I've written before about the concept of "being present" VS "being planned", so I'm at risk of retreading old ground here, but on our big European adventure it's a topic that keeps on hitting me in the face.
We've been moving at relative speed between multiple countries, checking in and out of hotels or Airbnb properties, figuring out transport and customs in new cultures every week. When you're in that flow, it can feel like all you do is logistics - you're so focussed on working all this stuff out that you forget to appreciate where you are and what you're doing. That feeling is amplified when you're travelling with a 4 year old, and although you might try to go with the flow, to slow down a bit, you know if you don't plan a little you're at risk of major meltdowns in very public places, or worse, getting caught out on a plane or train ride somewhere, stuck in the middle of nowhere with no way to your hotel. We had one such moment in Lille on the way to Belgium, when they replaced our train with a bus due to works on the lines, and I was struggling with my limited French to work out specifically which bus we needed to catch. I was outside, head in my hands while my wife, child and in-laws waited with our bags, and I honestly thought we were fucked, that I'd never figure this out and we'd have to pay an exorbitant taxi fare or try and figure out another crazy train route. And then the bus I was looking at changed its sign from "out of service" to "replacement service", and I spoke to the driver, and I could breathe again.
So there are things you want to avoid. But at the same time, you want to make room for the spontaneous, for the unexpected moments of joy that can only arrive after you've gone a little beyond your comfort zone and still landed on your feet. We had one of these in Belgium, when we had experienced a crazy day trying to navigate the canal locks and bridges in our boat. At various points in the day we had waited hours for bridges, I had stepped into the dirty, dirty canals with one foot, and worst of all we had managed to leave my wife and mother in law on the side of the road with our groceries while we went through a bridge that was apparently only opening once that day (so if we didn't go then we were staying on the side of the canal with no power for the night). To get back on the boat they had to cross the recently-closed bridge and walk down the side of a motorway, getting shouted at & tooted at by motorists, and then stumble down a muddy bank in the only spot we could moor to collect them. As you can imagine, neither woman was particularly happy about this turn of events and a huge row ensued due to everyone's heightened stress levels (and if you know my wife and mother in law you'll be unsurprised to hear that they yelled back just as loud at those motorists).
And then, with one more bridge to go until we could moor up for the night in Bruges, the rush hour restriction hit where they close the bridges from 4.30-5.30, and we had to moor up on the other side for an hour. We decided to pour gin & tonics (or vodka in my wife's case) on the top deck to pass the time (always a good idea in my experience), and as I was sitting there I realised this was probably the highlight of the day, maybe the week. The sun was shining, we were pulled up next to a beautiful park with rustic old windmills and lovely trees, my drink was cold and delicious, and we were all in a great mood. Would this moment have been as sweet if we had planned it? I don't think so. Would it have been such a high without the lows from earlier in the day? I'm not sure, but it definitely felt like it.
So what is it? Plan and prepare or relax and roll with it? I've tended to fall on the planning side of the fence more recently, I think partly due to work - if your boss asks for your thoughts. It's usually not a great idea to day that you're just going to see what happens,even if you secretly might think that something actually the best idea.
But with everything that's happened in the last few years I am learning more and more the value of letting things play out as they will, at least to some extent. I have taken to thinking of it like driving a boat. If you've never done it, it's a different experience. It is essentially the same as driving a car, but you are influenced a lot more by factors out of your control - winds, currents, rain, other boats. So while you need a plan to get to your destination, you also need to respond to what's happening in front of you, to work with it rather than fight it. If you can do that, you're in for a smooth ride, or at least a smoother one than I'd you had spent your time battling the elements.
Ultimately I think the most important thing is to try and accept the moment, whether it's planned or not, amazing or utterly shit. Wherever you are, you are here, you can't be anywhere else, and you can be mad or sad or angry about it, but you're still here, so you may as well enjoy yourself. Have a G&T. It's never a bad idea.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.