The epic travel adventure story never includes a section titled: Over Planning. Why? Because all epic travel stories are about what went wrong, nobody cares about a perfectly executed travel story (unless it is a travel story where Navy Seals are involved.) What most people like to read about are trips where a multitude of things go wrong. Shackleton’s trips to cold places, the Donner Party, Cheryl Strayed’s novel Wild and almost every story written about mountain climbing are examples of how we like to read about other people’s misfortunate mistakes. Some of this fascination probably revolves around the fact that we like to avoid painful situations, but we also enjoy reading about other people’s pain, especially if they are bragging about their great trip to Europe and things went a bit wrong.
I am not immune to these mistakes, almost ever trip I have ever been on has had something go wrong. As I have aged (some people get older, I age like cheese or wine) my expectations for a perfect trip have disappeared and I have begun to embrace the things that will inevitably go wrong.
Now that I am almost done with the planning stage for the Summer of Jon, I have begun wondering what will go wrong this summer. The internet has made planning for a big trip much, much easier. You can read reviews of hotels, you can look at pictures, and you can even use Google Earth to see if the hotel actually exists. In the olden days, the days before electricity and such, I would do extensive planning by looking at a map and deciding where to go. Then I would go. Sometimes it worked out just dandy and other times I ended up sleeping on a pool table, or drinking water from a large cistern with a dead animal in it. Internet planning is not idiot-proof though, I still am able to make dumb mistakes, just ask anyone in my family they can regale you for hours about all the mistakes I have made.
As I wait for July 1st, my temptation is to over plan. I have the basics down (flights, hotels, and a few attractions) but I have to fight with myself to avoid planning each day like I am invading the continent of Europe and not just merely visiting it. Should I find out what traveling exhibits will be at the museums I want to go to? Should I decide today what type of food I will want to eat for lunch on the fifth day of my trip (answer: something cheap)? Should I learn a few phrases of German to help me when I inevitably end up in a bakery getting yelled at? Or should I just arrive and let fate take over? Right now I am comfortable with fate.
Looking back on all my travel, the days that are most vivid are the ones where everything went wrong. There was the British Airways strike that grounded my family in London for two extra days, there was the wind storm that cancelled my train ride to Bacharach and took my family on an epic sojourn that only Ulysses could truly understand, there was the day we went to a water-park in Paris only to be turned away because I refused to wear a Speedo, and there was the day I took a bike ride to Versailles in a Biblical, Noah and the Ark rainstorm. I hated those days, but as I look back on those days I am reminded why those days are so valuable. Those bad days make the great ones that much better.