Do You Plan Your Wanderings?

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “The Happy Wanderer.”

I’m a planner. I admit it. But whether or not my children believe me, I wasn’t always one. When I traveled to Ensenada, I let my friend plan our weekend. When I traveled to San Felipe, I went with the flow. On my trip to Australia, we were free and spontaneous. We chose where to stay and for how long, money and a flight home our only boundaries. Even my first trip to Paris and Zurich were simple – I stayed with friends, brought guide books, and decided each day where I would be a tourist.

But then I had children. And the world became more crowded. I discovered that summer camps would fill up before spring. With a child with food allergies, spontaneity was difficult and wrought with disappointment and a hungry child. Slowly, I learned to plan. And now, I always plan.

My hesitation and anxiety about traveling to South Africa was lessened by learning more about the country, where we could and would go. Planning has allowed me to avoid long lines and eat gluten free at Disney, visit our sponsored child in Lesotho, camp at Pawtuckaway State Park every summer for years, be led by a tour guide through Gettysburg National Park, and visit the Senate on a trip to Washington.

But I still love spontaneity. And while doing a little research before traveling to a new place helps me to find the special and unique, or avoid those well traveled and touristy, destinations, spontaneity allows us to change course. To listen to recommendations from other travelers or discover new places ourselves.

Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have attended a hearing for Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, watched the surfers in Half Moon Bay, or listened to the Wave Organ in San Francisco. I wouldn’t have spent the night in a treehouse, picked strawberries in Pescadero, gone hiking with the Hobart Bushwalking Club, or danced Nia in Santa Barbara. Without spontaneity, I wouldn’t have met Terry from England who later invited me to her wedding in Athens. I wouldn’t have stayed with the dairy farmer in Auckland or gone hot air ballooning outside of Alice Springs.

The travel world is so different than it was – the internet provides information and access to so many places, and apps like Yelp can allow a little bit of spontaneity with less risk of disappointment. You can read about where to go and what to see on blogs and share your experiences on social media.

But there’s nothing quite as freeing as just setting out, doing what you feel like doing at the moment, eating when you’re hungry, and being ready to just let things happen.

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A Souvenir Allowance

Traveling with children can be a challenge. The “I want this, I want that,” may abound. It’s exhausting to say no all the time, but the alternative will most likely result in a spoiled child. Just remember Veruca Salt from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and her constant phrase, “Daddy, I want it now!”

Before our trip to Disney World, when our kids were 8 and 10 years old, a friend gave me some good advice. Let each child choose their own souvenirs but give them a price limit. So, before our trip, we decided on a dollar value. Each child would get a souvenir allowance of $25, and they could spend it how they wished.

I remember walking through the BoardWalk and seeing signs for hair wraps.

My daughter elbowed me, “I want that.” But when she found out how much it was ($22), she changed her mind. The quest for a souvenir continued for the next few days. Would it be a neon stick for $12, a necklace or book? A stuffed animal or hat?

The questions didn’t stop, “Can I have … ?” was constant, but I never had to say, “No.” Both kids were empowered, and I was no longer the “bad guy.” What will your kids buy if they’re in charge?

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When Traveling, Remember the Moscow Rule

While traveling in Paris many years ago, my American friends introduced me to the Moscow Rule. Not to be confused with the Moscow Rules, this rule has to do with shopping and souvenirs and is fairly simple. If you see something, buy it, because you may never see it again.

My friends told me that this rule originates from people standing in line in Moscow. If you lived in Moscow under Communist rule and saw people standing in line, you joined them, because whatever they were waiting for you most likely needed or would need and you may not have the opportunity to buy it another time.

Although I try to remember this rule when I travel, the times I forget are the times I regret. Like the time I didn’t buy the metal toy truck in Cape Town because I knew we’d see several more during our trip (we didn’t).

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Or when I didn’t buy a drum and then had to resort to the airport gift shop. Or when I passed up a pretty necklace at a price I saw quadrupled in future stores.

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Sometimes it’s easy to remember, like buying Lindt chocolates in Zurich, wool scarves with the family clan in Edinburgh, or maple syrup in Vermont. I find it more difficult to remember when I see something different. Is it something I truly want? Is the price a good one? Will I see it again?

Maple Syrup

To prevent those post traveling blues, remember the Moscow Rule: if you see something unique, something you’re unlikely to find online or anywhere else, snatch it up, because you may never see it again. Most likely, you won’t regret the purchase, and the memories it holds will bring smiles for a lifetime.

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Have a Magical Day!

“Have a magical day!” a cheery voice said every time I spoke to someone at Disney whether it was to make reservations or just to ask a question. Although I laughed at the phrase, I had no idea then how truly magical our Disney experience would be.

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Soon we were smelling oranges while hang gliding over California on the ride Soarin,’ turning green on Mission to Mars, and traveling to infinity and beyond with Buzz Lightyear. We raced with the other Disney tourists to Space Mountain and avoided lines by following the plan outlined in The Unofficial Guide  to Walt Disney World.

Buzz Light Year

Meals were magical, too. At each Disney restaurant, the chef personally spoke to my daughter and prepared a gluten-free meal for her. We ate well and were entertained at a 1950s diner, in Polynesia (where we did the hula and watched the fireworks from our table), in the Wilderness, and even in Morocco.

But the real magic occurred on our last day before the park had even opened. When an Animal Kingdom worker heard our family had never been on the Kilimanjaro Safari ride, he said, “Come with me.” Hesitant at first (we didn’t want to lose our place in line!), we followed him to the front of the line and through the gates. “This is the first family!” he said, as we walked by employees getting ready to open the park.

Animal Kingdom

“Jambo!” they said and waved as we walked by, making us feel like royalty. After our own private ride on the safari, we were given a day pass for unlimited safari rides. We sang and danced during the “Festival of the Lion King” and rode the wet Kali River Rapids, before leaving the park just as a shuttle bus arrived to take us back to our hotel. It truly was a magical day.

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Trip taken December 2005.