Ill-Prepared for Travel

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so ill-prepared for a trip before! See, tomorrow (Tuesday, December 6) I am leaving on a jet plane on the longest flight I’ve taken since my 3-month Adventures in Asia in 2010. This time I’m off to the Middle East for a 6 week jaunt through Israel and Jordan.

In the past, I’ve always advocated traveling without a concrete plan at the same time as I preached the importance of research. But this time around, I’ve largely failed in that realm.

Have I done some reading? Yes.

Is it anything close to what I read prior to going to Asia? No.

Guidebooks

Busy, Busy, Busy…

It’s not so much for lack of trying. I’ve hardly spent any time at home in the past few months. In fact, since all this travel mayhem began in mid-October, I’ll only have spent a week and a half at home in NYC before the end of the year. In the weeks since then I’ve been in Charlotte, NC, Rochester, NY, the San Francisco Bay Area, CA, and NYC (twice). Now, a mere 5 days after my latest return, I am off again.

I think part of my I’ll-preparedness has to do with the fact that the countries I’m visiting are small enough to have well established itineraries in them, and despite my desire to escape them, that may not be possible till I’m confronted with options once I arrive. That, and the fact that I don’t get to make my own plans till I’ve been on the road for 10 days…

See, I’m starting out with a trip that is sponsored by Taglit-Birthright Israel. The trip is free if you meet the criteria and is highly structured for the duration of the tour. While you must travel over with the group, you’re welcome to extend your return trip, which I took full advantage of.

Perhaps it’s this lack of pressure, the knowledge that I have 10 more days of en route prep that has kept me from delving into my research. Of course, part of me knows that once on the tour, research probably won’t be my priority.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s that I’m getting more confident in my travel style. Perhaps I don’t need to know what I’m doing next? My short Vancouver Island road trip this past summer was a lot like that. Freeform.

Differing Travel Styles

I’m reminded of an inspiring French woman I traveled with back at the Longji “Dragon’s Backbone” Rice Terraces near Longshen, China. All she carried with her was a map. She didn’t even read guidebooks, instead opting to operate solely by word of mouth of other travelers and locals. “Everyone has that book,” she said, pointing to my Lonely Planet guide to Southwest China. “That means everyone sees the same thing.”

While I haven’t jumped that far into lack of preparation, I’m inching closer. I didn’t bring a guidebook to Canada and would have loved to have done the same here, but given my feeling of lack of preparation, I am bringing a guidebook with me this time. Maybe it’s a crutch… After all, one lesson I’ve learned is that you have to take your nose out of the guidebook. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a helpful resource but it’s certainly not the be-all, end-all and unless you’re willing to be open to possibilities and go out on a limb a few times, your experience isn’t quite all it could be.

Is my guidebook this time around a “security blanket?” Entirely possible. I’ll have to report back on how I end up using it.

Funny…a year ago I would never have used a phrase like “security blanket” to describe those guidebooks that I swore by… Maybe I am honing a travel style that works for me. You know…

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so ill-prepared for a trip before…but I’m okay with that!

Do you think I’m ill-prepared? How do you prepare for a trip? 

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26 Responses to Ill-Prepared for Travel

  1. RenegadePilgrim December 5, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Aaron, the more I travel, the less I take guidebooks too…I’ve started a Google Doc for my upcoming Maui trip and I’ve listed everything, with websites, that I want to see, do or eat. I do have a guidebook, but I plan to leave it at home and take the advice of locals on other things to see and do.

    As for your trip to the Middle East…SO JEALOUS!!! I love Israel, and Jordan is nice too. I ran into lots of Birthright groups when I was in Israel and was so jealous that us Catholics didn’t have something similar! 🙂 I have a couchsurfing friend in Israel I would be happy to connect you with, if you are interested. She usually hosts on weekends only and has become a dear friend since my stay with her and her family last year. I stayed with her twice, including my first shabbat.

    Also, I can recommend a decent hostel in Wadi Musa, too. Stay away from Valentine’s and go to Saba’a instead. British ex-pat wife and Jordanian husband. Super nice people!

    Safe travels friend!

