We imagine travel to be many different things, just as we hold expectations about life. Instead having a healthy balance between planning for travel goals and letting experience unfold, there is worry, sorrow or frustration as a result of expectations not being met.
The truth behind wanderlust is layered. There’s a desire to be free, to escape the humdrum, and see what life has to offer. There’s a desire to go somewhere completely different and uncover part of oneself that is completely different. Sometimes, you just need a break.
At the center of this is an interrogative process: what, where, when, why and how. Before any of us learn how to ask questions as children, we go places. We learn how to walk after crawling, how to run, leap and jump. Sooner than my own parents expected, I was swimming, biking and driving to my next destination in life.
We are taught to make a plan, when the truth is that plans rarely work out how we imagine or hope them to be. Our assumptions and expectations get the best of us.
The Problem with Expectations
The problem with having assumptions is well known, but our expectations dealing with travel in our lives lead to more nuanced problems. Drop the expectations and learn to ask the right questions. Accept that you won’t always have the answers until you arrive at them, often in the strangest of ways:
Expectation: Having it All Planned Out
The reality is that something will go wrong, and usually these are small details are unpleasant but acceptable. Other times, you expect everything will go wrong as the result of one mishap.
I was at a national park, ready to go kayaking with friends, when I realized that I had drove in the wrong direction. There was no signal for cell service to call anyone. I was worried people would think I was dead. It got a little dramatic.
I dug my heels into the ground, lip bit and frustration setting in. Then, I looked around me. There was no water, no boats, but there were so many trees and little plants blooming. It was early spring, and it’d been tough bringing myself out of hibernation. I needed this trip, but what I really needed was a connection to nature, to remember happiness in the moment. So, I walked around and learned to let myself stop, since life had to stop me before I refocused.
The solution came in the form of an older lady walking her dog, who let me use her landline. Eventually I got back on the road and got to spend the day with friends. Sometimes plans don’t work out, but the setbacks offer opportunities.
Expectation: Timing is Everything
The reality is you end up looking like the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, worrying about being late for a very important date — and everything else that could go wrong.
So focused on what could go wrong, you miss out on the actual experience. The flip side is also true: You focus on all the things that could be, and the precision of how you arrived at this moment, at this destination, is lost. You can’t make a decision to save your life about what you want to do.
You miss details. I remember being so worried about first trip out of the country that I missed out on so many opportunities. I was determined to tour the art museums that held Van Gogh, Monet and other masters and became frustrated about waiting in lines and avoiding the other wide-eyed, overwhelmed tourists. Being a chronic worrywart doesn’t help you do what you need or desire to do.
Some works I got the opportunity to see, but when I went back to the same destination three years later, the experience was completely different. I roamed the city, ate the street food and talked to the locals. I learned more about myself and saw more sites than I would have never expected or dared to imagine. Timing is tricky, but it will teach you hard, fast, quiet and beautiful lessons.
Expectation: Going Somewhere for Specific Reasons
The reality is that your reasons for traveling to a particular destination will be varied and complicated. You may not get to go where you want to go. When you arrive, your reasons for going there will have changed, and in turn, you’ll have changed.
Something in your life will change. Life will push you out of a dead end job, marriage or other situation in which you feel stuck. You will uncover wonderful changes, too. What we imagine as milestones shift and change meaning over the course of a lifetime, and they deepen who we are. Sometimes, they remind us who we are not.
After a break up, I drove all night to a friend’s house and couldn’t sleep, once I did arrive. Something about the drive felt incomplete, and on a whim, I booked a bus ticket. I sat on this bus for hours, ignored strangers and listened to music. I looked out the window and watched life flash by, not wanting to be that passive participant in my own life anymore. Life had changed, and I had to change, too.
To make a long story short, one of the best adventures of my life was getting out of dodge to explore a city on my own. I solo-traveled to another state, because I had to cross a physical border. Exploring the city, ending whatever I wanted and doing whatever I felt like on my own whim was empowering. Your reasons will change, but the point is to always make them your own.
Drop the expectations, or develop a healthy relationship with expectation. Place one foot on the side of dreamer and another foot on the side of realist, to truly embrace the experience of traveling and how it shapes you.
Don’t let your inner worrywart get the best of you. Bring new wonder to the questions of life and its travels, of the what, where, when, why and how. Don’t throw your hands up and say, “What now!” Revisit the question with possibility: “Okay, what now?”