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Personal essay: “Travel: Stage one”

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Sometimes I feel like the best part of travel is the planning of it. Think about it. When you only just made that booking, when all those months lay ahead, that long period of time before you actually set off, everything is still possible. No worries about delays, issues with the transit, no worrying about having packed everything and you are still months away from facing the reality of what it will really be like once you have reached your destination.

When I was younger I used to resent my father who spent quite some time, a standard number of months before departure planning out our family vacations in rigorous detail, including what activities to do each and every day and at which time. In part I resented it because he was loath to let anyone else suggest anything, especially if it was something he wasn’t interested in, and now that I think about it, it was probably because I could not have free reign in planning the trip’s activities myself, but my own childish wants would have clashed with those of the adults. There have been few such limitations on many trips I have been to on my own though, now that I am all grown up, and when I first realized that, it was both thrilling and a little scary.

So, you sit there, staring that travel confirmation in the face, seeing the departure and arrival dates, seeing those few limits placed on you, like the flights, the hotel check in  and check out times and know that the sky is nearly the limit about what might happen. That is when you hit google, when you look up travel guides and purchase maps and spread them out across your coffee or kitchen table and see that future destination mapped out in all its glory. These days you can also use Google Maps to make the map come to three dimensional life. The streets you will walk down, the things you might see, if you only plan this out just right.

For my latest trip to London I borrowed their most recent guide book from the library and marked all the interesting sights and things with strips of colorful post it notes, scribbling down useful details like admission prices and opening hours on the paper. I made puzzles in my mind with them, giving some a higher priority than others, trying to fit as much as possible into the week I would be spending in the old English capital. There was one bold idea to try and hit all the museums that lay quite close to each other, like the Museum of Natural History, the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, but once I was there and my dream like plans was faced with grim reality of the passage of time and my own meandering ways, I had to skip the last one and try to not linger too long in the Science Museum, before it would close on me.

Those sort of things always happen once you get to the place you’re going, you find out things take more time, you discover places have shut earlier than you thought, you find crowds, issues with the public transport and sweltering heat that make the long walks you intended unbearable, like my last trip to Berlin during a huge heat wave of temperatures eagerly trying to reach 40 degrees Celsius. I had to cut a shopping trip short because the chocolate I had bought at the Ritter Sport store was melting in the bag I kept them in.

But when you are still in the planning stage, you can push all those potential complications aside and just focus on what you want to do, the things you want to see, to feel to taste and experience. Making plans in case you can never come here again. The saying “Carpe Diem” or “Seize the day” has been much overused since it was popularized, and even I know that I might have used it in my writing far too much, but when it comes to travel, there is that simple reality that unless you are quite well off, belonging to that rare top percent, you might only see certain places but once in your life. And then it does become vitally important to bear that in mind when you lay our your travel plans. This might be a once in a life time event, so dig up all those dreams you once had about the place, the things you saw in movies or documentaries that filled you with pangs of envy, be it dining at a certain restaurant or watching the sun set over a famous landmark, the sights made famous in history and books. Make room for those things you have collected in your mind, all those dreams and wishes and hope that once you get to your much dreamed of destination, that real life does not force you to alter your plans too much.

After all, the plans are there to ensure you have no regrets, no matter what happens.

 

Happy and safe travels, everyone!

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