Life, Travel, and the Aesthetic of Lostness

I'm sitting on the runway in Las Vegas on my first Virgin America flight. The final destination: the Florida Keys. This is the last great scenic drive in America that I've yet to do: the Overseas Highway. I've taken some spontaneous trips over my brief life, but this may just be the most spontaneous. I booked the trip on Monday. Today's Wednesday and I've yet to book our accommodations. I haven't consulted a guidebook and while I searched for Florida Keys blog posts and articles, I was too distracted by the photos to actually read anything. I have a travel companion, a few recommendations from Twitter and Facebook, and the open Overseas Highway.

There's just something intensely satisfying and thrilling about the spontaneity of this trip. As much as I remember my so-called "senior trip" in high school, I also clearly remember the events leading up to it. If there had been a season 4 of Arrested Development, this would've been it. I remember coming home one day from school and my dad exclaiming: "Son, we're going to take you on your 'senior trip' and it's going to be the best one yet." I was dumbfounded. Not so much at the "best one yet" part, but more the "senior trip" part. "Dad, you know I'm just a sophomore don't you?"

This story from high school well represents most of my life: planning out major life events far before they actually happen, if they happen at all. In this case it was planning my "senior trip" nearly two years before I was a senior. A trip that did in fact happen. 20+ states over three weeks kind of happen. I guess it was planned so far in advance that my dad decided to actually take it the summer before my senior year.

Maybe you've heard of the four or ten-year plan, but I was on the 55-year plan for most of my life. Birth to 22 being the obvious, following shortly thereafter by "entering the real world" and getting a secure job. Once a job was secured, I could then move up the multi-step plan to dating seriously, marrying, and having baby Spences running around. If I stuck closely to the plan, then I could relatively do what I want by age 55 by living on a beach and playing golf to live out my days. And everyone lived happily ever after. The end. However, I'm a fixed plan dropout.

If I went to a psychologist, I feel like I would get a heavy line about being non-committal. I have a pre-paid cell phone, don't have a car, and haven't had a lease that ran for more than three months since last year. Yet, while many may be quick to chalk this up as non-commitment, I call it the non-stop adventure that has come to be my life, one that I'm not about to let up on anytime soon.

Half the fun of travel is the aesthetic of lostness.-Ray Bradbury

I've recently been drawn to this quote by Ray Bradbury in my travels. I don't travel with guidebooks any longer. I use them often as I prepare to leave for a trip, but you'll never find one in my bag. I book my flights, but often only book the first night or two of accommodations ahead of time. It's not a game to see if I can make it on my budget or a challenge to see if I can get through the day without getting lost. It's about getting down to the ground level of a place and seeing it through the eyes of that destination and not the eyes of a travel book or magazine. I often find myself depending on the recommendations of locals, which often enhance my experiences. This may mean five minutes at a place guidebooks recommend spending five days at or five days somewhere that guidebooks only recommend five minutes at.

"Not I--not anyone else can travel that road for you, You must travel it for yourself."--Walt Whitman

Travel, similar to life, can't always be planned. There's not a right or wrong way to do it. The way to do both life and travel is the way you want to do it. No one can walk that path for you. When I think about some of the most memorable travel experiences in my life, they've often been unplanned: Eating the best Philly cheese steak I've ever had in the middle of the desert in Arizona, ziplining in St. Lucia, and peering down into Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. There has just been something exhilarating about off the whim travel, where the outcome isn't anywhere close to being known. This type of travel is mysteriously beautiful and captivating.

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.-Søren Kierkegaard

In a few hours I'll set foot in Southern Florida. From there, I have a flight back to California next Wednesday. What happens between then...well that'll just be a story that is written as I go. In my own words of Ray Bradbury's quote: Not knowing is half the fun.

What have your unplanned travel experiences been like?