SURPRISE! A well-planned itinerary can be a thing of beauty and inspiration. For the ultra-well-organized among us, that itinerary can be a daily source of pre-trip excitement as we imagine all the sights we’ll see, the meals we’ll eat and the gorgeous accommodations in which we’ll luxuriate.
Cruises are well-known for their carefully curated shore excursion itineraries – and I love them. As soon as I’m booked, I settle down for a fab evening of exploring all the choices, weighing the options, deciding which day I’d like to spend touring and which snorkeling or white water rafting or zip lining or.... and I’m rarely disappointed. The experiences are every bit as exciting as promised and I always seem to come back with a smile on my face.
Coach and other land-based tours offer that same well-organized lineup of happy expectations – places you want to see, with tour guides on hand to make sure you don’t miss a thing. It’s no wonder that busy people like us choose to leave the planning of our precious holiday time to professionals who’ll make sure that we enjoy every minute.
Yes, it’s good to know where we’re going and wonderfully relaxing to know that someone else is taking care of getting us there, but it’s also important to leave time for those memorable, spontaneous moments of independent discovery. You don’t even have to leave the beaten path or abandon your itinerary to find them. It’s simply a matter of opening yourself to the experience you weren’t expecting.
Not long ago, I enjoyed a lovely tour of the stately homes and gardens of the Lake District and Yorkshire with Albion Journeys (you can read all about it in this issue). I expected to find a wealth of beautiful flowers and architecture, but not the fabulously scandalous relative I encountered (now, I know you’ll read my piece!). That discovery led to a couple of hours of fascinating online detective work and a whole lot of giggles.
Sometimes, travel surprises are so profound that they change the way you see the world – particularly the natural world. A few years ago, on a fantastic safari tour in Botswana, I left my group and our planned itinerary for an afternoon, to join a young guide eager to give his first private tour. Paddling a flat-bottomed canoe along a river studded with the eyes of lurking crocodiles and hippos, we came to an island. Was I ready for an impromptu hike? We passed termite nests taller than I am, saw lion scat (“Remember,” said the guide, “If you see a lion, stand still. If you run, you’re lunch.”) and watched shorebirds wheeling above. Suddenly, we heard what sounded like the heartbeat of the earth, a rhythmic pounding that echoed in our chests. We stood frozen to the spot as a black and white swirling herd of zebras thundered into sight. Because we were so still, the zebra herd was unafraid and stopped to graze, moving close to us as they did. I could hear their breathing, see the glistening of their eyes and the tiny insects that landed on their ears. It was a moment I’ll never forget – a moment of complete surprise – the kind of moment that makes all of our travels worthwhile.
On your next journey, I wish you a wonderful itinerary, a great guide and more than a few fabulous surprises.