Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Traveling without an Itinerary

When I was younger and we used to go on trips I could never understand why my parents insisted on planning every aspect of our journey, all the stops, how long it would take, and where we would end up, before we left. It infuriated me that we couldn’t just go on a trip and end up somewhere or if we went on a trip with multiple stops we couldn’t stay somewhere an extra day if we were having fun, we had to follow the plan. As a child, I felt no need for structure or a plan, however, now I have come to see the value of the itinerary. While I understand it, I think that some of the best travel is done without any true plan or foresight because exploring in this way leaves you open to discover more along your journey.

I think it started when I was abroad. We received detailed itineraries for each trip we took telling us how long we would drive, what activities we’d be doing, where our meals would come from, and where we would stay each night. I liked these plans because they let me know what to expect even though I was heading off somewhere completely new to me, like the Australian outback or the rainforest. The itineraries allowed me to do a sort of mental pre-trip seeing what I would need to bring and what to be prepared for on my journey.

Later in the semester, we decided to do a trip on our own to Sydney, no itineraries, no real plans other than booking flights. When we first arrived in Sydney and realized we had absolutely nothing we had to do and no one to shuttle us from one activity to the next, I felt overwhelmed. How would we know where we should get lunch or what was close to our hostel or what attractions would be worthwhile and which ones a waste of money? While we probably could have benefited from some planning, without it our trip turned into more of an adventure and allowed us to better interact with the city and people than we would have otherwise. We wandered from one activity to the next as we pleased and stopped along the way whenever we saw something that enticed us and when we got lost, which was often, we either just wandered until we found something we recognized or stopped and talked to locals to get directions. I had gotten so used to having a plan that it scared me not to but by forgoing the itinerary I was able to travel more deeply through the city.

Much like the main character of Black Rainbow, we traveled without a true plan of action, taking things one-step at a time, and although this may seem unorganized and chaotic it can actually lead to better discovery than a well-planned journey. The travel that the main character in this work embarks on takes on a sort of scavenger hunt quality, in which he never knows what the next step will be and is constantly subject to distraction and confusion as he waits for the next instruction from the Tribunal. Because he has no definite path, he is open to change along the way allowing him to get more out of his journey than he otherwise would. While having an itinerary can be comforting, it is also restricting in that it does not allow for growth and change throughout the process of travel but instead tells you exactly what will happen to you and how you will feel ahead of time.

For example, while waiting for further instructions from the Tribunal in Wellington City, the main character decides that he is unhappy with his unkempt appearance in his oversized army coat so he gets a new haircut and wardrobe. He says, “And in the shedding of the rumpled man in the smelly army overcoat, I felt new, properly attired to suit my new status and the challenge of the hunters” (Wendt 53). While the change appears to be only superficial, it signifies that his journey is changing who he is as a person. Additionally, while being a vegetarian is a very important aspect of his life, one day along the trip he wakes up and has meat with his breakfast as if it is nothing unusual (Wendt 63). Traveling without a plan allows him to become whoever he would like to along the way and also to take time to stop and consider this matter.

Along his journey, he ends up going to John’s rugby game in Auckland to see if John has disappeared like other things along his journey. Being around rugby makes him remember how much his wife used to love the sport and deeply understand it, but she gave it up completely after their children were born. It is through the side narratives like this brought on by stops along the journey that we learn more about the main character before he began the search and more about his family. While he is driving as well, he will listen to certain songs that his children liked and reflect about them and his previous life. By traveling without a concrete plan and allowing himself to be open to reflection and change, the main character experiences inward travel both in his memories of his family and in his own self concept.

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