Rolling with the punches: Travelling Without a Plan
I was sitting in the airport, trying to get comfortable between the rigid, metal armrests of the connected chairs, watching the bustle of frantic travellers trying to catch their flights. I sighed, settling into a position with my legs dangling over my large backpack that was propped against my seat. We had been waiting in the airport for hours, and I was more than jealous of the people boarding their planes and taking off for their summer vacations. But that’s the chance you take when you fly standby.
Marshall and I were at the bottom of the standby list, and, after waiting an entire day at the airport and getting our hopes up, we were only let down by missing the three planes we were trying to get on. The outcome was pretty clear. Amsterdam was too popular of a destination for us to try to get there on this particular weekend.
We could’ve given up right then and there. I mean, what were we supposed to do? Our plan was to go to Amsterdam and meet up with our friends in Prague a couple of days later, but this giant wrench of missing flight after flight made it seem like any hope of getting to Europe was a lost cause.
We stayed optimistic though. That’s what you have to do. There’s always going to be something that goes wrong with any plan. Murphy’s Law, right? In the end, strict plans and tight schedules cause more stress than they’re worth. Adventures, travelling, it’s supposed to be fun. When something goes wrong, don’t fight it. Roll with it.
That night Marshall and I did some research. We looked up other flights and alternate destinations, and we found one whose airlines were practically empty. By 9 AM the next day we were taking off into the rising sun, watching the cars and people shrink into ants beneath us, headed off toward the Atlantic, on our way to Zurich, Switzerland.
We had no clue about anything in Switzerland. My grandparents had been there a few times, but other than that, we had no advice and no plan to go off of. No hostels reserved, no activities on the itinerary, but we were excited about it. That’s the mindset you need. There’s something freeing about arriving in a foreign country and figuring things out for yourself. We went to the tourist office in the train station to find a hostel, we talked to locals to find out what the best, off-the-beaten-path things were to do, and we met people in our hostel and listened to stories of their travels, gathering ideas about where we wanted to go next.
We had no plan, but we figured it out. We were okay. And Switzerland ended up being our favorite place in Europe.
When we got to Zurich we walked around the beautiful, cobble-stoned city, admiring the green-blue river that ran through its center. We stumbled into a medieval festival that apparently happens only one weekend every three years. We ordered incredible food in mangled Dutch, mainly just pointing and hoping for the best.
That night we took a train to Lucerne because we heard it was pretty and offered some good hiking. By the next day we were trekking up a mountainside, hiking into the clouds (literally) through six thousand feet of elevation change. We were joined by a girl staying in our hostel, a solo traveller from Canada with whom we shared stories and an unforgettable day on Mount Pilatus. Our views on the way up were of green fields, dusted yellow with dandelions, and of Lake Lucerne, its crystal blue surface shimmering in the sun. We were surrounded by snowy peaks towering above us and by old-fashioned towns stretching below us.
The next day we hopped on a train to Interlaken, a town nestled in Lauterbrunnen Valley and known for its adventures. Interlaken was the most breath-taking place I’ve ever seen. The valley was lined on either side by slate gray cliffs, their edges steep and jagged. Waterfalls burst from their tops and cascaded down their sides; they were so high that the water turned to mist before it hit the ground.
That’s what I’ve learned about going on adventures. Having a strict plan can be stressful; it can ruin a trip. But, by straying from your plan, you never know what you might stumble across, may it be a triannual festival or an incredible person or an awe-inspiring view. Face obstacles one at a time and don’t let them get you down. Some of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, I would’ve never had the chance to if everything in my plans went accordingly.
Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and see where it takes you.