My oldest friend has known me since Kindergarten, and is probably one of the most easy-going, fun loving people I have ever met. Josh is the guy who flew by the seat of his pants at our college job, the guy who would pick me up from the bus station for a visit and just drive in no particular direction to see what we could see. For as long as I have known him, he has always been down for impromptu hangouts, unscheduled festivities, and a serious amount of fun. While I am no wet blanket, it is not without a certain level of planning that I approach my life, and until recently, traveling away from home in particular.
Two years ago Josh moved to New Orleans, and I have since visited him twice. The first trip was a pre-meditated birthday extravaganza that coincided with Mardi Gras 2014. It is a blur of delicious food, brightly colored drinks, and a serious hangover. The second trip started out as a joke: he invited me to his housewarming party on Facebook, and kiddingly I accepted, and then prank called him about bringing my roomie. We were both giggling all the while, knowing how good it would be to see one another, and then there was the moment of silence that is equivalent to ‘the look’ in movies right before the characters do something spur of the moment, and the next thing I know we are talking Southwest Airmiles and landing times.
One of the conditions of this trip was that I was not going to plan anything. I would not recommend traveling to a new place without connections and not having a game plan, but when visiting a trusted old friend in a City you are even remotely familiar with, it can be freeing to let go of research and logistics in favor of spontaneity and going with the flow. Old habits die-hard and more than once Josh had to remind me that I was on vacation, not a planner, and he had everything under control. Letting go is hard, guys.
But once you do there is an interesting feeling. For myself, I would describe it as part surrender, part exhilaration. When you understand that planning everything is impossible, and that many things are out of your control you open yourself to a lot of possibility. You give yourself up to the flow of your trip, to the people around you, and to whatever could happen, and acknowledge that you don’t need to control it all and you can still have a good time. And oh boy, in New Orleans that can mean a lot of things. We danced, we sang, we ate, we drank, and we laughed. We met new friends, saw new shows, and even marched in an impromptu parade. It was rejuvenating in all of the ways that getting out of your element can be.
I think that all travelers are aware, somewhere in the backs of their minds, that there is only so much control you can have on a trip anyway. Some folks resist it as much as possible: they get pushy, assertive and authoritative when planes get stuck on the runway due to mechanical errors; they start to hiss and raise their voices when delays happen. Most of these things are out of our control. They end up being out of the control of the people who we pay to take care of us while we are traveling: the rental car agents, the gate agents, the hotel concierges. Runways close, and airports shut down traffic as a result of bad weather. We want a certain level of customer service from these providers, but sometimes they can only raise their hands and politely remind us that there is very little they can do.
When our flight to New York City was delayed during our layover in Milwaukee, we shrugged it off and planned on having a long and relaxed happy hour. When our flight was cancelled, we groaned and knew we had a long night of re-working our travel plans. When we were informed we’d be spending two more days in Milwaukee and getting back to NYC just in time to miss a different flight out, we knew we had to brace ourselves and figure out a new plan. That plan happened to involve a rental car, a 20+ hour drive, a stop in Chicago, and finding a Statue of Liberty in a place calling itself Center of The World, Ohio.
It was not easy, or the most pleasant experience though neither was it downright miserable. I think this is partly because once we made the decision to drive; there weren’t any other options other than ‘head east’. Head east at 75-80 MPH, since the Midwest highways are flat, and the speed limits are high.
When we finally got home and were feeling human again after a long shower, Katie and I started to reflect on our journey: on the good food, the dancing, and the driving. We talked about the choices we made, and the way we felt revived. Under the exhaustion from 30+ hours of traveling, I began to notice that by surrendering myself to the spontaneous, I felt more prepared in my ability to manage the stress of the cancelled flight. This is the meaning of the old adage “expect the unexpected”, and this strategy saved me a lot of anger and frustration in Milwaukee. Looking back, I feel a new strength from having learned that going with the flow means spontaneous fun as well as well as stress. It is important to know that you can do it both because you want to, and because you have no other choice.