    • Aaron December 5, 2011 at 11:35 pm #

      Thanks Heather! Google Doc is a pretty brilliant way to keep all your info in order! I kind of feel like I’m weening myself away from my past ways with all that research!

      And thanks! I’m pretty excited for this trip! I’m sure the Birthright part will be an interesting experience (nevermind the fact that I can’t stand organized tours…). And thanks for the great tips! Is your CS friend in Tel Aviv by chance? I actually have a friend in Tel Aviv who I traveled with for a bit in Vientiane Laos who I need to reach out to as well.

      • RenegadePilgrim December 5, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

        Evernote is another great program but I am still figuring it out…in the meantime, Google Docs are great.

        My friend lives in Ma’ale Adumim. She is a short bus ride from downtown Jerusalem. I had no difficulty getting to/from town via bus when I was there. Her and her husband plus two boys are really lovely people. Interesting perspective, too. I learned quite a bit from them.

        I am not a fan of tours either, but it also might be nice to just sit back and let someone else do the planning for a bit! 🙂

        • Aaron December 5, 2011 at 11:46 pm #

          Funny, the planning was always the part I used to really like! Of course, that’s kind of where I fell short this time around… Maybe I can call the tour my vacation and my own stuff my trip… I guess that works…

          Ah ok. That could come in handy, though we spend a lot of time in Jerusalem on the tour so I may skip it on my own.

          Oh, and my mom swears by Evernote…

  2. Amanda December 5, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    I love the idea of doing very little research and just traveling based on the recs of other travelers, locals, or my own whim! I do however still need the security of the guide book. Perhaps with more traveling experience I’ll come to trust myself more? I think you are as prepared as you need to be. I think the preparation is for peace of mind and it seems like you have that so go with it! Have a great trip!

    • Aaron December 5, 2011 at 11:37 pm #

      Sounds like your thinking is right along with mine Amanda! I’m really hoping to not really touch the guidebook much this time. We’ll see how well that works out!

      Oh, and I STRONGLY agree that preparation is strictly for peace of mind. To pick up and just go? That sounds like bliss…

  3. Shaun December 6, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    When we went to Cuba we didn’t have a guidebook, nor did we use the internet at all while there. And I must say, we had an incredible time. Only taking advice from locals and other travelers before we left treated us very well. I can definitely say that we had a unique experience in a country that is now near the top of my list.

    Ill-prepared? Nah, go with it! 🙂

    • Aaron December 6, 2011 at 1:37 pm #

      Sounds like a great argument Shaun and a great experience! The guidebook is in my pack right now. Let’s see how much I can resist the urge to pick it up…

  4. Lisa @chickybus December 6, 2011 at 3:45 am #

    I still travel with guidebooks, but I use the PDF version on the iPad and only print out a few sections and maps. When I went to Jordan, etc, I had the LP–and it served me well. Of course, I cross-referenced many things and found other info along the way. Also, I do find that some info is not as up-to-date as it could be. Still, it’s pretty good and I trust it more than certain websites. I think a combo of info sources is ideal.

    Sure I saw many other travelers with similar guides, but….the Middle East isn’t a tourist trap (except for a few places, of course.) Even if you run into others, they tend to be smart, adventurous types and so, it’s cool.

    • Aaron December 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

      I think part of it is how you use a guidebook. It seems like most people stick to the major tourist sites but the guidebook can point you to some awesome far flung places. Did that for me in China, but it was only the inspiration. Word of mouth was the rest!

      Of course, from afar it seems like all of Jordan is a major tourist site, so…

      • Lisa @chickybus December 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

        Re: Jordan being a major tourist site….I would say yes to Petra (if you go, go super early). The touts there were SO annoying. The way they are in Egypt.

        Wadi Rum could be busy, but there are ways to do it right (eg, choosing the right guides). I happened to go off season, which was great. I think there were 3 tourists there, including me.

        Overall, during low season, many places were empty. The downside: the heat and expensive transportation (since it was hard to get in on other groups’ transport). You’ll be there during high season, so it may not be as hot, but it could be busy. I look forward to seeing what you think!

