As we head south, I will be taking a pause to schmooze with family near Seattle for the next few days. Saturday we took a nice little lazy ferry through the San Juan Island channels over to Anacortes, at the northern Washington border. We passed the site of the pig war, mentioned the previous day, into the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, with its currents that turn into the Pacific Graveyard, from a blog earlier in the week. This is a day to reminisce about greatest hits of the trip, and maybe share thoughts about traveling itself.
People sometimes ask why we are so lucky to find the amazing things we find and see the things we do. People also often say, Gee, I wish I could write. I thought I would offer a few tips.
Ain’t It Grand?
There are plenty of travel hacks that I’ve learned, such as wearing layers regardless of your destination or the season, traveling in shoulder season (April-May or September-October), or eating lunch–not dinner–at highly-touted restaurants because it’s the same food at a discount. But if I think about what makes our trips really successful, I would highlight three core parts of our philosophy.
Plan Well, Then Be Flexible
An enjoyable trip is a balance between scheduled stops and spontaneity. Overplanning, which to my mind means shoving more than two planned activities into a travel day, leads to a lot of stress and anxiety. You keep checking your watch and worrying about whether the traffic or the crowds will “prevent” you from seeing the Next Thing. Give yourself plenty of time to breathe in the place you are seeing.
On the other hand, if you go into a famous location and hope to just soak up whatever is interesting by wandering around, then you may end up only seeing what is advertised. And, usually what is advertised is the overpriced, schlocky, “touristy,” least-localized experience you can get. Do some advanced research, and pick a planned tour that you like–Food Tour, Hiking Tour, Bus Tour, Shopping Tour–whatever floats your boat. A starter goal really helps. That will anchor you; then allow time to spontaneously return later to wander around interesting that you spot on your tour.
Maintain Healthy Practices
It’ll seem obvious that you can’t enjoy your trip if you get sick. But staying healthy while traveling goes beyond the logic of just not overtaxing yourself. For example, if you assume you have to fit in some kind of “exercise,” then you’ll have a nice brisk walk through the redwoods, climb up some Roman hills, or kayak across a lake. Assume you have to bring some of the right clothing, then put it in the itinerary. You’ll get rewarded both by the health benefit and the outdoor scenery, gaining experiences you can’t get with a sitting bus ride.
Meanwhile, we have found an amazing group of places to eat on our trips, and I have been thinking about what has made my search process so successful. Most often, places that have been touted in advance don’t pay off. Often, they’re not available (overbooked because of their reputation) or unable to live up to pre-expectations. I’ve had better luck finding places on the road through google or yelp, and the common thread seems to be looking for “vegetarian-friendly” places. I’m not a vegetarian, but it seems that if a place serves vegetables, then the chefs have a predisposition towards freshness and quality of cooking. Even the burgers and fries taste better. As do the beets, seaweed, and kale.
Embrace It–All of It
Planes will be late, sometimes hours late. Shows will be sold out. Restaurants serve strange food, construction closes down the street with the Thing you wanted to see, and people do weird things. You get lost. More than once. All of this will become part of your trip. One of the funniest stories I enjoy telling is The Worst Meal I Ever Had, which was a restaurant we chose in Brussels because we were late, lost, exhausted, and starving. Stuff happens on trips, and part of the flexibility is in going with the flow and learning to laugh about it later. When you get lost, you discover that little out of the way coffee shop or boutique with the ring that looks like your grandmother’s. The trip is about the journey, even the bad or unexpected parts.
Attach Seat to Chair
Weird experiences do make for good stories. At least one reader this past week said a favorite post was on a day where I didn’t do much. I had to work a little hard to tell stories out of it, which apparently succeeded. It’s been both harder and easier than I expected to turn in something every day, and I learned a few more things from it, too.
Write every day
If you don’t write often, it’s hard to get started. The more you think about what you “need” to get started, the harder it is. It’s fine to prefer a certain process–special pen, more or less lighting, more comfortable chair–but don’t use not having the perfect setup as an excuse. Just write. It always takes a while for the sludge to clear, and the longer you go between writing, the more sludge. I have surprised myself at how quickly I’ve been getting started, and I know it’s because it hasn’t been long since the last session.
Discipline is a choice
I am a disciplined person, but even I was surprised at how lazy I had beome. I have other writing projects which, surprise, surprise, have made slow progress back at home. Obviously, I’m just too busy, right? It can’t be that I’m fiddling around in the morning and not starting for an hour or two. In that sense, the trip has been a revelation to me. Mind you, this daily posting was a goal I set myself. I appreciate you as readers, but no one asked me to do this. Yet, I have really risen to the task–literally–getting up by 6:30 each day so I can finish before we start the day’s touring. It wasn’t a hardship. I wanted to see if I could do it, and hey presto! it turned out I could. The less time we had in the morning, the more organized I’d get the night before. It’s possible. You have to create the conditions to make it happen, and that isn’t waiting for the sun to be at the perfect angle.
No, Thank You…
Write for an audience; write for someone
The other magic element X that has made this set of writing successful has been you readers. I’m not setting any records here for Likes or eyeballs, but I know there’s a handful who have been loyal and appreciative. I’ve gotten a sufficient number of thank yous for these posts, and my response is thank you for hanging there with me on the journey.
Someone was likening this to writing in a journal, but that’s only partially correct. In attempting to meet my audience’s needs, I do edit, organize, and curate the posts. They are long. There are a lot of pictures. However, I try to maintain consistency in my existing style, assuming out there that You do expect Something Good. Journal writing is non-judgmental, but I think it’s important to have some judges. In that sense, all of your feedback is incredibly valuable. You make it worthwhile.
Twelve posts in and I’ve written roughly 14,000 words. If I tried to do that at home, it would seem an impossible task. Just a little each day and every day.
Nanaimo is coming…er no that was the chocolate custard bars…NaNoWriMo is coming (National November Writing Month). Good thing I’m all warmed up.
I’ll be back in a few days as we traverse through southern Oregon. Meanwhile, I charge you to go find some acceptable scones and clotted cream…
…and attach seat to chair and begin writing.