Planning for spontaneity

I’ve posted many times about our preference for loosely-planned trips. We like to set up for as many possibilities as we can, then launch the Airstream and see what happens on a day-to-day basis. This means we rarely make reservations and change our trip route often.

4 corners areaOther people love to plan every detail of their trips, and I get that. For one thing, they probably feel better knowing what’s going to happen.  Reducing the element of chance makes some people comfortable, and allows them to focus on other things that perhaps they value more than spontaneity.

Looking at the map and calendar this week, Eleanor and I have come to realize two things:

  • We’ve driven almost every possible route through the Four Corners region to head northwest
  • We don’t really care which way we go this time

It’s not that we are jaded. We don’t have a case of “been there, done that” or “this place doesn’t have anything more to show us.” That would be foolish. What’s happening here is more subtle. We’ve hit almost every major attraction that we know about, and now we’re going to have to find the things we don’t know about.

So our plan, if you can call it that, is to simply head northwest in a meandering way with only the first night’s stop in mind. After that we’ll see what seems interesting along the way. Eventually we’ll end up at our first scheduled stop, in Ft Collins CO at a rally.

This should be fun. We have left some extra time in the schedule to pause at any spot we find interesting.  I know there are interesting towns, beautiful lakes, magnificent mountains, historic sites, tasty treats and western curiosities to discover along the way.  Can’t really go wrong between here and Denver, as long as we respect the vagaries of May weather at higher altitudes.

Further stops are vague, but we do plan to head up to Chicagoland to visit Zip Dee for a factory tour, and of course we’ll end up at Alumapalooza at the Airstream factory on May 31. Between major stops, we’ll pick the ripe fruit along the way.

Getting ready for a trip like this takes some time.  In the springtime as we are getting ready, we clear out things from the Airstream that have ceased to be useful or which have worn out, and we reload with a pile of this season’s necessities. We do have a set of permanent equipment, but that’s really just a base layer.  Most of what we haul changes rapidly as our interests, goals, sizes, obligations, technologies, tastes, and side trips change.

I have a few things I do every year that make this process easier.  First, I have a checklist. The checklist has four divisions:

  1. Before Departure.  This is a list of tasks that take a few weeks to complete, like getting the cars serviced, scanning paper documents, prepping the Airstream (empty holding tanks, full water, full propane, hitch lube, tire pressure), prepping the house, backing up computers, cleaning/clearing, arranging mail forwarding, and many other things.
  2. Day Before Departure.  This is a shorter list of the things I can only do right before we go, such as notifying the insurance company that we’ll have cars in “storage” mode for a while.
  3. Day of Departure.  This is a checklist of things to do as we are going out the door like removing final items from the house refrigerator, connecting the trickle charger to the car that will be stored, setting the thermostat in the house, and checking that everything is locked.
  4. Items to Pack.  This covers everything I need for unlimited time on the road.  Typically we are gone for four to six months (although I often fly back home to assume my guise as Temporary Bachelor Man) and so this list needs to be comprehensive.

Given how much we travel, I’ve found it’s much easier to simply have two of certain items so that I don’t have to unpack the basics from the Airstream.  That means I have an Airstream and a house version of things like: backpack, Dutch Oven, many clothes, charging cables, bathroom sundries, etc.

If you think about it, we don’t haul the Airstream’s microwave oven and refrigerator into the house every time we end a trip, so why should I waste time hauling things like the Verizon Mifi or my socks? Anything that’s inexpensive is duplicated.  This keeps the packing list short.

(The same goes for Eleanor’s kitchen: the Airstream kitchen is fully equipped all the time, with its own cookware—even its own cast iron skillet—plus basic ingredients and dishes. A bonus is that the Airstream is always ready to bug out in the event of a catastrophe.)

Since my personal packing typically only take a couple of hours, I can focus on critical things like Airstream maintenance to prevent breakdowns and delays, and those little things that make the trip more enjoyable. For example, one ritual every year is that I go to the local book swap and pick up 4-6 paperback books for reading on the road. I do this a month or so before we leave, so by the time we’re spending our first night beneath the pine trees of northern Arizona I have forgotten the titles—so it’s kind of a surprise to check my bedside shelf and see what books are waiting there.

There’s one other thing we are adding to the prep routine this year, at Eleanor’s suggestion.  Usually we rush around to get everything done in the last two weeks before we go, and then the day of departure is a little less joyous because there has been so much stress.  This year we are going to take 24 hours after the Airstream is ready, to decompress before we set out. We’ll get up late, eat out at one of our favorite restaurants, maybe take in a movie, and ignore all obligations for a day. Then the next day we’ll get up early and hit the road, refreshed.

As you can see, our trips are really front-loaded.  We do a ton of prep in a very structured way so that we can wing it while we’re traveling. “Planning for spontaneity” seems to work for us.

In a week we’ll hit the road and I’ll be posting along the way. Whatever we see, you’ll get a peek at too.  And I hope to see many of you in Ohio at the Airstream factory later this month!