitous things happen to come my way.
Besides, I’d better enjoy myself. That study about vacations? It also said the boost in happiness quickly dropped following the trip. I guess when that happens I’ll just have to start thinking about the next one.