I am a planner by nature. When I was younger, I would sometimes decline invitations to hang out with friends if they hadn’t given me at least a day’s notice. Meanwhile, I was probably painting my toenails and playing Neopets…or whatever it was I was doing when I was growing up. For some reason, I couldn’t handle dropping whatever unimportant thing I was doing to go out and have a good time. While I am definitely not this bad anymore, I usually don’t get more spontaneous than passing by an ice cream shop and deciding it’s time for a snack. And let’s face it…I always want ice cream…
If you are also a planner, then I hope you can appreciate the daily struggle between wanting to live in the moment and wanting to make sure you have all of your ducks in a row. Something I’ve learned as I’ve been roaming around the land of kiwis (take your pick of the three options), is that sometimes it’s okay to look at your carefully drawn out timeline of what you plan to do on your trip and just throw it out the window. Amazing things can happen when you let go and just take a different path.
So far I’ve had a couple of really amazing experiences come from either screwing up or throwing away my plans. On a memorably stressful trip to Wanaka, I realized that I had gotten my dates mixed up when the bus driver told me that I had shown up a day early for my bus. Thankfully (sort of), he had an extra spot on the bus. As we pulled away from Queenstown, I started to wonder if I had also screwed up the dates for the hostel. It turned out that yes…yes, I had screwed that up as well.
I like to think that somebody up there was looking out for me because when I called the hostel, the receptionist said that even though I was early, they had just had a cancellation. I didn’t even have to change rooms! So I lucked out big time. What really boggles my mind though is that if things had gone according to plan, my first few days in Wanaka might have been very different. Not long after I settled into the hostel, I met Katherine, another American who was looking for someone to go hiking Roy’s Peak with her. Was I planning to go do a 6 hour hike the same day I arrived in Wanaka? NOPE! Did I go anyway? Most definitely!
I spent the next couple of days having a blast hanging out with Katherine on and off and doing everything from wine tasting to kayaking the lake. The craziest part of this whole story is that I never would have met Katherine if I had caught my bus on the right day. She was only staying at my hostel for one night and then had to move to a different one the following day. So even though I would have thoroughly enjoyed Wanaka regardless, I definitely benefited from getting my plans completely mixed up.
On another occasion, I was hanging up my laundry when I was approached by a German backpacker who asked me what my plans were for the next day. When I told her I was going to Te Anau on the bus, she offered to give me a lift instead. Thankfully my bus pass allows me to cancel my trip at no cost up to 2 hours before the actual trip. While leaving earlier in the morning like she wanted to meant that my laundry had next to no chance of drying, I took her up on the offer. In exchange for dropping my bus plans and $15 in gas money, I got to see glowworms in the Clifden Caves, walk across the Clifden suspension bridge, and spend some time enjoying the sunshine by Lake Manapouri!
Unfortunately, because I am traveling on a limited budget, I can’t always be as spontaneous as I would like. I always have the fear in the back of my head that if I don’t plan some things out, I will end up living out of a cardboard box. In grad school, I often joked about running away to be a homeless ukulele player…but I don’t think I actually want to become one. While I travel, I also set up wwoofing arrangements about a month or so in advance. This means that every once in a while I have had to skip out on opportunities to travel around with some of the people I meet. It’s definitely a balancing act between wanting to make the most of the opportunities that present themselves and trying to make sure I have some sort of safety net.
The best way I’ve been able to make this balance work is by mastering what I call “half-planning”. I try to plan out my stops a month or two ahead of time so I know where I will have a wwoofing host and “free” accommodation and where I need to get a hostel. Beyond that I plan nothing. While I could spend hours researching the best sites to see and activities to do before arriving somewhere new, sometimes the best tips come from just talking to other backpackers or locals upon arrival. This means that I’m flexible to take my pick once I actually arrive. So maybe I’m not fully embracing living in the moment, but for me it seems like the best way to stay open to new opportunities while still making sure I don’t end up sleeping on the sidewalk outside of the tourist information center…
It’s all a learning process, but I’m becoming more comfortable with it. Instead of getting panicky when Plan A fails spectacularly, I can appreciate the adventure that comes from not having everything figured out…most of the time anyway!
What about you? Do you have your own stories of moments when Plan A didn’t work out or when you decided to throw out your plans at the last minute? If so, please leave a comment and share your own adventures!