A Study in Spontaneous Travel

I’m on the way to the airport…without a boarding pass. No, I’m not picking up a friend from the airport (and if any of my friends or family are on the way to surprise me for my birthday, you should turn around, since I won’t be here). And no, I didn’t forget my boarding pass. You can’t forget what you don’t have. I’m doing something I’ve wanted to do ever since the first time I traveled: Go to the airport and take the first flight to a destination I’ve never been to. Why? Because I want to, and in part, as a case study of spontaneous travel, the world, and how I interact with it. It’s an opportunity to take the world at face value, to see travel and the world as it is.

South Lake Tahoe I just returned from a long weekend in a destination I had never visited, Lake Tahoe. It was a trip I had been planning for weeks. I arrived to our accommodations (which I had researched for weeks) with several pages (yes, I still print off itineraries) of recommendations from colleagues, friends, and Tahoe locals. I had a general idea of what my friends and I would be doing, when we’d be doing it, and where we would be doing it. It’s the kind of mindset that I believe many travelers have: To have a well-planned trip free of stress and surprises. And it was just that. The only surprise being the gale force winds that kept us off the slopes.

However, I’m afraid that our lives at times are too predictable and manicured. For years, almanacs have produced annual data about tides, astronomy, and weather. Newspapers published astrological information daily based on birthdays. We now get up-to-the-minute information thanks to the Internet and the likes of Twitter and Facebook. Dating websites claim to hold the power to match us with our most compatible match. There are even websites that predict your future. And I’m no exception to my interest being piqued by these things. I’d sell a kidney to get my hands on a time machine. But I often wonder if we’re not overstimulated. As if this accessibility to knowledge has weakened our wonder for life, relationships, and the world around us.

Packed carry-on bag

Carry-on bags packed for the unknown, but prepared for warmth

Have you ever gone to see a movie that you already knew what happened from start to end (without reading the book)? Or you start a movie with the last scene, and then watch the rest of it from beginning to end? Or you read the last chapter of a “page-turning” book first? Probably not. And if you did watch the last scene of a movie, you probably didn’t watch the rest of it. I believe we go to movies to be drawn into it. We want to be taken to a place, whether virtual or real, that has us on the edge of our seat. It’s the unpredictability of stories that has us turning those pages, fast-forwarding commercials, and sitting on the edge of our seat biting our nails. So if stories like this are so unpredictable, why shouldn’t our life be so?

365 days ago I set out to make this year my best year to date. The last couple years had seen me live the life that I always believed I was purposed for, but hadn’t been living. While the last couple years had been my best, I wanted the 365 days following my 30th birthday to raise the bar, continuing to live life on my own terms and capture the wonder of my childhood. So I set out to do 30 things that I had never done before. It’s the day before my 31st birthday and I’ve done 38. But when people asked me what I was most excited about or what had been my favorite, I was always skeptical to answer. That’s because if I had the resources and accessibility, I wanted it all to lead up to this: One grand trip, to go to the airport with nothing but a carry-on, without a boarding pass, and book the first available trip within my budget.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.-Howard Thurman

So what do I expect? I have no idea. I know that the only time I’ve been so excited for a trip was when I booked a trip to Central America and didn’t come back for several months. I can’t plan for a place I don’t know where I’m going. Maybe I’ll get detained. Maybe I’ll get there and have to do it all over again tomorrow morning because there are no available flights within my budget. Maybe I’ll meet a new friend. Or maybe I’ll have a Valentine’s Day rendezvous. I don’t know. Life, as I’ve come to view the last 4 years, is a story. A story in which I am the author. And this is just another chapter that I’m eager to write and learn from. I’ve always said that the best version of myself is the version that pushes boundaries, takes calculated risks, and explores the world. For that reason, and many other reasons, I can’t and won’t stop.

What’s the most spontaneous travel adventure you’ve had?

17 Comments on “A Study in Spontaneous Travel

  1. A same day booking and leave to hawaii with the husband for a week while the kids were gone on summer vacation with the grandparents.

  2. I’d love to go to the airport without any idea of where I’d take off to. I think most travellers dream about something like that. The most spontaneous travel adventure would be weekend trips decided on a Friday afternoon. But they are always somewhere close and don’t need much planning even if you want to plan it all out.

    • I’ll definitely do it again, as I discuss in my latest post Meggie. I def think there are some opportunities to do things like this in our own backyards though, which don’t even require a plane ticket. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I’ll admit, I love creating and bringing along travel itineraries as well. For me, planning is half the fun! I do have to remind myself every now and then to just put down my Canon or iPhone and appreciate my surroundings and experiences not through a lens. I saw Samantha Brown speak this past weekend at the Travel & Adventure Show in Long Beach. She mentioned how her favorite thing to do when she arrives at a new destination is to just take a walk. No cameras, nothing. Just go for a walk. This will definitely be something I’ll start doing while traveling.

    Happy travels :)

    • Yes Yes Yes. One of my favorite things to do as well, whether at home or traveling. There’s something about walking a city first and getting the lay of the land – the sights, the smells, the sounds…

  4. This is a really good post. Thanks! In a techological age: everyone wants to know everything in detail before we even step out of the door. The most spontaneous journey I ever had was in the 90′s, to set up a project in the Czech Republic. I went the next day with absolutely no idea what I would be doing there and no real plan. It changed my life.
    I ended up staying there for a year and in effect, I never really went back home as I moved to London and then to Berlin where I now live as an expat!

    • Wow, what a great experience. As connected as I am, there’s something to be said for disconnecting. I’ve always said that disconnecting helps me better connect with myself and the world around me. Thanks for stopping by Victoria!

  5. I got sick and had cards stolen in Cambodia (Siem Reap to be exact). I was upset, frustrated, and dying…so I packed up my bag and went to airport. I got to counter and said, “Please get me out of here! Where is the cheapest flight out to anywhere?” Woman said Kuala Lumpur in a couple of hours. SOLD.

    • Def! I want to do something similar on the west coast without having to get on a plane. Maybe I’ll put destinations into a hat, haha. Thanks for stopping by and commenting Katie!

  6. I’m inspired! I have some points so I hope to do same next week! Will have to be a domestic flight but I’ve got 3 days & points to burn!

  7. Pingback: 5 lessons From the Most Spontaneous Trip I’ve Taken

  8. This is so amazing! I resonate with this on so many levels, exactly why I’m making this app. Congrats on having the courage to do it!

    • Thanks Broc! I definitely intend on doing this again, but doing it for somewhere abroad.

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