I’m laying inside my tent listening to a light rain fall outside, mixed with the melody of a hundred tree frogs and crickets. Just thirty-six hours ago I was checking out of a hotel in Charleston, South Carolina with plans to take a short drive to the North Carolina Brunswick Islands. Instead tonight I’m camping on Chincoteague Island, Virginia. This is not the trip I had planned, but rather a thrilling spontaneous travel moment.
Having a plan for travel is a good thing. In fact I recommend it. It’s nice to know where you will eat, sleep, and play. It’s handy having all the addresses and points of interest saved in your favorite GPS device. It’s comfortable to know you have an itinerary so you don’t arrive a museum after it’s closed or miss the chance for a tour.
I am a meticulous planner. I’ll spend hours researching a destination before I hit the road. I will scour Google Earth looking for possible locations for sunrise and sunset photos. I will make notes about all the places I want to visit along with hours of operation and their address, saving it all into my Garmin GPS. Then I will create a complex itinerary of every single day from beginning to end.
But after years of travel I have learned one very important lesson: the itinerary is the first thing to go out the window. That is especially true when it comes to a spontaneous travel moment when you just pick a destination and go.
Spontaneous travel can be the most thrilling and rewarding. All you know is where you’re going. Sometimes you don’t even know where you’ll stay, relying on finding something when you get there. You don’t know where you’ll eat or play, where to go for history or entertainment, if they have grocery stores or places to shop. There can be no expectations, although the chance for disappointment is perhaps a little higher. Without any research before you go, you just don’t know what you’ll find.
Monday morning, I checked out of my hotel after a four-day trip to Charleston. I packed my car and set my GPS for a three-hour drive to Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina. It was miserably hot so I decided to cool down in the comfortable, air conditioned hotel lobby before climbing into my car (the AC works fine, though).
I started scrolling through my Facebook travel feeds to see if there were any interesting stories. One of the very first stories was from Virginia is For Lovers tourism: Chincoteague Pony Swim is Wednesday. Everything changed at that moment. The next three hours is a bit of a blur as I cancelled previous plans, made new ones, added a new address to the GPS, and hit the road in a hurry. I made an overnight stop in Myrtle Beach for the annoyingly necessary task of doing my laundry, packed my camping gear, and changed my batteries. The next morning I was on the road with only a single GPS address to follow and just one event on my itinerary.
Spontaneous travel is thrilling because it’s a giant mystery. You just don’t know what you’re going to find. Everything is fresh and exciting. The moment you discover a hidden museum, fantastic local eatery, or surprising entertainment is more exciting at the destination than it is at home on your computer.
I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I’m getting up for sunrise, then riding a bus out to Memorial Park for the pony swim. I don’t know much else, and I like that. I’m here for three days so I am sure I’ll find something to do. But whatever I do, the feel of the thrill will not subside on this trip.
P.S. The photo at the top was the view from the front of my tent this morning when I got up early to post this. Seriously it just doesn’t get much better than this.