It is the most alluring advice that never seems to work for us. We’re a bit skeptical it works for anyone in any real sense. But we recently discovered an entirely new way in which the seemingly world-wise travel advice to eschew planning in favor of “just going with the flow” fails us.
We admit we have a problem. We’re habitually goal oriented people. In fact, I think we can safely boil down everything we’ve accomplished in life to three simple steps:
1) Set a goal
2) Make a plan for achieving that goal
3) Execute the plan
Naturally, nothing is ever quite that simple in practice. It is nonetheless the rough outline of how we managed to leave successful professional careers at the age of 38 to travel fulltime. It’s how Shannon built a mobile freelance business from the ground up that has earned her the privilege of writing front-page feature interviews with former presidents. None of that could have happened by chance.
So if we’re hooked on planning it is because it works. And yet we’ve recently discovered an entirely different benefit that we either didn’t fully appreciate before or had mostly forgotten about: making a plan is powerfully motivating.
Thus far on our travels we’ve mostly been executing a plan set in motion four years earlier: traveling the U.S. from coast to coast by R.V. with occasional international excursions to escape North American winters. But now, with our domestic travels coming to an end, we’re in need of an entirely new plan. Where do we go? How do we get there? What do we do with all our stuff?
It’s a time of change and opportunity that should fill us with excitement. But instead of enthusiasm, we were feeling surprisingly indifferent. With our last big excursions to Hawaii and Alaska behind us, much of our remaining U.S. travel seemed utilitarian and uninspiring. Looking ahead we saw mostly chores.
That’s not to say we had no ideas about what we’d do next. For a long while we’ve harbored vague notions of selling our R.V. and backpacking through Europe. But that trip never felt real. It was just an idea about something we might do far off in the future.
It wasn’t until we started researching and planning this next chapter of our life that the old excitement returned.
If ever we were going to leave the U.S. we had some decisions to make. For a trip as long the one we are planning, we’d need to work around Schengen area visa restrictions that restrict us to a total of 90 days throughout most of Europe before requiring us to leave for another 90 days. With careful planning we can work around that by moving back and forth between member and non-member states. But where to begin?
If we start in southern Europe – Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, etc. – we can set out earlier next year without needing to fill our bags with bulky winter clothing. We can then make our way north and leave the Schengen visa area in time for summer in the U.K. and Ireland.
Working through these decisions breathed life into our future. By hanging names and locations on previously gauzy visions of generic excursions we imbued them with a substance they never had before. Now, instead of a vague dream about some distant trip, we have a time and a place. March 2014. Madrid.
Suddenly it feels real.
And all those chores that previously filled us with dread seem less onerous. Now that we have a clear goal we also have a clear understanding of what we’re working toward. Each item we knock off our to-do list just moves us closer to that prize. It almost makes us eager to get to work.