“Not all those who wander are lost”. J. R. R. Tolkien.
I found myself spending a little too much time dwelling on this quote recently, and to my surprise I was actually getting rather annoyed at the words. Initially, I had accepted the quote, expansive as it is, and heeded it no more thought.
Then suddenly I found myself getting more and more irked. Why should anyone who wanders be lost? What was this ludicrous assumption?
Wandering is a decision, a choice we make. Becoming lost rarely is a decision we comfortably make.
To be completely and utterly lost whilst wandering doesn’t happen very often. After all, to wander can be as firm a decision as to follow a mapped out route.
I think that to wander without any aim or purpose at all would be difficult. To truly clear your mind and follow no specific direction at all is pretty challenging.
Even if you went for a stroll across a moor you’d never been to before, without food, shelter, water, map or money in your pocket, there would still be a part of you that knew that before nightfall you would have to find somewhere to eat and sleep. That, eventually, would be your aim. Your purpose.
Are you lost physically? Yes, maybe.
But have you mentally lost your way? No, not really. You are still making a choice, however bizarrely irrational it may seem to everyone else.
I mean, come on, what were you thinking?
To wander – to walk or move in a leisurely or aimless way – is something that, I believe, should attempted more often.
For someone who likes to travel often, I am surprisingly haphazard in my approach to it. Sure, I decide initially where I want to go and book my flights, organise my visas, sort out accommodation for the first few nights in my new destination, but after that I don’t bother with the details.
I’m dreadful for winging it.
However, I wasn’t always that way inclined. When I decided I wanted to travel in 2011 I sat in the travel agent’s office and painstakingly booked each section of my trip. I was going to spend time in South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America; it was going to take me 11 months to fly around the world.
In preparation I read online articles, guidebooks, blogs and trip reviews. I looked at photos and asked people for their opinions. I worried, I fretted, I panicked. But none of it was to any avail.
The need for such specific organisation went out the window as soon as I stepped foot on Thai soil and realised that my trip was just that. My trip. The path I was going to take would unfurl itself organically based on what I saw, tasted and experienced in the heat of the moment.
Apart from getting a few hints and tips about where to visit, and to calm my ravaged pre-trip nerves, no one could prepare me for how I would feel when I was on the road. When you are in the thick of it, the decisions you make are based on how you are feeling at the time.
My foray into the unknown left me feeling so emboldened that I realised that my detailed, pre-booked network of flights carrying me from country to country in just a few short months were incongruous to the journey I was really trying to take.
As I sat in that travel agent’s office just a few months earlier, what I possibly couldn’t have appreciated was that to plan all the steps in a journey that was not just huge in distance but also hugely momentous in my own life was an act of clipping my wings before I tried to fly.
Going With The Flow
So I jacked in my plans and slammed on the brakes. Instead of the five months in Australia I had initially planned, I ended up staying for twelve. And from that moment onward, my ten month round-the-world trip extended into a complete change of lifestyle and outlook.
During my time in New Zealand, which initially should have been one month and ended up as two years, I embarked upon two road-trips. My pre-trip planning consisted of buying a road map of the country, throwing my guidebook in the car and making notes in my diary that looked like: ‘April 17th – Wanaka’. When storms caused power outages along the West Coast of the South Island, I just consulted my map again and diverted my course.
Did I see everything NZ had to offer as I pootled around both islands in my old Subaru? Most definitely not. Did I have a fantastic time? Yes, without question.
Nowadays, I love going with the flow. I know some people spend hours pre-trip planning and organising every detail, but I fall into the camp of plotting a vague route and seeing what happens. From that first few days in South East Asia in 2011 I’ve come to realise that I find that far more exhilarating.
To use another old adage: life’s a journey.
I guess some of us just like taking the journey from Point A, not necessarily caring about where Point B actually is. It’s the experience of getting to wherever Point B turns out to be that can be the most enjoyable aspect.
I’m going to Spain and Portugal on a road trip in a few weeks time. I’ve booked the ferries in and out of the country but the middle section remains a delicious blank. Unknown.
And I will wander and I will love it.
Will I be lost? Most certainly not.
What are you thoughts on this subject? Are you a planner and someone who sticks to your outlined itinerary or do you prefer to fill in the blanks as you go? I’d love to hear your experiences. Share them with me!