29 July 2011

spontaneity and winging it are not my strengths {running of the bulls, part III}

This is the continuation of my story about going to the running of the bulls in Pamplona with my friend Amie. You may be confused because nothing in this section is about the actual running.

You should probably read part I and part II—and then wait in anticipation for part IV because that might have some bulls in it.


I started planning.

Ran cost comparisons of doing point-to-point train tickets or getting a train pass.

Researched hotels on Ile de Ré, this little island off the Atlantic coast of France I’ve wanted to go to for years, ever since I learned that they dress up their donkeys in pants {that’s a story for another time}.

Realized that it would be nigh-on-impossible to get a hotel room in Pamplona.

I emailed Amie to mention this slight complication, and she wrote back, “Yes, in my readings, the hotels in Pamplona will be very, very full. Booked a year in advance. At 8am the Running of the Bulls takes place, so we would need to be there the night before as no train arrives that early. They say many people sleep outside which I am okay with, but I know most people would not be. How do you feel about that?”

How do I feel about that? I feel nervous, not okay, anxious, scared, the opposite of good, and like I want to bit all my nails down to the quick. That is how I feel about arriving late at night in an unknown town where they speak a language not known to me.

Spontaneity and winging it are not my strengths. Making labeled file folders, schedules, and binders filled with sheet protector-encased notes are. I thank my father for these traits, especially when I apply them to planning vacations.

I grew up taking three-week long camping trips out West every summer. Through the long, cold, dark months of tax season my accountant father would look forward to nights spent under the starry Utah sky. He’d plot our route through the backcountry, read up on hikes to take, and tell my sister and me that every child in America would rather backpack through a redrock canyon than go to Disney World.

While my dad obviously wasn’t gifted in interpreting the wants of the Millennial generation, he was (and still is) a very detailed, very skilled planner. His strength lies in the ability to make a plan not seem like a schedule.

Think of tour groups at the Grand Canyon: they file off the bus, blinking blankly at the bright sun, cameras dangling from their necks, and a guide sweeps them over to a viewpoint.

“Okay, here we have the Grand Canyon, a beautiful hole in the ground. Look at all the colors—makes for a great picture! You have 10 minutes here, and then it’s back on the bus because we have lunch reservations at this place where you get to eat inside a real Indian teepee. But we’re running behind schedule, so go, go, go—take your pictures! Make memories!”

That’s a schedule, and it’s no fun. It feels like you’re perpetually five minutes late and always leaves you wishing for more time and like you just missed out on something that could’ve been really cool, the kind of thing that could’ve made it into your one-minute summary of your vacation.

When travelling, my dad never makes me feel like we’re on a schedule—but I know there’s a plan. My dad taught me that if you can figure out in advance where you’re going to be sleeping, then you can enjoy every day more: you know you won’t be homeless come that night.

This not-being-homeless thing is key to my calmness level on vacations. I’ve also learned that it helps me to research ahead of time what I want to see or do in the area; then when I get there, I can just jump right in.

So you see, I don’t demand an hour-by-hour itinerary. I don’t need to have every meal figured out. I don’t even need to know what precisely I’ll be doing every day.

I just like to feel prepared. And I like to make binders. Binders are like my love language for travelling. As I pull together a trip, I can see in my binder so much to anticipate.

So there’s really why I like planning: because it helps me anticipate. It stretches out the fun of vacation, but of course this kind of fun only works if you actually like making binders.

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