Without Reservations

“Where are you staying?” My mom asked over the phone.

“I don’t know yet,” I stated confidently. The prolonged silence let me know that she was worried and carefully wording her next sentence so as to not offend me.

“And you fly out Thursday??” Her intonation alone provided enough evidence to know that she was passing judgement on my travel plans.

I was accustomed to this scenario by now, time after time, telling my mom my plans for a trip or an adventure and reassuring her everything was going to be okay. The truth is, I often travel without any real plans, which makes my mom nervous. To most, like my mother, it sounds like a crazy and irresponsible way to travel. But if you are able to actually experience traveling without a set schedule, you might find it as freeing and exhilarating as I do. For this trip, I was flying into Dallas for a friend’s wedding. I had nothing planned except for a round trip flight to Dallas leaving Thursday and returning Monday, a rental car I was going to pick up at the airport when I flew in, and a wedding on Saturday night at the Dallas Aquarium. The only thing I brought with me was a day pack filled with two day outfits, one dress for the wedding and a Panda onesie. Everything else I was leaving up to chance, fate, circumstance, destiny.

Throughout my trip, I was able to reflect on the reasons why I take pride in traveling without a detailed itinerary. Hopefully, my reasons will prompt you to give up some control and travel without reservations on your next trip.

It All Works Out

For many, traveling without reservations is a hard concept to implement simply because they have this need to be in control. Without control, there is the unknown. The unknown is frightening, especially while traveling; if not careful, things can go wrong at the most inopportune times. But I have found that the more you leave things up to fate, the more things work themselves out without the added stress. For example, before landing in Dallas, I had this overwhelming urge to visit Austin. To satisfy this urge, I had booked a car in preparation for this mini road trip to Austin which was a 3 hour drive from Dallas. A friend had told me I was crazy, saying it wasn’t worth the drive. If I was thinking rationally, he was probably right. Although for some reason I knew I had to check out Austin. The sights, the music, the food, the culture; I just needed to check it out. When I got to Austin, my high school friend Alex FB messaged me that a friend of hers, Joanna, whom I had met previously, was coming into Austin for a mini vacation. For a night I met up with Joanna and her friend Eva. We had a blast checking out different music clubs around East Austin and late night eats at one of Austin’s food truck pop-up gardens. Joanna and Eva were gracious enough to let me crash in their hotel room for the night. The next morning we walked around Lady Bird Lake and took in the incredible views of the city before we parted ways. The unexpected meet up was one of the highlights of my trip and it was all by chance that it happened.

You may be thinking that it was just pure luck that I met a mutual friend in Austin. I would agree with you, BUT the universe had something planned for my stay in Dallas. As I was driving back to Dallas for the wedding Saturday afternoon, I got another FB message from an Ultimate Frisbee friend, Dan, who had moved to Dallas a year prior. He asked about my plans for the weekend, and where I was staying. I chuckled as I sent him a message back stating I had no plans nor a place to stay. Immediately, he asked if he could host me for the rest of my stay in Dallas, and of course I accepted. I was grateful to have a place to sleep, shower, and unwind comfortably in an unknown city, as well as the conversation, company and suggestions for things to do. It was great to catch up with Dan and get his input on my life’s pressing issues. Again, fate was in my favor as everything fell into place.

Open Up to New People

Traveling without plans allows for ample opportunities to meet new, interesting people. After the flight into Dallas my friend Obert, whom I had flown with, and I, went to Buzz Brews, a carefully crafted mix of an eclectic dive bar and 24 hour diner. While there, we met Christian, a flamboyant and charismatic server who provided us with a list of top things to do in Dallas. He took great pride in formulating the list, with some phone-a-friend assistance and compiled it on a guest check receipt. We made such a positive impression on him that he comped us a serving of chips and salsa and a piece of red velvet cake for the road. His list was our guide to discovering Dallas, and it did not disappoint!

After the beautiful wedding ceremony Saturday night, some of us Frisbee folk went to explore Deep Ellum, a diverse, grass-roots breeding ground for the art and music scene in Dallas. Just walking down the street was enough of a cultural experience. Taking in the street art as we listened to the different genres of music amplified out into the street, and navigating our way through the crowds of hipsters, pan handlers, concert promoters, and bystanders was enough stimulation for my senses. In Deep Ellum we entered a Salsa bar at the request of my friend Marie. After ordering a drink and surveying the scene, I decided to go dance. None of my friends followed me to the dance floor, so I decided to dance with a few older women and chat with them. One women was Rayshell, who lived outside of Dallas. She told me about her adventures on her farm, spending the weekends off-road mud jumping on her quad and 4×4 vehicles. She showed me pictures and shared her stories and was kind enough to give me her info in case I came back to Texas. If I did return, she guaranteed I’d see the real Texas and she promised to take me off roading

