I’m stealing the name of another Saverocity blogger for this post – I hope our approach to travel will resonate with someone, or open a few eyes to a philosophy I don’t see much of. I call it ‘traveling without expectations’. Of course we do expect some basic level of service and safety. Otherwise, we’ll see things we don’t see at home, we’ll learn from people with different worldviews and cultures, we’ll enjoy as much of this beautiful planet as time allows, and we’ll sleep when we get home.
Must See / Must Do activities can’t take more than half the time we have, and ideally shouldn’t take a quarter of our time. Without fail many of the most memorable moments traveling occur with no planning. Which means we’d have missed out on them if we had planned all of our time.
Instead of scheduling every minute of our time, we read up on what the guide books say to do, and then decide which (if any) of those things we’ll actually do when we get there. Want a concierge who will tell you local secrets that aren’t just the top tourist spots? Ask the owner of your vacation rental or little bed and breakfast. Seriously at every VRBO rental we have done, from Santa Fe for Christmas to Catania for Thanksgiving, the owner has given tips that made our trips better than we possibly could have planned. Instead of just being happy that you chose their hotel chain over another one, we’ve found vacation rental owners are genuinely thrilled to be able to share their city or area with you. Try it, everyone has platinum preferred diamond executive elite status when you are the only guest the owner has!
This was a 2011 road trip, before we had discovered what we could do with the miles and points game. Before then, Bonnie hadn’t been West of Texas, and Shaun had never seen snow. I wanted to do this trip as a complete surprise to Bonnie and the boys but had to let Bonnie in on it in order to pack what we needed to pack for a week in winter weather as well as gifts, a (very) small Christmas tree, and our dog. When we left the answer to ‘Where are we going?’ was the same as it had been since the kids could talk: ‘Wherever the car takes us!’ We left after work and drove to Lubbock where we spent the night, and it wasn’t until we crossed the New Mexico state line the next morning that they realized this was more than a one-day trip. Each of the 4 days we spent there was an awesome adventure, and the boys never even bothered to wonder how long we’d be there. We just don’t do that. Well, until Shaun realized we weren’t leaving in time to get home for Christmas, and he knew the boxes under the tree at home were still there. Of course the gifts were in a big suitcase the kids hadn’t seen and the boxes at home were full of decorations we had taken down to replace with Christmas decorations.
Our trip to Europe last November saw us in France, Italy, Switzerland and Germany over 9 days. Except that we lost nearly one whole day due to a train delay, my choosing the wrong route to La Spezia, and Bonnie’s need to rest after having climbed a month’s worth of stairs over the two previous days in Paris. No problem at all. The next day we made it up to Riomaggiore for a taste of Cinque Terre, down to Pisa for a visit to the tower for the boys, on to Florence for dinner before catching our evening flight down to Sicily. And on our ‘wasted’ day, we got to slow down and just watch the little town of Parma go by in a little cafe. Our goal to enjoy as much of Europe as we could over those 9 days was accomplished perfectly!
It might not be for everyone, but I think this approach to travel expectations is worth a shot and would reduce a lot of the anxiety people associate with travel. Change ‘we have to’ to ‘we get to’ and see if it isn’t a lot more fun! The question ‘Are we there yet?’ hasn’t come up for years because our kids are too busy enjoying ‘here’ to worry about ‘there’.
Oh, and some day I will successfully manage to give Bonnie a complete surprise trip…