My first trip to New York City was a blur. It was December 2012 and I had recently decided to give up on the idea that sobriety was right for me. Sobriety was not right for me. I wanted to drink. We spent our nights bar hopping and, I, getting blackout drunk, and we spent our days rushing all over the city with a hangover. Repeat, repeat, repeat, for three days. We saw a lot of sights (you can see the pictures: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 Part 1 and Part 2) and did a lot of drinking. But without those pictures and the few drunk moments that still make me feel icky, I would tell you the one memory that stands out the most from that trip is how much my feet hurt.
It might seem like I travel a lot, but the truth is I feel like a bit of a late bloomer. While many of my friends went to Europe and Southeast Asia after high school and college, I didn’t go anywhere except for a trip to Vegas in my mid-20s and that trip to NYC when I was 27. I suppose there was also one trip to Toronto in my mid-20s, and partway through we took the train to Montreal and then visited friends at the Royal Military College in Kingston. But again, I was blackout drunk for most of that trip. (I don’t even remember what RMC looked like.) And again, one of the memories that stands out from all of those trips is how much my feet hurt.
I used to do the same thing Holly did in many of her early trips: tried to see as much as I could. The first trip to NYC is a perfect example. I listed all of the things I wanted to do and see, figured out which neighbourhoods they were in, and then mapped out our days in a way that we might actually be able to cross most things off the list. And we did! The pictures prove we did and saw all of the things. But the pictures don’t show how much my feet hurt at night, how I had to soak them in hot water before going to bed, and how much I cringed at the thought of having to put my shoes back on the next day. I didn’t want to walk another step.
That wasn’t what I wanted to remember from my trips. I wanted to remember the conversations we shared over coffee and meals; the taste of those coffee and meals; and the names of the cafes and restaurants I loved so much that I would hope to visit again. I wanted to remember how good it felt to get to know a city so well in just a few days that I could find my way around without directions; and how cool it felt to be able to give someone else directions, when they asked. I wanted to remember what the sky looked like when the sun went down over each landscape. I wanted to remember being there—really being there.
Fortunately, it only took a few trips for me to learn this lesson—and to learn how nice it could be to travel at a slower pace. I have the memories of my sore feet to thank for that, but I can also thank my blogging friends. It wasn’t until I started travelling to their hometowns to visit them that I realized I didn’t have to rush around to see everything each city had to offer. All I wanted to do was spend time with them. That’s why I was there. And whenever I travel somewhere now, I ask myself that same question: why am I going here? The answer helps me set an intention for the trip, rather than make a strict plan.
When I used to make travel plans, I felt busy and anxious. I also never felt like I got enough time anywhere I went—probably because I didn’t. I was so focused on getting from Point A to Point B that I didn’t soak in the journey it took to get there. I couldn’t remember the streets I had walked or neighbourhoods I was in, and I definitely didn’t remember the conversations we had. I just knew I had a couple hours to spend in every point I’d marked on the map, so I squeezed in as much as I could at each stop and then moved onto the next one. This always ended with me going home (to my hotel or a friend’s place) feeling like I’d run a marathon. (And did I mention the sore feet?)
The first time I decided to set an intention vs. make any formal plans for a trip was when I went to Denver in October 2014. My intention was to finally meet my internet BFF Clare, and to soak up any time I could spend with her. You’ll read a bit more about that in the book, but that was my only goal for the trip—which made everything else that happened feel like huge bonuses. Would I like to go to Red Rocks with another friend? Yes! Go on a spontaneous hike? Yes, please! Have lunch in a part of the city I’d never thought of going to? Yes, again! Because I didn’t have a calendar full of events, I was able to say yes to whatever came my way, and it felt good.
Not only did it feel good to be spontaneous, it feel good to let go of any expectations I had about what that trip might look like. And if I were to give anyone travel advice now, it would always be that: don’t expect anything. Just be open and be happy with whatever happens. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t plan ANYTHING. I actually love the questions Holly included at the bottom of her post, and think of many of those myself. There’s usually 1-2 attractions I’d like to see, some friends I want to spend time with, etc. So I make sure I do those things. But I also leave a lot of room open in my calendar, so I’m not rushing from one to the other.
The result is always a trip I actually remember every detail of. I remember the conversations we shared over coffee and meals; the taste of those coffee and meals; and the names of the cafes and restaurants I loved so much that I hope to visit again. I remember how good it felt to get to know a city so well in just a few days that I could find my way around without directions; and how cool it felt to be able to give someone else directions, when they asked. I remember what the sky looked like when the sun went down over the landscape. I remember being there—really being there.
And that’s true of every trip I’ve been on since October 2014. I set an intention, leave my calendar fairly open, and am open to every opportunity that comes my way. And I come home remembering every detail and feeling totally content with how it went. Nothing is a blur. In fact, I can probably describe how I experienced a city through all five senses: what it looked like, how it smelled, what the food/drinks tasted like, what the sounds were and how it felt to be there. I might not “do it all” or “see everything” but that’s ok. I remember what I did do. Nothing is a blur. And the bonus: my feet never hurt.
The reason I’m sharing this story now is because I am in the middle of a month full of travel—and even though I’m moving at somewhat of a quick pace (four cities in one month), I’m trying to take it slow, set an intention for each trip and enjoy my time in each place. Here’s what it looks like:
Experiment #9: Slow Travel
- spend a week in NYC (Nov 3-10)
- spend a week in Toronto (Nov 11-18)
- spend a week at home (Nov 1-2, 19-23)
- spend a week or so in Victoria (Nov 24-Dec 3?)
I’m happy to report there was a lot of downtime in NYC. I didn’t see many sights, other than what anyone sees when they walk around the East Village and Midtown and Central Park. But I went to one play (Tiny Beautiful Things – if you’re in NYC, please check it out). I also spent quality time with my friend Shannon, shared a few delicious coffees and meals with friends, and even met up with a friend from Vancouver who also happened to be there at the same time. And I narrated my audiobook. (!!!) That’s why I was there, and it was an incredible experience I’m so grateful to have had. Everything else was a bonus.
Looking ahead to next year, people keep asking why I want to go to the UK and what I plan on doing when I get there. Truthfully, I have no plans. I just want to go. I want to book a one-way ticket and have enough money that I can afford to stay for as many weeks or months as I want to. I just want to go. That is the intention. And by going with no expectations or plans, there is no real chance of being disappointed. Everything will be a bonus. :)