Christian and Rayshell were just two of a handful of people I was able to meet on my trip to Texas. The quick friendships, or small-talk acquaintances I made in Texas helped me to find deeper meaning and definitely added value to the adventure.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

There is nothing more exhilarating to me than stepping out of my comfort zone and trying something new. The rush of confidence is increased ten fold when I am able to overcome a challenging task, especially if it was something I never expected I could accomplish. The entirety of this trip was out of my comfort zone to say the least. I hadn’t planned a trip like this since I had studied abroad in London and couch surfed around Europe, where I was leaving it up to fate to decide where I was going to stay each night. Europe seemed a bit more forgiving when it came to rambling around aimlessly. The United States, a little less so, as people are more likely to think I am homeless than a traveler. In addition to the lack of sleeping arrangements,  my belongings were limited to the size of my small Camel Back day pack. I was flying with Spirit Airlines, and their allotment for a free travel bag was much smaller than I was used to. At first the thought of traveling without a place to stay and limited baggage in a unfamiliar city made me second guess my decision to travel to Texas. Even up until the flight out of Philadelphia, I was unsure that traveling to Dallas was the right decision. Yet, I conquered the doubt inside my head, and listened to my inner conscience. I needed this trip, for the confidence I gained after was worth all of the anxiousness beforehand.

 Getting Started

If you think you are ready to take on the experience of traveling without reservations, here are some tips that will help to prepare you.

  • Start Small- If you have a hard time giving up the detailed itinerary, then I wouldn’t suggest throwing caution to the wind. Reserve a day or two and leave the itinerary blank. See what happens when you leave your travels up to fate. What new experiences might you be able to encounter? What new people and places will you discover? As you become more comfortable, continue to decrease the amount of plans for future trips.
  • Be Flexible- The ability to be flexible about travel plans and sleeping arrangements is key to traveling without an itinerary. There have been times where I have had to sleep in airports, bus stops, train stations, and even once on a park bench. Where those locations my preference? No. But I couldn’t change the circumstances so I had to roll with it.
  • Confidence is Key- Having confidence and a positive attitude is crucial to traveling without plans. You must trust yourself that you can figure out the next step especially if expectations fall short. And if things don’t necessarily work out as you had hoped, being able to brush off the disappointment is beneficial. Having confidence and a positive attitude significantly decreases the chances of things going awry.
  • Be Observant and Resourceful– Traveling, with a detailed itinerary or not, things can and will go wrong. Especially when traveling alone, as a woman, and without concrete plans, I increase my chances of being a victim to crime or misconduct. Yet, through my experience I have learned to be very observant of the environment and people which surround me.  I analyze every situation, weighing the risk versus reward. If I feel that the situation presents a dangerous risk then I will move on. If I do find myself in an emergency, I have already planned where I can go or who I can seek for help. Despite not always having a primary plan, I always have a backup in case something goes seriously wrong.
  • Trust Your Gut- The skill of listening to my inner conscience is invaluable, especially while traveling. It is a very hard concept to grasp and even harder skill to master, especially when logic is involved. But for all of the times I have listened to my gut, and threw logic out the window, it has never steered me wrong. 

 

“Tell me all about your trip!?” my mom inquired enthusiastically as I got into the car from the Airport. I knew she wanted to hear about how I managed to travel around Texas, especially without a planned place to crash each night.

As I shared with her the details of my trip, I could tell she became more and more thankful that I was home safe.

“You really do put yourself out there,” my mom stated with concern, “without any reservations!”

She was right, both literally and figuratively, I travel without reservations.

Advertisements

Absolute Freedom While Confined to 33 ft

With a view like this, it is hard not to feel free.

Keep it together, Britt, just fucking breathe, I thought to myself  as I inhaled and exhaled with fervor. I was desperately trying to prevent the inevitable dry heaving that was to come with every rock of this 33ft floating hellhole. Hitting the three foot waves head on, added with the whipping wind, splash of sea water and frigid cold was enough to send me below to deal with this agony. As I continued taking one deep breath in and one extended exhale out, I kept replaying the picturesque sailing life I had always imagined. This certainly wasn’t what I had anticipated, curled up in the fetal position below deck in the quarter berth breathing in the methane and exhaust fumes and trying to prevent an upchuck reflex.

A photo from my family vacation, 8 years ago.

I can remember when I first entertained the thought of learning to sail. I was a teenager, glancing over some yacht and sailing magazines while on the deck of a cousin’s refurbished boat. All of the glitz and glamour of these excessively tricked out boats interested me. Reading stories about families who just picked up their lives and sailed with the tides, teaching their children through life experiences rather than a text book really appealed to my adventurous nature. My fascination continued when I was 20 years old,  on a summer road trip with my mom going up the New England coast to visit family friends in Maine. We took a detour to Cape Cod, and Martha’s Vineyard. While eating brunch by the water in Cape Cod, I could see the sailboats bob in the water with the ebbs and flows of the waves. I watched the water glisten off the hull of the boats as the mainsails and colorful spinnakers opened to their fullest capacities in the wind. That morning, I imagined what life would be like on a boat, sailing open, turquoise waters, the sun soaking my body in its warmth and discovering exotic destinations along the way. Right then and there, I knew I wanted to learn to sail, and dreamed eventually I would have my own boat.

Yet, here I was, the furthest thing from my dreams, in the cabin of the boat trying to prevent seasickness. How did I get in this predicament? I was asked to crew on my friend Craig’s boat, to bring it back up to Philadelphia from Solomons Island in the Chesapeake Bay. I jumped at the chance as I couldn’t wait to practice my newfound sailing skills. But, if I couldn’t hack it in the first hour of being on the boat, how the hell would I be able to fulfill my pipe dream of eventually retiring on a sailboat. My sailing dreams were deflated, my ego dejected and I was so exhausted from deep breathing and waking up at the ass-crack of dawn that I fell asleep.

“….the sun peaking through the wall of clouds.”

An hour past. I woke up mentally preparing for the continued anguish to come. But to my surprise, when I stepped out of the cabin, the sun was shining, and the wind and waves had died down. I looked back from where we had come from and I could see the sun peaking through the wall of clouds. Relieved, I started to take in the salty air and settled down on the deck.

For the remainder of the day, I did soak in the sun, slept a bit more, took over navigation and continued to take in the sights and sounds of the bay. As much time as there was to sit back and do nothing, I was never bored. I had more time to daydream about early sailors who would navigate these waters without GPS, or even electricity. Craig, the owner of the boat, and I had long conversations about coastal navigation and the nearly abandoned light houses, relics of the past, that were strategically scattered along the shoreline.

 

 

Opening up the mainsail.

Being out on the water allowed me to be fully present and aware of my surroundings. At one point in the near distance we could see a school of fish synchronized swimming, skirting their fins across the surface of the water. This sight continued until a seagull took notice and disrupted their rhythm in desperate search of lunch. When we finally came to Annapolis, the bay was full of enormous boats with inflated, vibrant spinnakers floating across the water. Craig and I sat with a heavy stare watching boats vie for best position, quickly dropping their spinnakers in hopes to be first in a race around a buoy. As we sailed toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the sun began its descent below the horizon. The orange glow on the geometric lines of the bridge captivated my attention long before and after we had passed under it. We ate dinner at twilight, still under power in an effort to make it to the intended anchoring point at Cabin John Creek. As the sky became dark, an eerie melancholy air came over the canal. Lights flickered in the distance on the shore line and danced across the water as we moved towards them. At that moment I felt the urge to move to the bow and take in the void. I had never before felt so free, so peaceful and yet so alone. I was so focused on taking in the emptiness that I almost didn’t see a barge, its giant, stalking silhouette silently creeping up on us. As we settled into the mouth of Cabin John Creek and lowered the anchor I couldn’t help but feel content with the day.

The next morning we pulled up the anchor and continued along, chasing the rising sun through the narrow C&D Canal. As the sun rose, the light entangled with the fog to create a fiery mist that engulfed any boat in its path. When we turned into the Delaware River, the fog cleared and Craig and I were able to take turns napping in the afternoon sun.  While I navigated the Delaware, Landmarks like PPL park, the Navy Yard and the abandoned warehouses along South Columbus Blvd were obvious signs that we had entered the city limits. Although I have seen these landmarks numerous times before, typically en route to the airport, a sports game or aimless wanderings, I was able to see them through a different lens, a different perspective.

I began to reflect on the adventure and not only did I have a different visual perspective, but I had a different philosophical perspective, more specifically on sailing and the concept of freedom. Before this trip, I felt my freedom was limited to my physical surroundings. Yet, during this trip, as I was being physically confined to a small space, I was able to feel a sense of freedom that I had only dreamed about. I realized that my surroundings didn’t dictate my independence, or lack thereof, and that my personal autonomy is only reliant upon my mental attitude. Granted, it’s hard to feel free when stuck in a meaningless job, in a dead-end relationship or constrained to the expectations of family, friends or society as a whole. That is why I find myself physically, and now mentally breaking free from it all, to reconnect with myself. All the waves, wind, rocking, sickness, dry-heaving, and shivering cold this life throws at me can’t disrupt my personal quest for sovereignty, because I know that precious feeling of freedom is worth the chaos, even if experienced on a 33ft floating hellhole.

*Special thanks to my friend Craig, who allowed my to “crew” on his sailboat, and provided great company/conversation along the way. Hopefully, his experience was as rewarding as mine. I’m sincerely grateful for the opportunity!