Enjoying a fabulous Spanish meal under a fig tree while two waiters serenaded us with opera songs? Watching the solar eclipse mirrored in a crystalline lake in the Rockies? Discovering a falconry exhibition in a castle ruin? Getting lost on a bike trail outside of Copenhagen? Riding through the most magical forest ever, expecting to come across fairies and gnomes?
I did not plan any of these happening to me. And yet, they all did. Each of them added an experience to my life I will never forget.
My favorite way to travel is, first, to decide on a general location, and then make arrangements for where I will lay my head, and then how I will get from bed to bed. Beyond that, I get a general idea of what’s going on when I’m there. Then I pack for the weather.
Then I set myself to exploring rather than planning, following my nose rather than organizing every meal and outing. I love walking down a cobblestone street, feeling the nudge to turn right onto a side street to find it opens to a secret plaza or park with the shade of a glorious tree. My favorite vacation words are wandering, exploring, discovering, experiencing, and savoring.
I didn’t grow up traveling this way. My family planned the route, the tickets, the meals, and the stops to the last minute. It wasn’t bad, and we saw a lot. But it always felt like we were ticking off boxes.
Unfortunately, this became the rhythm of my life. Plan the day, week, month, and year; check off accomplishments, then on to the next thing! Year after year, lists and plans and calendars began to feel sterile and boring. I rebelled by refusing to plan even a Saturday outing in Dallas or a weekend in east Texas. Just get out and go, then see what happens.
Trust Your Gut and Embrace the Possibilities
At first, it was a bit scary. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. I started learning to look, see the possibilities, and feel the interest all around me. Then I had to get up my “umph” and… turn there! I learned to tell myself, don’t drive by that sign for a cute little park, turn in! Yes, you can stop at that fruit stand — stop now!
I realized, without the plans or the review on the phone to read, I didn’t trust my gut, intuition, or curiosity. And I learned I didn’t know how to appreciate the ordinary: If it wasn’t somehow extraordinary, I’d made a mistake, was missing out, or just not doing it “right.”
Following Your Inner Guidance System
Traveling and allowing — even forcing — myself to explore, to be curious, to practice seeing and feeling moments of beauty, joy, connection, and presence, helped me slowly discover and learn to trust my Inner Guidance System, or IGS.
Each of us has one. We just haven’t been taught to rely on it. And if we make a few wrong turns or don’t end up with that spectacular sunset, we decide we better go back to planning.
Yet it is the process of exploring and discovery that hones our ability to follow our nose. We must learn to listen to our inner nudge, to recognize how it speaks to us and what it feels like in the moment. Then we need to practice listening and acting on it, not overriding it with doubt or brushing it aside as unimportant.
Over and over again, as I took the turn, walked down the street, or changed direction, I learned to pay attention. I learned to assume there was something that had prompted me. So I moved forward, open, curious, and ready to experience life fully. I discovered beauty, joy, and something exciting and unique around every corner. I realized there is so much good in the world, I can find it under almost any tree and in every town.
What if we lived our lives with the same openness, curiosity, and willingness to explore? What if we lived trusting our IGS? Maybe life would have more of the same magic and stress-free living we used to find only on vacation.