So I posted last week about the joys of family vacations. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I love planning trips. When it comes to travelling as a family, I don’t believe in too much spontaneity; I think you need an agenda and that when you tumble off the train in a strange city, there should be a hotel reserved in your name so you know where to go. As a result, I plan our trips pretty thoroughly and well in advance. What happens each day may be a lovely surprise but I always know where we’re going to sleep at night.
However, there are drawbacks to too much careful planning.
Five years ago, after the 2009 Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, our family rented an RV and drove west, exploring some of the US. Our plan was to drive all the way to Yellowstone National Park, where we would see Old Faithful and go white-water rafting. I had booked ahead campsites in most of the places we planned to stay, up to and including a short stop near Mount Rushmore and then onward to Yellowstone, where we would stay for a couple of nights.
Driving an RV was much less fun than we had imagined. I know a lot of people love their RVs and have made great vacation memories in them, but my main impression was that just to keep on target with our travel schedule we were spending seven or eight hours a day pushing this giant box along the highway, not spending much time stopping to see interesting things. It drove more slowly and guzzled more gas than we had imagined, and I didn’t dare attempt to drive the thing so Jason was behind the wheel hour after hour. As we approached Mount Rushmore I dared to say to Jason, “What if we didn’t go on to Yellowstone for the weekend? We’d miss out on Yellowstone, sure, but we’d spend a lot less time driving and a lot more time relaxing and doing fun things.”
I’m such a hardcore trip planner that it actually took me a couple of days on the road, in the RV, to think that one through and realize that I could change our plans. And yes, I’m sad we never saw Old Faithful, and didn’t go whitewater rafting (although this past summer we did it right back home in Newfoundland and it was awesome). But some of our kids’ best travel memories are from that KOA Kampground in South Dakota where we spent four lovely, fun, relaxing days. As soon as I called ahead to the campground in Yellowstone to cancel our reservation, I knew it was the right decision. I felt lighter, safer and more relaxed when we made a course correction and scaled back our plans.
The same thing happened twice on our recent trip to Europe — once in the Netherlands, when we had planned to take our rented canal boat to Amsterdam, and once in England when we had planned a day trip from London to Liverpool. In both cases Jason and I talked it over and realized the added time we’d spend and the stress of getting there (and in the case of Liverpool, the cost) would be more of a burden than it was worth. On the canal boat, we spent the day sailing to a much nearer town, mooring there and sightseeing (we still went to Amsterdam by train later, after we’d returned the canal boat as planned). In England we never did get to see Liverpool (which I wanted to see mainly because of my obsession with visiting all the Peter Pan statues in the world — there’s one in Liverpool I haven’t seen yet) but had an extra day in London, a quiet relaxing day which we really needed.
In every one of these cases, the decision to make a course correction has meant missing out on something, but it has also led to immediate feeling of rightness, a sense that pressure has been relieved. And because I’m a big believer in listening to your intuition and your gut feelings when you make decisions, I’m trying to figure out how to apply what I’ve learned on vacation to my everyday life.
I know all of us who have goals, dreams and aspirations (and who doesn’t?) are laden down with advice to “Never give up on your dreams! Keep at it!! Don’t get discouraged!!! Keep trying and you WILL get there!!!!” The thing is, depending on your definition of “get there,” this can get to be very frustrating advice by the time you’ve reached midlife. Maybe “getting there” looks like RV’ing to Yellowstone or canal-boating to Amsterdam — something that would be really cool to accomplish, but might be so time-consuming and costly that the destination isn’t, in the end, worth the journey. How does one know?
I sat at coffee with one of my best writer-friends awhile back and we talked, as we so often do, about where our writing careers are going. I said that with the big 5-0 birthday approaching for me next year, I had started to feel that it was time to focus on what I can do, what I am successful at — which, at the moment, is writing historical novels set here in Newfoundland, which will probably never be widely read outside Newfoundland but which have many kind and dedicated local readers. Maybe, I said, that’s my niche, and I should be happy with that niche and not strive for more — a bigger publisher, wider sales, literary prizes, publication for books I’ve written that don’t fit into that niche. I said I’d been thinking that I might self-publish a couple of my unpublished books at some point — not with the hopes of reaching a huge audience, but just to make them available to people who already know and like my work. Perhaps this is enough, I said. I’ve been through that whole round of querying agents over and over, getting rejected, re-working my query or my manuscript — Never give up! Never surrender!! — and I’m no longer sure that’s where I want to put my energies.
My friend wasn’t convinced. She wanted to see me keep striving to reach those far-off goals. And, comparing my career aspirations to family road trips and boat trips, I’m not sure what the take-away lesson here is. Taking the path of least resistance certainly isn’t the answer — if it were, I’d never plan a family vacation at all, and I’d never seek to get my work published, either. But endless striving to go further and do more is not necessarily the answer either — not if it leads to stress and frustration all the time.
I have no easy answers. I just know that I’m trying to learn to listen to my intuition, to wait for that feeling I got when I said, “Hey, let’s stay here at Mount Rushmore instead of driving to Yellowstone,” or “Let’s just take the boat up the river to Muiden instead of trying to get all the way to Amsterdam.” That good feeling of relief, of knowing that the pressure is off and that while I may miss out on something, I’ll be happy with what I have instead. If I can do it on a road trip with my family, I hope I can learn to do it in my writing career too.
I’m just not sure what that will look like yet.