Writing from somewhere over the Middle East
I’ve always loved flying. For some reason, the whole airport-hating, fear-of-turbulence gene must have skipped me, and I ended up as the kind of person who will gladly sign up for 40 hours of travel time and long-haul flights if it means a cool layover.
There’s something amazing about turning on a movie or taking a nap and all of a sudden waking up in a new place. Not only that, but everyone else that you pass in the airport or sit next to in a cramped row for 2 – 17 hours has an equally unique reason for being on their way to somewhere else, too.
It’s like a complete life reset for every human onboard, hurtling over land and oceans at 30,000+ feet—and that’s the most relaxing feeling I can think of.
So, as I chill on a 9-hour flight from Delhi to Copenhagen with nothing to do and literally nowhere else I can go, I’m just sitting here thinking about flying.
More specifically, I’m thinking about how I had NO idea I would be flying between these two places even six weeks ago.
When I packed up to leave for Thailand back in early March, I had a whole Southeast Asian fantasy year laid out in my head. Almost six months having passed since I had stepped foot back on US soil, I was beyond ready for the unlimited noodles, endless beaches, new people, jungle treks, and lots of solo time.
I was feeling pretty proud of “the new me” for doing such minimal planning this time around.
A little context: back when I first started solo traveling, I tended to over-plan most details of a trip—where I’d go, where I’d sleep, when I’d leave—a trait that seems to be pretty common (and is totally understandable) among people who are new to the whole all-on-your-own, no-safety-net thing.
I’ve mostly moved on from that style of travel, and all I had booked when I left this time was a one-way ticket to Chiang Mai, Thailand and an Airbnb for the first three nights. I got permission from my job to work from Asia, told my family I’d probably be gone for a year again, and off I went.
Here’s the thing: my non-plan was definitely still kind of a plan.
Sure, I didn’t have the details nailed down for my time in Thailand, but I had BIG (and specific) ideas for where I wanted to go and what I wanted to see in the near future.
I thought I’d work my way from the north of Thailand down to the islands, then maybe rent a motorcycle in southern Vietnam and drive to the north. Then Laos and Cambodia. Then Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Maybe I’d hop down to Australia and New Zealand for the holidays and my family could come meet me to snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef. And on and on and on.
The problem with wanting to go everywhere is that your mind is constantly trying to plan how you can physically go everywhere.
So, even though I went into this phase planning very little—and have continued to stick with staying flexible and booking as I go—my overarching “non-plan plan” was absolutely in existence. Hardcore.
I definitely did not end up in the Thai islands. I didn’t rent a motorcycle in Vietnam, or spend a few months living in a hut in Bali, or go to any of the other Southeast Asian countries I had totally NOT planned on going to.
Instead, I met a friend in Sri Lanka for most of April. I ended up on lockdown in Colombo after terrorists set off bombs across the country—five near my hotel—killing over 250 people on Easter Sunday. I booked the soonest flight available and ended up in India, alone and traumatized, unsure how my non-plan had gotten me there. (I’ll write about the Sri Lanka experience another time.)
The weirdest part: I felt this strange sort of guilt for how things had ended up, almost like I had cheated on my idea of how the year was going to go.
How the hell is it cheating to end up in India?
Answer: it’s not. I have nowhere to be. I specifically chose this lifestyle so that I would never have anywhere I had to be.
The only thing limiting me is my own mindset. Whew.
Here’s what I’ve realized, after spending five mind-blowing weeks in a country I had no intention of coming to this year:
Any plan, no matter the level of detail, will automatically narrow your focus and might make you miss the totally awesome opportunities existing just outside the boundaries you’ve created.
Now, I don’t think this means we have to give up planning and forethought altogether. Many people—myself included—feel at their best when certain aspects of their life or trip or whatever are thought out and prepared for ahead of time. What those specific details are depends on the person, and I think it’s totally fine for them to exist.
The real issues arise when we become so attached to our plan that we cling to it for dear life when the world is clearly trying to take us in another direction.
For instance, I almost wasted my time in India feeling like a fraud for completely pivoting on what I had told everyone I was going to do.
Fun things happen when you let go of your plans. One day in Jaipur I had planned on walking through some jewelry markets, but then made a friend at my hostel who invited me to Agra Fort. Once we got there, I got approached by a few women who worked for an Indian fashion brand and got to put on one of their dresses and get photographed for their website. It was hilarious and so fun and makes for a great travel story.
Letting go is the best.
News flash, Lauren: You change your mind about where to go next approximately four times per week. It’s a running joke in your family. You know it, everyone who knows you knows it, and the world clearly knows it. It’s time to move on and roll with whatever comes.
So here I am, rolling with it! An awesome opportunity presented itself in La Paz, Bolivia starting in August, so I’m making my way there with a month in Europe and a month at home along the way.
My non-plan is to bop around South America for the rest of the fall, but I guess I should go ahead and let go of that right now. Odds are that something will come up and I’ll have to make peace with resetting my mindset all over again—and that’s okay.
The only plans that have ever worked out for me were when I intentionally planned to have no plan. If that’s not a sign to sit down, buckle up, and enjoy the flight, I don’t know what is.