Let go and let your travel buddy. Image by Ann Santori.

Sometimes travel planning is not so much a function of the places on *your* bucket list (AKA your Pinterest board) but of your travel companion’s preferences.

And when your aunts are offering to fly you to Phoenix for a New Year’s trip, which will include a six-hour drive through the hills of Arizona and the mountains of Utah to reach an animal sanctuary that houses cats, dogs, horses, exotic birds, and retired farm animals (oh, my!), though you may not have discovered the destination if left to your own devices, suddenly you’re in cacti heaven.

But the mentality behind the easy-going, flexible, “I-don’t-know, what-do-you-want-to-do?” response to prospective travel plans is difficult to grasp for us Type A travelers.

While I would never call myself a “high-maintenance” travel companion, it occurs to me that, in comparison to other travelers, the label may be appropriately applied to my travel style. I am by no means a “luxury traveler” and am perfectly comfortable staying in any hotel room (as long as it’s clean!), but when I vacation, I tend to do so in major cities where my to-see list would fill about a week longer than I’ll actually be staying.

Ever since I was a child, I haven’t done well with so-called “relaxation.”  For me, sitting still and navel-gazing is torture tantamount to nails screeching on a chalkboard.

A beach vacation is wholly unappealing, and a cruise seems like a nightmare due to (A) the possibility of rampant food poisoning, (B) the possibility of being unknowingly trapped with a serial murder aboard, and (C) the certainty of wasting time and money to lay on a lawn chair next to a menu of over-priced drinks (which I could do in my own backyard – minus the $15 cosmopolitan).


 Fresh snowfall sprinkled on the back of one of Best Friends’ rescue horses. Image by Ann Santori.


I did have good company for those early nights; our “sleepover” pup. Image by Ann Santori.

So, how did I find myself in the mountains of Kanab, Utah, where the population is ~4,500 and my bedtime hovered between 8 and 9 PM simply by virtue of running out of things to do and local business closing times? I let my travel buddy take control.

Here’s why you should do the same:

Reason #1: There IS such a thing as a free lunch.

The immense generosity of my Aunt Mary-Jeanne has taken many forms over the years. This time it appeared as a round-trip plane ticket from O’Hare to Phoenix International and a lovely guest room in her amazing home.  Unless the plane is flying you to your destination by way of North Korea, no one should be turning this kind of offer down.

Reason #2: Sometimes your imaginary friends turn out to be real.

When I was that tightly wound child, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman was my jam.  All day, all night — if I wasn’t watching the show, I was forcing my mom to pretend play all the boy characters while I brought the roles of Colleen, adoptive daughter of the titular female, or the formidable Dr. Quinn herself to life. I wrote my university thesis on famed Southwestern author Willa Cather and her novel O Pioneers, which imagines the vast reaches of the Nebraskan plains in all their glory.


Is that postcard-worthy, or what? Image by Ann Santori.

As adults, we often choose travel destinations based on countdown lists along the lines of “100 Places You MUST See Before You Die,” but sometimes the places you dreamed of before you could afford the plane ticket turn out to the very locations that will fit you best.

Reason #3: Quantity can crowd out quality.

Watching MTV’s horribly written yet strangely compelling Finding Carter while putting together (well, trying to put together) a jigsaw puzzle with two aunts and two cats (The cats weren’t so much helping us as they were hindering.) is certainly not something one would list on a vacation itinerary. Regardless, it ended up being one of the most memorable and enjoyable parts of my trip.


The quiet: cuddles and reading aloud with the 14-year-old Eloise. Image by Ann Santori.

When traveling solo, I have to consciously remind myself that it’s okay to just be, to take a moment (or two) between checking off items on my list to actually stop and enjoy the doing so. But when my travel choices were circumscribed by the often quite laid-back choices of my travel companions, my trip became composed of the awe-worthy as well as the perfectly quiet moments.


The awe-worthy: the view from the Best Friends’s cafeteria. Image by Ann Santori.

What about you, Go Girls?  Have you ever let a travel buddy take the reins?