We live in the day and age of the hyper plan. With one click, everything you’ve ever wanted to know about your future vacation locale is at your disposal. You can’t feel it or smell it or get a sense of the locals, but @tastytravelz123 said to make sure you try the pizza in Hale’iwa and now here you are. It has to be good, right? Maybe.
In my work / speaking on Mindfulness — I often mention the joy of Diffuse Thinking. Allowing your mind to wander so that you can fire different neural pathways and reach a solution. Diffuse thinking might look like taking a walk when you’re stuck. It might look like “sleeping on it” before going back with a reply. It could be the old Walt Whitman routine of walking and walking and walking until you feel satisfied that you’ve walked enough. It seems that greatness, my friends, often doesn’t come from isolation and staring at your screen. (I have tried.)
“If in doubt, just walk until your day becomes interesting.” — Rolf Potts
Wandering is something slowly becoming foreign to us. The moment we are without our phones coupled with new geography, it’s as if we become angsty explorers venturing into the arctic terrified of what we might encounter. Chill out bro, it’s Joshua Tree. All you have to do is just look at the trees. Bono survived, so can you.
Driven by the perfectionism to have THE BEST EXPERIENCE EVER… we rely on strangers in our phone to dictate what that best experience looks like. It doesn’t occur to us that we could, say, ask a local. It doesn’t occur to us that we might *gasp* go without a plan. It doesn’t occur to us that these strangers in our phones might have tastes totally contradictory to ours. It also doesn’t occur to us that we may not even know what we like or dislike because we haven’t examined our own tastes in awhile.
I have found that magic often happens at the place where our plans run out. Everything feels like a miracle when you’ve reached the end of the paved highway and you’re left to explore. Things go right, things go wrong, things just are and it all feels amazing. We open the pathways to synchronicity when we admit that we do not have all the answers.
On a recent episode of Tim Ferriss’ podcast entitled “Lessons Learned Traveling The World,” he interviewed travel author / vagabonding pro Rolf Potts. Potts unpacked how vagabonding is not a two week vacation from work but rather, six months around the world or a year off etc. It is a lengthy commitment to travel and exploration. The aspect of his interview that really stuck with me however, was how he detailed that while technology makes it easy / convenient for people to travel today… we miss out on the magic of asking a local where to go or haggling for a lower priced room.
“I think that technology is one of these double-edged swords that in some ways, has turned us into insufferable micro managers on the road.” — Rolf Potts
In my never-ending quest for progress not perfection, I listened to this interview with a sense of awe and cynicism. I feel this way toward of lot of Tim Ferriss’ work as I feel like it’s tailored for the hyper-successful, already-rich-off-that-first-IPO, Bulletproof-drinking VC who has time to go travel the world. How could I, a longtime tech employee (but not early/senior enough at Twitter to currently be loaded), practice any of this stuff.
I then realized that we can practice unplanning anywhere. Why not take a mini vagabonding adventure. Why not see what occurs when you let the world happen. I may not be able to take six months off right now (damn it), but I can take a weekend and adventure without Trip Advisor, Yelp, Airbnb, blogs and social media.
On a recent trip to London for work, I was left with the rare day off. I would be embarrassed if you knew how many late nights in bed I stared at my phone trying to decide THE PERFECT PLACE TO GO on this day off. I used to live in England. I’ve seen Cornwall, Brighton, Seven Sisters, Oxford. What’s left? The Cotswolds? Ol’ Henge? (Too touristy, I feared.) Bath? I was quickly overwhelmed.
At dinner Friday night in London, still without a plan, Jessica — a smart and plucky 24-year-old world traveler on my team — looked at me and honestly asked,
“Do you ever get tired of planning?”
The question wasn’t posed to me from a sense of, “Hey boss, you plan too much.” But rather, she was feeling fatigued herself. My shoulders relaxed and I sighed,
“Yes. I do. When you manage all week, it’s great to not make decisions on the weekends. I don’t want to plan what to do anymore. I just want to show up. My brain is fried. I also feel like things don’t rally work out when you obsess too much or make rushed decisions.”
It was at that moment that I realized what I had to do with my Saturday off… and that was… nothing. I’d wake up and see how I felt. If I felt like venturing out, I’d ask some locals for a recommendation. If I felt like staying in bed and reading, I would do it with glee and not beat myself up for missing out on THE BEST LONDON DAY EVER. I would relinquish the reigns to the horse of perfectionism and simply be.
I wake up Saturday morning and get a chaga reishi americano from the coffee kiosk attached to my hotel. (Oh Shoreditch, you’re so Los Angeles.) The gal at the counter is now an acquaintance from how often I’ve visited the shop during my stay. I ask her what she would do on a day off in London.
“You know, I’m pretty chill and don’t like big overtures. One of my favorite things to do on a day off is simply go down to the Tate Modern, see some art and then wander down the Thames.”
That sounded like something I would like to do.
I looked at my map of the tube (the London subway) to plot how to get down there. I realized the Tate was next to the Old Globe theatre. I had just spoken at a conference in Liverpool and met a man who happens to lead marketing at the Old Globe. He had said I could join a guided tour there for free should I ever be in the area. Hmm. I mean, if I’m already down there…
I dropped him a line. He was out for the weekend, but got me on the 12:15 tour. Coincidentally, a woman who heard me speak at that same conference in Liverpool would also be on the 12:15 tour. How bizarre.
