To Plan or Not to Plan?

  • Day -84, 2020 World Cruise
  • Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, Chicago

This week I finally nailed down planning for my upcoming 128-day world cruise. I’ve put in dozens of hours over the past few months researching the 48 ports, 35 of which are new to me. Some, like our African ports, I know virtually nothing about.

After all this research and planning, my sister and I have booked 23 tours and plan to explore 19 ports on our own. We are still uncertain about a few and will decide along the way.

I know people who just need enough notice to pack a bag and hit the road. I myself have jumped in the car on a whim to drive eight hours to meet friends in Kansas City for barbecue, or drive 12 hours to Atlanta to crash a holiday brunch. But when it comes new places, I tend to be a planner. I hate wasting time somewhere because I’m unprepared.

And isn’t there a certain excitement that builds in the planning process? In learning about the unknown? In thinking of all the possibilities?

The daunting task of planning such a long trip overwhelmed me at first. So I resorted to my management habits and built a spreadsheet. Each port started out highlighted in red, meaning no ideas yet. Over the weeks and months I slowly updated the highlights to yellow (we have a plan but need to take action to implement) and now green (plans firm; tours booked).

We don’t want our planning to spoil the spontaneity, though, so I’ve left some ports open. I’m sure the ship’s port lecturer will generate some new ideas. We have time to change our minds and cancel tours if we find something we would rather do. I also expect to have great luck meeting up with fellow passengers to explore on our own.

Lately I’ve been reading Vagabonding, An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel by Rolf Potts. He writes that:

“The reason vagabonding is so appealing is that it promises to show you the destinations and experiences you’ve dreamed about, but the reason vagabonding is addictive is that, joyfully, you’ll never quite find what you dreamed… the qualities that will make you fall in love with a place are rarely the features that took you there.”

I fell in love with Paris not at the Eiffel Tower, but during daily life on Rue Mouffetard, walking in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway. My strongest memory of Casablanca is not the huge mosque, but the pride in our tour guide’s voice that Morocco was the first country to recognize the fledgling United States. And I remember the startling realization at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City that the Vietnamese call it the American War and see it with very different eyes than we do.

The challenge in planning is finding the balance between knowing what to expect and being surprised by the unexpected. I want to see the world as others see it – to look for experiences and not just scenic photographs.

So in Colombo, Sri Lanka, we aren’t riding the elephants or touring temples. We’re taking a master batik class. In Singapore we may have lunch on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. We tend to favor food and wine tours and natural wonders over museums and shrines.

As John Steinbeck wrote in “Travels with Charley:”

“A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”