Planned or unplanned, travel is rewarding. What type of traveler are you? Image from photoflytravel.org.
I had a boyfriend whose aunt, an employee for a major airline, could gift him discount or free “will call” plane tickets — the unsold seats left over when a plane is about to depart. I once dropped him off at the airport for a flight to Paris that would be completely free of charge. I would, of course, have been completely green with envy had it not been for the tenuousness of it all. This was a man who could pack a bag and wait at an airport on the off-chance that his seat wouldn’t be taken by a paying customer — a prospect that drives this decidedly Type A Go Girl absolutely mad!
When I travel, it is a production. There is extensive research, covering every topic imaginable, conducted on any number of traveling websites. Bed and breakfast reviews (paying special attention to cleanliness comments) determine my choice of accommodation. Restaurant ratings and sightseeing destinations pepper my bookmark folders (yes, individual trips are divided into separate folders). This month’s upcoming trip to the Stratford, Ontario Shakespeare Festival will be the first where I use my GPS’s walking directions. Normally Word documents full of day-to-day itineraries and turn-by-turn directions are printed out and tucked in my suitcase. For example, below, a small piece of my itinerary for a trip to London that is merely in the planning stages — meaning no plane ticket, no date set, just dreams:
- Great Russell Street, London
- Free. Open from 10am to 5:30pm. Fridays until 8:30. $7.75 for audio/visual tour.
- From hotel:
- Walk to the Old Vic (Stop Q). Head NW on Westminster Bridge Rd. Turn right onto Lower Marsh. Turn right onto Spur Rd. Turn left onto Baylis Rd. Turn right onto Waterloo Rd.
- Take the N68 bus towards Tottenham Court Road. Get off at Drury Lane Stop.
Planning vacations that may be months or even years away often soothes the bite of the travel bug. Mired in the monotony of the everyday, I imagine myself spending days meandering through Hay-on-Wye’s 30+ bookshops or sipping hot spiced wine at a German Christkindlmarkt. But a balance between meditation and spontaneity is crucial.
When I visited a friend working for Americorps in Minneapolis, I had my days to myself as Ellen and her roommates (all Americorps fellows) worked at non-profits in the community. Forced to brave complicated bus schedules — Minneapolis isn’t a walking city like so many of my favorites — I relaxed my vice grip on itineraries and ventured through any number of hipster hotspots recommended to me by my five temporary housemates.
I can’t deny that I did visit the must-see tourist destinations. I had to spend an evening in the Mall of America even though it was indeed ultimately a disappointment, as Ellen had warned me. The famous Mill City Museum, on the other hand, certainly lived up to its hype with some great history and beautiful views of the city skyline.
Ultimately, however, some of my best days were indeed spent wandering through offbeat ports of call (not so easily found from the distance of one’s bed, surfing TripAdvisor). Like the Seward Community Café, where food is organic and locally-sourced, and where I spent a brunch hour reading the used copy of The Feminine Mystique I had picked up at a nearby used bookstore.
But locals don’t know everything, and had I abandoned my precious pre-planning I would have missed out on one of my oft-recommended Minneapolis destinations — Washington Avenue’s Open Book, a home for creative writing, publishing, and book art. A café greets you in the lobby on the first floor and an open and free gallery of contemporary book arts (think typography, design, graphics, etc.) welcomes visitors. Upstairs, where the classrooms and literary press Milkweed Editions are housed, casual visitors can browse the books for sale as well as a number of larger art pieces. None of my housemates knew about Open Book, and if I had missed it, my Minneapolis trip would have been much less memorable. Likewise, without the flexibility to enjoy their recommendations, I would have missed out on experiencing the genuine flavor of Minneapolis.
So, Type A Go Girls, find your balance. Make your itineraries and intentionally type in a “To-Be-Decided” space to be filled with suggestions from locals or your own roaming feet. Trust that your know-how and that blessed GPS technology will carry you just where you need to go.