Over 20 years ago, I went on a crazy road trip through southern Europe with a friend. We drove my beat-up hatchback stuffed with clothes, blankets, snacks, and jugs of water. Between us, we had a couple of guidebooks, some bad maps, and a smattering of Italian, German, and Spanish. Our most useful tools were fantastic ignorance and big smiles. It was an adventure.
I contrast that with now, as I’ve just finished the primary planning for a month-long trip that will go through Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria, and a quick side trip to Slovakia. Some of the destinations for that trip were also visited on my manic road trip, but the planning now is so different. Part of that is due to technology that will go along with us — my smartphone will replace those guidebooks, maps, and even phrasebooks — but the Internet also provides such a wealth of information and options that it’s possible to plan every microscopic detail.
Before, to have a good trip I had to grab every bit of information I could find ahead of time. Now, to avoid insanity, I had to stop myself from going down a never-ending spiral of detail.
What am I talking about? Well, consider booking a flight. This is my husband’s first trip to Europe and I’ve been hoarding airline frequent flier miles so he wouldn’t be squashed in Economy, the steerage level of modern travel. To reach the quantity that we needed, I started reading forums and blogs for the mileage obsessed, learning tips and tricks — swapping our main credit card for another one with a great mileage offer, maximizing our spending on it to get bonuses, looking for other earning opportunities. I reached the goal and then American Airlines discontinued a program that I needed. Argh! Back to the forums, another credit card change, some miles purchased. Many more hours spent planning dates and routes, then hours on the phone actually booking the tickets. Yes, we have fantastic seats for a low price in dollars, but an enormous cost in hours. I could have spent many more trying to work the mileage game to my advantage.
How about booking places to stay? Hotels are great, but we’re staying longer in a couple of cities, so off to airbnb and VRBO! But cities are large and I can’t walk far, so I’d better go over to Google Maps. Then to TripAdvisor to check tips from locals and previous visitors. Off to check nearby attractions and restaurants and public transportation. Which train station will we need to leave from? Over I go to the Deutsche Bahn site. What is that Prague price in dollars? I ask Google Now on my phone. Have I checked Fodor’s and Lonely Planet? What does Rick Steves say? Oh look, I found twenty travel blogs from people who were there just last year, I should read them all.
And on, and on, and on. I feel the compulsion not to just plan a trip, but to plan The Best Trip, and to leave no digital stone unturned in that quest. Once I had flights and accommodations booked, and I had a general idea of things to see and which train tickets to buy next year, I had to force myself to step away. I’ll let myself read some history and fiction related to the places we’re going, but no more planning.
I’ve seen others spin themselves into a lather trying to plan in this era of digital abundance. You’ve probably seen them, too. The Pinterest boards of wedding ideas that scroll on and on. The folder full of reviews and stats on every car remotely within budget. The huge list of links to college programs. We don’t have to settle or jump blindly anymore, but analysis paralysis is not just an annoying catch phrase from an efficient management seminar. With so many options, we have to teach ourselves when to walk away. When to accept and embrace some uncertainty. When to say, “This is fantastic enough.” I’m not very good at that, but I’m working on it.