Travel Planning

Gail Tyson

Bloggers believe there are two kinds of travelers: over-planners and under-planners. Case in point: My friend, Joyce, spends months planning logistics, dining, and destinations for a two-week vacation; I jet off with B&B reservations and a short list of sightseeing options. Her detailed agendas, to me, feel suffocating. What is so satisfying about squeezing a journey dry of any room for discovery, happenstance, synchronicity in an unknown place?

“I think I may go overboard on this planning.” Recently, Joyce confessed that she was too exhausted by hours spent plotting future travels to attend a beloved gathering the next day. She spent the day calling restaurants in small French towns to make dinner reservations for three weeks hence; booking a hotel room at Charles de Gaulle Airport so she and her daughter could kill time showering and changing clothes between their 6 a.m. arrival and departure for a nearby chateau that opens at 10; and searching for her bathing suit, which she might have one opportunity to wear. Is she trying to avoid wasting time on holiday? Stave off disappointment? Granted, a little more forethought might benefit my travel. Could that be why, in so many dreams, I lose my way in an unfamiliar city and panic about missing my flight?

Despite these nightmares, an innate siren call lures me to get lost. I am not alone. Remember Dr. David Livingstone? By 1871 the British explorer had been incommunicado on the African continent for six years. The New York Herald editor sent reporter Henry Morton Stanley to find him. The journalist set sail from Zanzibar with a crew of 2,000 and searched for eight months, suffering cerebral malaria, smallpox, and dysentery before landing at Ujiji, a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in East Africa. Spying a white man with a long gray beard, Stanley asked, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” He begged the Englishman to return with him to London, but Livingstone declined. He chose to continue exploring.

Admittedly, I minimize the risk of losing my way with shorter, less complicated trips. Anxiety of another sort might drive anyone’s planning, particularly as we age. Travel raconteur Bill Bryson has written, “Perhaps it’s my natural pessimism, but it seems that an awfully large part of travel these days is to see things while you still can.” Joyce has endured two joint replacements, and she faces a third. Moreover, she worries that her pension from a once-mighty, now failing conglomerate could disappear. My friend also credits her mother’s funeral pre-planning as “one of the nicest things she could have done for me.” So far my knees simply creak, and my savings are intact, but I share Joyce’s sense of urgency about my bucket list.

Does Joyce avoid present aches and worries by living in the future? Whatever motivates her meticulous preparations, she clearly relishes any kind of research. When Joyce leads discussions at our book club, she tows along a binder tabbed with author’s biography, oeuvre, critical reviews, plot summary, and discussion questions. One day, after she extolled her findings for forty minutes, the club leader interrupted.

“We have less than an hour for our discussion.”

“But I’m not finished yet,” Joyce protested.

Despite her research passion, she is relieved when her turn to facilitate is done. It touches me how much Joyce takes this role to heart; does it remind her of complex projects and corporate teams she used to manage in Atlanta and Delhi? I led focus groups for years, and in groups of bright, opinionated women who chafe to talk, I am comfortable winging it.

Is that why I trust B&B hosts to recommend a good pub, and why I may linger over a glass of wine instead of rushing off to a museum exhibit? Not in my DNA: downloading an app and programming a ten-minute walk in Venice—a thirty-minute exercise. Why not just ask someone? Yes, I might misunderstand, being ignorant of Italian, but spontaneous encounters for me are worth straying down rabbit trails. Many the treasures, in forty-five years of traveling, I have stumbled across.

On a certain scale, of course, circumstance can upend all the planning in the world. In 1953, two teams—Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, versus Tom Bourdillon and Charles Evans—ice-clampeded up Mount Everest with 362 porters, twenty Sherpa guides, and five tons of baggage. Bourdillon and Evans staggered within 300 feet of the 29,028-foot summit when oxygen failure forced them back. Two days later Hillary and Norgay stood on the highest point in the world. Both teams were equally supported, but only one made it.

That kind of expedition is one I should never attempt, except on the pages of a book. In fact, literary tastes might point to travel styles. Joyce swoons over Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels, which transport a 1940s English nurse to the Scottish Borders in 1743—what the author calls “Big, Fat, Historical Fiction” rampant with romance and swordplay. To me, the books read as better research than composition, but they also strike me as an uncanny choice for a person who likes to imagine herself anywhere but the present. In my icon novel, Ann Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist, the protagonist—a travel guide author—suffers tragic losses, then blunders into the landscape of unexpected ardor for a brash young woman. He discovers that he loves “the surprise” of her and “also the surprise of himself when he was with her.”

Joyce and I are simply hard-wired differently: she is focused on digesting cultures and cuisines, while I am intrigued less by what I am looking at than how it casts a spell inside me. We have each found our way—ways that, on the road, shall never meet.


About the Author

Gail Tyson’s work appears in such journals as Adanna, Appalachian Heritage, The Antigonish Review, and Still Point Arts Quarterly.