Spontaneity vs. Structure

by Andrew Stein

I can attest to the excitement that came with preparing for this trip over the 6 months prior to leaving. From learning about the Balinese tooth filing ceremony and their complicated calendar system, to the USAT Liberty and how it sank, to how the US got so embroiled in the Vietnam War, to how to grow olives in Italy was a significant part of this adventure. Finding Lonely Planet travel guides, looking up other traveler’s blogs, searching for cheap airlines and figuring out how to get from A to B built up anticipation. I am someone who thoroughly loves the feeling of anticipation. It goes back to my birthday philosophy. I love the feeling knowing that my birthday is coming, that it’s one month away, then one week away, and finally days away. I love that anticipation for all that I can and then when my birthday comes, I bring my expectations down as low as I can. No easy task, but birthdays are one day of the year that too often have trouble living up to high expectations. I enjoy the lead-up, I enjoy planning an activity or two, and then I see what happens.

Leading up to five months of travel is slightly different from leading up to November 1st, but the excitement to be attained by the extended runway to what eventually was this trip was just as excitingly filled with thoughts of great potential. So although I sometimes wish I could be more like John Muir and do as he says–“throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence,” I’m not sure I will ever completely be able to do that. Luckily, planning every day’s activities and every night’s lodging for close to 150 days is almost impossibly daunting, which forced me to leave mostly wholes in my itinerary to be filled as I travel.

I also recognize that traveling without a plan requires great confidence and know-how. Having never traveled alone other than to summer camp or a host family in a very planned-environment, I cannot say that I possessed the know-how I would need to have the confidence to travel with minimal planning. Other than just nerding out on the planning, I also did it to assuage some of the fears that I had of this adventure.

Last note about this is that I did not try to eliminate unpredictability. Instead, I learned my options to pick and choose from as I made my way. I feel I chose a route and and some key activities, but have left the rest up to adventure.

Side note: I found a good discussion on spontaneity during travel in Rolf Pott’s book, “Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel,” a quick read for any new traveler looking for some good advice.