We’ve all read the BuzzCatalogue articles about the “27 Places You Need To Drop Everything And Fly To NOW.” We’re all just restless millennial expressions of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady on an endless adventure. While these listicles provide the distraction necessary to sludge through another day at the office, they rarely discuss what actually happens when you decide to drop everything and embark on an aimless adventure.
The reality is, when you decide that your underlying goal is to be spontaneous and to pursue a path of ambiguous adventure, the ennui and vague anxiety of this path are at times equal to the excitement.
The study abroad student who books a 20 Euro flight to Brussels for the weekend doesn’t normally mention the dilemma of aimlessness that he is confronted with upon arrival. Of course the European Union headquarters is only a photo op away. But he’s likely not a foreign diplomat, so he’ll spend the rest of the weekend hopelessly lost with a Lonely Planet guide – searching for waffle recommendations on the way to see a peeing statue.
Before I risk coming off as cynical, I want to emphasize that I am not attempting to discredit the importance of impulsive travel decisions. I once committed to a 10,000 mile flight over a few drinks and a credit card. I am suggesting that the lack of purpose associated with aimless travel has a place for discussion equal to the incredible thrill of arriving in a strange place, where you are the stranger and you speak the foreign language.
Before I continue, I should clarify an important part of this discussion and where much of this anxiety arises. I have noticed that traveling for the pure sake of traveling is wildly different than that related to organized or business travel. I have wildly more experience with the former.
I think that these potential anxieties are largely neglected in the “throw a dart at the map” style of travel advertised on many click-friendly publications. While the importance of travelling far and wide outside of where you feel traditionally comfortable remains, I rarely hear these aimless frustrations discussed outside of casual conversation.
I have purchased my fair share of cheap weekend flights to Point B, assuming vacancy at a backpacker’s hostel upon arrival, but rarely does anyone talk about the frenzied occupying of time between the hostel check-ins. While guided apps and tourist must-sees occupy the existential void of being someplace where you have no clear reason for being, they do not consider the time spent at cafes or bars with friends contemplating the absurdity of being there in the first place.
Depending on how touristy the destination, traveling for experience is also quite different than vacationing. On vacation you don’t need an explicit reason for being where you end up. The only requirements are that there are things at which to look or that there is a beach. When traveling for adventure, you develop a need to at least personally justify your reasons for ending up in that location. I neglected this aspect for a long time, telling myself, at the end of many trips, “next time you’re here, you’ll have an actual reason for it.”
To most this may be an obvious consideration in the first place, that shouldn’t require multiple aimless adventures across the globe to realize. But to those inclined to nomadic tendencies like myself, I think will relate to the feelings of aimlessness associated with picking a destination, and simply going. Sort out the details along the way. Once again, the benefits of going wherever you feel the urge outweigh any anxieties experienced in the process, but I can’t help but notice that there is an aspect overlooked by most articles entertaining would-be nomads.
I’m also not proposing that each impulse to hit the road should require a meticulously prepared itinerary. I certainly will not be doing so in every future journey, nor would I care to. Some of the most memorable experiences that I have, are a result of this spontaneity.
The point that I am making, is that one of the understated aspects of simply picking up and going, is that there will be a lot of time spent asking yourself what you’re doing there in the first place. I think this is relatively unique to the sort of spontaneous or aimless travel discussed here. I also think it’s important to learn to embrace these thoughts and anxieties, to be present in those moments, and to appreciate each mile of the ride.
Who knows, the seemingly aimless and uncertain time spent between destinations might be the most valuable and reflective part after all, if proper attention is paid to the present and to our surroundings.
Anyway, I need to go buy some bus tickets and continue to over-think everything at the next layover.