Before a trip, many of us spend hours poring over travel web sites, examining routes, and researching the best places to eat, sleep, and take in the well-known wonders of the destination. However, often the most memorable moments from a trip aren’t on your itinerary. You can’t plan for the things that turn up in unexpected places, or for the awe you experience when your sojourn takes you around a corner into a world of surprises.
Dining in a small bistro in Fontvieille, France was a gastronomic delight, with Provencal atmosphere in the vine-covered stone walls, and tables set with vases of sunflowers and fabrics inspired by Provencal faience. What made the evening unforgettable at La Font Vieille, though, was the invitation by the owner, Claude, to join him in his wine cellar for a spontaneous private tasting and tour. This created an indelible memory (and also spurred return visits to his traditional café).
While staying in Apt, a small town at the heart of the Luberon area of Southern France, during a cycling trip, my group and I were joined in the evening on the patio by a group of firefighters from Paris. Our French was abysmal, and they spoke only a “leetle bit” of English. Yet as we shared stories of our afternoon adventures and pictures of our families and homes, we found much in common. As club jerseys were exchanged, international relations were enhanced by discovering the many similarities in our backgrounds as well as a deep respect for our differences.
Read the guidebooks. Study the maps. But also leave room for the unexpected and make space in your scrapbook for those moments that take you completely by surprise. Find awe in the unanticipated adventures and serendipitous encounters. I remember the Irish farmer I met many years ago near Kenmare when I (weary from a long afternoon’s walk and soaked to the skin from the persistent rain) asked him, “Where does this road lead?” He replied “Why, wherever you want it to, lass!” If you remember to pack a wide perspective and a sense of adventure, you will let the journey itself take the lead.