I don’t know—maybe it was the Californian, carefree vibe, or simply the fact that I was on vacation time, but during my recent trip to the West Coast, things just kept falling into place. My friend and I traveled across the country with essentially no plan at all. We had tentative housing plans, but that was pretty much it.
We ditched the itinerary, released our mindset of trying to squeeze in as many places as possible, and best of all: we abandoned expectations of a perfect trip.
We were forced to recognize early on that there would be parts of our travels that may not go as smoothly as we had envisioned. Our journey began with rush hour traffic that caused us to have to sprint to our terminal, frantic that our plane would take off without us. Luckily, this sprint was just fast enough. But when we arrived in Sunny California, we were greeted by none other than a New Englander’s old time friend: pouring rain.
I think it was then that we acknowledged that the idea of perfection would have to subside.
Vacation is painted as a perfect picture when you’re sitting in class daydreaming of sitting on a beach in Malibu. And that did happen—we made sure of it. But of course there’s the whole other aspect of traveling—the time change, navigating a new city, mapping out where to go and when. And when you’re in a new place without knowing too much about it, trials and tribulations are the name of the game.
This was our first time traveling alone, so we admitted it would be a learning experience. Each time we stumbled upon another roadblock, we made an effort to greet it with grace. And this is what made all the difference.
Even in the midst of our rookie mistakes, we laughed about all that went “wrong.” The three museums, in three different places, that we navigated eight lanes of traffic to travel to, that ended up being closed. The phone charger that I neglected to bring (whoops). Sitting in a Los Angeles Starbucks, with one phone dead and the other plugged into an outlet, scrambling to book a hotel room for later that day (Can you book it the day of? Can you arrive any time after check-in time? We eventually found out the answer to both is “yes”).
Our response to the infamous LA traffic: “This isn’t even bad!” (Even during hour 3 of being in the car). We thought nothing of driving an hour to dinner, or a couple hours down the Pacific Coast Highway. We were so mesmerized by the breathtaking views that driving actually became one of our favorite parts of the trip. Our awe at the novelty of this charming place definitely helped, but nothing could bring us down.
This visit will forever serve as a reminder to me that if we let go of some of the plans that we feel are best for us, we may gain some freedom to enjoy the process of getting there.
By releasing any concrete plans, we somehow managed to see some of the most captivating sights and niftiest spots, in the most authentic and spontaneous ways. I truly believe we couldn’t have experienced all that we did if we had tried. Most of the time we fell into the most picturesque sunsets and scenic views just by happenstance.
One of my favorite examples of this was when we were driving along the Pacific Coast Highway and decided to take a quick right at the sign for Pepperdine University. Little did we know, this campus sits high on a hill overlooking the mountains, the ocean, and the city, all at once. We stood on top of the hill, just as the sun was setting, and took it all in, so grateful for being brought here at this moment. In that moment, on our very first day, I reasoned that I’d be perfectly okay if this was the only sight we saw in the state of California.
Lack of planning made everything such a pleasant surprise. It also allowed us to travel without previous judgments or preconceived ideas. We experienced this new place freely and naturally, which made everything so genuine and cherished. When we gave ourselves permission to experience California at whatever pace, in whatever way, we were brought to all the sights and places we possibly could have wanted to witness, and more.
At the end of the trip, we admitted that letting go of expectations was the best decision we could have made. And this is precisely what made it a trip of a lifetime.
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