Wild peacocks. I saw wild peacocks.
I was weaving through traffic in South Miami, curled up in the passenger seat of a beat-up truck, when my Couchsurfing host pointed them out. I pressed my face against the window to see two peacocks and their baby, pecking at the damp grass. A few minutes later I saw one plough through the air, hurdling itself over the road to land on a nearby roof.
I had absolutely no idea that wild peacocks were a thing in Miami. The reason I didn’t know that basic piece of information?
I didn’t do any research for my trip.
My host was shocked at my awe, since peacocks here are more of a pest than anything else. Perhaps if I had done some research and planning before my trip I would have read about them. It would have been a neat tidbit. Oh, there are wild peacocks in Miami? How quaint. It would have been filed away in my brain under “Useless facts” only to be forgotten after a few weeks – if not hours.
But seeing them? Watching one clumsily fly through the air? That is something I’ll remember for much longer. My surprise and curiosity, they combined to create something unique. Something memorable.
When I first started traveling I planned things out religiously. I made lists, bookmarked websites, read books. It was a whole ordeal. Granted, it was fun, but as soon as I had my boots on the ground the plans were forced to change. There are too many variables when it comes to travel, and planning couldn’t keep up with the chaos.
These days, I do very little planning. When I get asked about my favourite trips, it’s the ones where I did little planning that come to mind: my adventures in Vietnam, my explorations of Mongolia, my road trip around the USA. Those trips were all done with very little planning and because of that, I was able to look at them as a blank canvas. Instead of having expectations and assumptions, I just dove into the cultural waters. It wasn’t always easy – or fun – but it made for a challenge. And when travel is challenging, the rewards are ever more appreciated.
Now, some planning has its place. Travel research is useful because it helps us get the most out of our trip. We uncover ways to make the most out of our time and discover exciting places and activities. When we have a limited amount of time we will definitely need to be judicious with our planning. Going on a three-day getaway? Plan it out! But if you're heading off on an extended adventure you will want to be cautious with your planning because there is a downside to over-planning a trip: you will lose your ability to become surprised.
It’s in those surprises, those unexpected experiences, where our guard is lowered. Without any filters or expectations, we are free to experience things as they come. Sure, we may miss out on some things because we didn’t plan accordingly or book things in advance but I’m coming to see that as a fair price to pay for the ability to be surprised. Making discoveries with your own eyes is truly something to cherish.
The more I travel, the less I find myself planning. It leaves me open to what comes, forces me to adapt as I go. It’s challenging, and it doesn’t always work out, but when it does, it really does.
Generally, we tend to cling to our expectations of a place. We are bombarded by that Fear Of Missing Out that leads us to all have the same cookie-cutter trips. And that can be great. But there is more to travel than that. And the best way to experience it is to let go and see what happens.
Give it a try on your next trip. Ditch your guidebook and let yourself be surprised, let yourself be challenged. Force yourself to learn as you go, to roll with the punches of the road. Learn to say YES. Learn to get LOST. Learn how to be CURIOUS.
Who knows, you might just stumble into an adventure.
P.S. If you need to do some planning, here are some up and coming blogs to check out.