As I exited the tube station and made my way toward the Old Globe, I heard an American family fussing with maps trying to figure out how to get there. It felt like a magical moment. I exclaimed, “Hey! I’m going to the Globe. Follow me.” I’m not good at a lot of things, but I am a navigational pro.
The family looked uneasy. I received a half smile from them. I walked ahead and they fell behind. Rather than trust the spontaneous kindness of a stranger, they wanted to stick to their plans. Plans that were currently not working. Oh, what a prime example of how far we have fallen into the cynical trap of perfectionism. I never did see them arrive at the theatre.
Following my tour of the theatre, I wandered to the Tate Modern. It’s free?! Yassssss. I expected to go in and hang out for an hour max. I felt antsy. I started on the fourth floor.
As I was rounding a corner, I saw two little girls wearing a conjoined wig. What kind of bizarre cosplay is this I wonder? I have to snap a picture of them. They’re staring around like little zombies. So weird.
I venture down a floor into another gallery room and see a large braid. For some reason, I love this piece. All of a sudden, I hear a British man exclaim to his friend, “Oh, my God, I just saw these girls.”
I look to my left and there’s a portrait of the very girls I had just seen. I gasp, “I saw them too! I took a picture of them!” It turns out they were a performance tied with a piece called Xifópagas Capilares entre Nós (Capillary Xiphopagus among Us) 1984 by a Brazilian artist named Tunga. First off, I’m half Brazilian so that alone was mind blowing. Secondly, I hadn’t read anything about what was on at the Tate so I had no idea what to expect. Thirdly, this felt like the most magical discovery of all time. What wonder. What unbelievable luck.
My whole experience changed. Damn it Tate Modern, you’re a magical beast. I felt so alive.
Next I wandered into a video installation by Iranian artist Nazgol Ansarinia. If you pop into the room and stare at the piece for a few seconds you would think nothing is happening. I came in intrigued and plopped myself down on the floor and watched the piece for an extended period of time as if in meditation.
I watched as marks, shadows and lights slowly faded in an out. It felt like a miracle. It felt like a commentary on life. How we are becoming that frog in the pot, not aware that the heat is slowly being turned up slowly on us. I watched as people came in the room, discounted the piece quickly and popped out. I felt like telling them, “Oh my goodness, stay! You’re missing out. It feels like a miracle the way a wash of white light sweeps across the screen.” But I said nothing. I just sat there.
Afterward, I read the description of the piece. It was about environmental changes. The gradual effects of pollution. Yes.
I continued to wander the museum as if a firework had gone on inside me. By the time I left, I decided to try and find something vegan somewhere to eat. Now this is where my achilles heel lies: food. I’m perfectly willing to vagabond my day but when it comes to food, I’d really rather not roll the dice.
I caved in and pulled up Yelp. There was a place with almost five stars around the corner that had great vegan food. Done.
As I walked there, the wind whipped my frizzy hair into an even-more disastrous state. I entered and the woman at the front counter was a bit rude. Whatever. I then realized this place was less of a sit-down restaurant and more of a vegetarian buffet bar. I hate buffets. Disappointment began to sink in. I got a soup and sat by myself.
I messed up.
I had tried to find THE PERFECT FOOD PLACE and had failed. Technology did not help me. Why didn’t I just ask someone in real life for help? Why didn’t I just wander around and see what looked like it fit my vibe? I didn’t have a good excuse. I had begun to learn my lesson though.
I took the long way back that night. I walked seven miles. My steps were lit y’all. I decided to meet up with some friends for a few. They were going to meet up with other friends and grab dinner at a Turkish restaurant. This is probably not the time to tell them I’m half Armenian I mused to myself.
I didn’t want to go.
I imagined all the ways I would dread meeting so many new people.
I went anyway.
I met a funny and handsome Scottish guy who travels to LA often as he’s an actor. I thought of all the single girlfriends I could introduce him to. I met a few American ex pats who discussed the cultural differences they had encountered as they tried to assimilate into London. (Loss of personal space seemed the major issue.)
Finally, I casually chatted with a British-American gal who told me how she regretted waiting so long to move to London. She was so afraid of the unknown and the cost. “It turns out I was marvelously taken care of by the universe. I should have come earlier,” she beamed. We discussed life things. I mentioned my chronic back pain. She recommended a woo woo book her mother sent her that she initially wrote off, finally read and proclaimed that it had changed her life.
On my eleven hour flight home the next day, I stay off social media (the plane had wifi) and I read not one, not two, but three books by the author she had mentioned. I felt like world was blown open. My life felt changed. The plane ride seemed like the shortest transcontinental I had have ever experienced.
I marveled at how simply going with no plans led to this discovery. I am in awe. What magic we are all missing out on by our addiction to perfectionism. Embrace the unplanned. Wander without a road map. Be a mini vagabond even if you can not be a full time traveler. See what miracles await you as you let the world unfold for you.