In forty-eight hours I’ll be winging off on yet another binge of open-ended travel, this time to Puerto Escondido, Mexico, where I’ll be spending at least two months.
There’s a particular feeling that generally emerges in the final days leading up to a trip – a mixture of excitement and anticipation and even a little bit of apprehension. The thrill combined with trepidation that comes with standing on the precipice of the unknown. But this time seems different. This time I’m feeling virtually no sense of either eagerness or anxiety, but instead a sort of calm acceptance of whatever is to come.
What’s different about this adventure compared to the many I’ve embarked on before? I don’t think that it can be attested to mere experience. I think this one is different from the rest because I am heading off with specific intentions.
Going with Goals
People travel with widely varying levels of success, and I think that whether or not they enjoy their trip can often be chalked up to the fact that they ventured either absent of intentions or with far too many.
Consider two of the most common complaints that follow unsuccessful travel. First, you often hear that it was only “so-so”: that it was uneventful and even boring. On the other hand, many travelers report that they were too busy to really enjoy themselves, having spent all of their time racing from one activity to another.
The problem in both cases involves a lack of focused goals and intentions. The first group traveled without knowing why they were going, and the second went without directing their actions. The former needs to realize that doing “nothing” is not necessarily relaxation, and the latter that doing “everything” is not necessarily an accomplishment.
The solution involves understanding why you’re traveling, then tailoring your intentions to those goals.
In the planning stages of your trip, ask yourself what you hope to achieve by it. Do you want to relax? Do you want to enjoy the sites? Is there a specific activity that is drawing you to your destination? Whatever the case, determine the why that’s drawing you there.
Next, figure out what needs to happen to make these goals into a reality.
If you’re trying to relax, that might mean finding isolation, or convenience, or the opportunity to get to that book you’ve been meaning to read. Whatever the case, pinpoint what relaxation means for you.
If you’re in it for the action, get specific. Don’t plan a scattershot of activities – plan with intention. This is how you get to accomplish your “bucket-list” moments without becoming overwhelmed.
Paris is a great example of a destination where people end up being disappointed due to their lack of intention. I’ve spoken to countless people who say they went there hoping to see everything, but then end up feeling jilted because most of their memories involve racing from one place to another, or standing in lines (usually at the Louvre).
So let’s use Paris as an example. Instead of saying that you have to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Catacombs, the Luxembourg Gardens, Montmartre, the Latin Quarter, Pere Lachaise, etc., etc., choose sites that genuinely interest you. A large percentage of the people who are at the Louvre, for example, don’t really care about art. They’re going because they think they’re supposed to. That’s not traveling with intention – that’s wasting an opportunity to engage in other activities that they’ll genuinely find enriching.
My point is this – just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Back to Paris, instead of thinking you need to see everything, choose a select few attractions that you will truly enjoy and plan around those. That leaves more room for the unplanned but still-important activities like enjoying coffee from a café terrace or taking a walk along the river. You know – making memories.
Laying the Plan
Once you know your specific intentions, it’s time to plan how to best bring them to fruition.
For relaxation, that might mean leaving the phone at home and finding an isolated place where you’re cut off from the world, or conversely, someplace that is hyper-connected where everything you could need is conveniently accessible. I’m not much of a resort guy, but I can see how having all food, drink, and recreational activities located on a single premises would be appealing to people seeking to relax.
For those who are in it for the site-seeing and action, figure out the logistics ahead of time. That way you can move from one activity to the next with intention rather than with constant concern over time, transport, acquiring tickets, and so forth.
And whether you’re going for relaxation or excitement, keep in mind that even the best laid plan is only a general guide, and be ready to improvise when things don’t go accordingly. If you have already prepared yourself mentally to follow through with your intentions above all else, then snafus in the plan won’t seem as substantial. Intention gives focus to your efforts. The rest is just in the periphery.
So, What Are My Intentions?
I have very specific goals for my rapidly approaching trip:
- Working on my fiction.
This is the primary goal. I’ve specifically elected to go to a place where the cost of living is low and I don’t know anyone so that I can focus on my fiction writing rather than socializing or my more dependably lucrative work.
- Improving my health – both physically and mentally.
With this in mind, I know to be considerate of what I’m eating, how much I’m drinking, and how much exercise I’m getting. It means finding quiet spaces for reading, meditation, yoga, and other reflective activities.
- Recording music.
Achieving this involves acquiring specific equipment, most of which I have obtained beforehand.
- Improving my Spanish.
This will mean intentionally putting myself outside of my comfort zone and forcing myself to engage in complex conversation.
Now, with these four primary intentions in mind, I have a number of lesser goals that I will strive to enjoy. But the important thing is to prioritize the key intentions ahead of these secondary activities:
- Experiencing the food. (Hopefully a lot of it)
- Visiting historic sites and wildlife preserves.
- Learning about the local and regional political and cultural situations.
(Notice how a key goal like “improving my Spanish” can lead directly to secondary goals like discussing politics and culture, or how being considerate of my health can mean engaging in activities like eating healthy local foods and hiking through natural reserves. And fishing. Fishing is great for my mental health.)
Think of this as my “recipe” for success in Mexico. As long as I get the right mixture of the primary ingredients, the garnish will serve to bring out the flavor and presentation of the entire dish.
That’s the key to traveling with intention – understanding where your emphasis should be, and organizing yourself accordingly whether those considerations are material or mental.
And when you learn to properly chart out your intentions, you’ll find that you have a lot more space and capacity for improvisation – another key aspect of successful travel.