        • Aaron December 10, 2011 at 11:24 am #

          Is this really the high season? It’s quite rainy these days. Of course I wouldn’t miss Petra. I don’t mind tourist sites that are worth it. And I hear good things. 🙂

  5. Kay Johnson December 6, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    The less the better ! Can’t stand carrying dirty washing around !

    • Aaron January 3, 2012 at 6:59 pm #

      Soooooooo true!

  6. Tori December 6, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    I didn’t have a guidebook, I would hit up a place with wifi, download a map/book a hostel and go. People who work at hostels generally have good advice.

    Personally, I loved Tel Aviv. If your Birthright trip isn’t going, I recommend Haifa strongly. I took the bus but later my friend Or showed me the train which is a better option: Haifa’s main bus terminal is not really inside the city. Easily one of the most beautiful cities. Israel’s also the only country I’ve been to where no one cares about container law – it’s like being in Las Vegas.

    Inside Israel, they have an extensive network of state-run hostels (which you will use on the Birthright tour) that do these insane breakfast buffets and are roughly comperable to a hotel. They are unfortunately pretty pricey (30 bucks ish US) though there are some offers for week/month passes and if you’re planning on staying in Israel for most of it they could be an option. In fact, there are some cities where the state-run hostel will be the only choice.

    Other than this, I really second the recommendation of Saba’a Hotel in Wadi Musi. I think my private room with ensuite was 10 bucks and the owner’s wife was REALLY nice and helpful to me. Jordanians in general were much nicer than Egyptians, but then I was there six months before the revolution so I am trying not to hold it against them.

    • Aaron January 3, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

      Thanks for these great tips! My trip didn’t include Haifa, but I went there on my own afterwards. Nice place! In Egypt now and people are plenty friendly, though in Cairo and Luxor it felt like nice always led to someone trying to sell you something. Heading to Jordan next so I’ll check out Saba’s. Thanks!

  7. jade December 7, 2011 at 4:27 am #

    So exciting! I’m nervous and excited for you and your non-planning! I usually plan a lot but recently have tried to plan less so that I can be more surprised when thing actually happen. It is hard to let go of that side of me, but important too. Good luck over there and can’t wait to hear about it!

    • Aaron December 10, 2011 at 8:49 am #

      Thanks Jade. Sounds like you and I are moving in the same direction with this planning thing!

  8. Adam December 9, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I was totally supposed to send you information about Israel! Uh, doing that right now!!!

    Safe travels – you’ll love the Middle East!

    • Aaron December 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

      Thanks Adam!

  9. Gray December 11, 2011 at 8:22 pm #

    Far be it from me to say whether someone else is ill-prepared for travel or not, since we all have different travel styles. Some people do very well “winging it”. I don’t. If I were a day or two away from traveling to different countries and hadn’t prepared for it, I’d probably be having a world-class freakout. LOL. I think as long as YOU are okay with your level of preparedness (or lack thereof), that’s all that matters. It certainy doesn’t hurt that you’re starting out with a tour group. That’ll give you time to get your “travel legs” under you, so to speak. Have a great time!

    • Aaron January 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

      Late replying to this, but I’ve found that I largely HAVE been winging it! I’ll write about it more extensively, but if you’ve been following my Tweets, you know that I came to Egypt on a whim. And you know what? It’s been awesome!

  10. Rease December 12, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    I think everyone has their own travel style and it is important to figure out what it is. I agree that too much guidebook is a bad thing, though!

    • Aaron January 3, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

      I’ve discovered in this trip what guidebooks are useful for. Not the listings but the info about places. Especially in a place like Jerusalem where there’s so much history. Knowing the significance of the places in, say, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was quite handy!

  11. Nomadic Samuel January 12, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    I know personally the less I’ve planned the more I’ve often enjoyed certain trips. Hope you have a great time!

    • Aaron January 12, 2012 at 9:13 am #

      Thanks Samuel! Now that I’m at the end of my trip, I’ve pretty much totally given up on planning at all and just done a lot of spur of the moment stuff (like going to Egypt). It’s been a great experience!

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