The Planning Process
I get an immense amount of joy during the planning stages of our journeys. I spend hours researching places to visit, possible activities, “must-see” sights . . . trying to develop an itinerary with a harmonious balance that will make each of us experience the journey with the greatest amount of happiness.
Once we have selected a destination country, I buy a big map of that country and put it on the wall; this allows us to see where the cities/towns are located and to start plotting a route from point to point as we identify interesting places and activities through our research. Each person may have specific objectives, so we try to list all of those (for example, during our Spain trip, the most important objective for me in Madrid was to see Picasso's Guernica painting at the Reina Sofía Museum). Then we try to design an overall itinerary that includes most, if not all, of everyone's priorities. We create daily schedules that have a mixture of "busy" activities and "down time." Often, the daily schedules are fluid enough to be changed depending upon our mood or how we are feeling physically. I try to identify and list several or more "possible" activities for the day, and then we can choose exactly what to do when that day arrives.
When doing research, I try to uncover a diverse range of informational resources. My goal is to find as many "non-touristy" activities/places/restaurants that I can, asking, "Where do the locals go?" When traveling, we try to immerse ourselves into the local culture as much as possible. Also, I have to walk a fine line between 1) doing enough research so that we don't miss any fantastic opportunities when we visit a place and 2) doing so much research that the actual experience there is diminished by all of the stories/videos/discussions that I have enjoyed during the planning stage. I don't want to feel like I've already journeyed to a place before I arrive. For me, the magic of a journey necessarily involves an element of uncertainty that allows for individual exploration and wondrous discovery.
A journey with young children often requires greater flexibility and a more relaxed pace than an adults-only journey. During the planning stage, I have to keep a realistic assessment of what Genevieve and Sebastian's patience/tolerance is for certain activities. The earlier trips together were educational for me regarding how best to fine-tune an itinerary for our family. I have found that as we travel more, we all slip into a comfortable "traveling rhythm" when we are on the road. We also seem to flow along more easily now that the children are a bit older. In general, our children are usually eager to try new experiences (and foods). And, to my amazement, they now beg to go to museums (although we did test Sebastian's limits when he was 4 years old).
Seven years ago, Ben and I decided to start learning Spanish together by taking classes at our local community college. I am still struggling to train my brain to formulate sentences in Spanish (and to process and understand a fast stream of words spoken by another person). However, I am making progress, little by little, and my small knowledge of this beautiful language definitely enhances my experiences when I travel through Spanish-speaking countries. The following websites continue to be helpful in my practice of Spanish: