As I write this, my last vacation for the year is coming up, and with two weeks to go, the final preparations begin. It’s at the two-week point that I print out what I call my “camping list”, an itemized checklist of everything that must be done and packed in order to make my trip successful. I work on the list before I leave and take it on a clipboard when I travel, making notes about what I might want to do differently on my next trip. This keeps the list current and, although not a perfect system, my list generally prevents major mistakes like forgetting a sleeping bag or arriving in Yellowstone without hiking books. I also save time by not having to rethink every contingency every time I make a trip.
Traveling is one of my favorite parts of life. Planning for it is always exciting. It’s a mix of spontaneity and predictability. The predictable parts are taken care of by the list. It helps me organize the mundane things that make a trip run smoothly, so that when I’ve put a hold on my mail and called the credit card companies to notify them that I’ll be traveling, and every other item on the list is checked off, I can feel confident that I have everything in order and can relax and have fun.
But, travel preparation starts long before that. There’s a whole process involved in making a trip as good as it can be. First, I have to figure out where I want to go, then I have to arrange a time when I can go, and then make sure I have enough money to do what I want to do. The best part comes when I’ve chosen a travel destination and have to learn all that I can do when I am there.
Just how I plan my trips makes an important difference. My tendency in the past was to limit myself, keeping to a set of safe and fun, but not particularly adventurous, options that kept within my comfort level. I was held back by what I thought was “reasonable.” Sometimes I wanted to try more, but I didn’t let myself think in different directions.
When my imagination started to wander, I chafed at the self-imposed limits. When I started giving myself permission to think out of my comfort zone, to consider options I had thought were off-limits to me, I began to recognize what was really possible, and the fantasy of better adventure started to become the reality of making plans and then taking action.
This was an important lesson. It was the mental limits that really undercut me. I gained so much more by allowing myself to go where I previously hadn’t been willing to go. What was safe for me was also less than what I could have.
Personally, I believe that even the most improbable impulses and flights of fancy can be productive. That’s because sometimes a “wild” idea or one off the beaten track can be toned down to something more reasonably possible, or it shows you a side of your desires that you haven’t really looked at. But too often we have self-imposed limits that keep us from roaming freely with our thinking, and we proscribe the number and range of options we’ll explore, holding back our chances for happiness.
As a counselor, I talk with clients who need to look at their lives in a new way. This is particularly true for those who are at a stuck point in life, or in a transition out of one phase of life without certainty about where they will go next. They need to be open to exploring many roads in order to find which one will lead in the right direction. I try to encourage them to brainstorm, to cast the net wide and draw in any idea that occurs to them. I want them to realize that it can take a while to get your plans right, and that dealing with the different possibilities – discarding those that don’t work and developing those that do – sharpens your vision about what you really want to do.
This can be hard to do, but if you want to do it, remember that it begins when you allow yourself the freedom to think outside your boxes, and accept that brainstorming may not lead to a definite conclusion right away.