While it’s true that some of the best adventures can come out of the blue with little planning or preparation, most greatly benefit from a little bit of both, along with first answering a few important questions.
Where? A great first step in the dreaming phase is picking your destination. Is there a place you’ve dreamed about visiting since you were a child? Has some book or movie inspired a passion for a particular site, experience, or pilgrimage? Or do you just crave some new magic that only distant shores or peaks or sunrises can provide? Those are all perfectly good reasons to pick a place and start to plan a trip.
When? Timing can affect some trips much more than others. Temperatures in places like Bangkok stay pretty much the same from season to season, while an Alaskan summer is vastly different from an Alaskan winter. Other seasonal details, such as rainy or dry seasons, holidays, tourist traffic, major political affairs, or even allergens present, can all affect pricing and availability for everything from hotels and restaurants to local attractions and excursions. Fortunately, all these things can be easily found out with a quick web search or two. Note: Be aware of potential risks but also remember that just about anywhere you could go is full of wonderful people and other travelers and is probably much safer than you think.
What to bring? The best gear definitely depends on the nature of your adventure and how long you’re intending to be gone. A week on the beach would need different equipment than a month of backcountry mountaineering or jungle trekking.
A few key pieces of advice carry over pretty well for most kinds of adventures:
Pack light. The weight of gear adds up really fast. Start with well-fitting, comfortable shoes and a sturdy backpack or rucksack or duffel that is lightweight and comfortable. Make sure it’s fitted properly, especially if your epic journey involves a lot of walking or public transportation. If you aren’t sure about backpacks or other equipment, check out some travel guides or blogs for your specific destinations. And stop into your local outdoor-supplies or sporting-goods store, as they will probably have well-trained associates to help point you in the right direction and help fit you with gear.
These days, ultralight backpacks, sleeping bags, and mats, as well as towels, clothing, and even camping equipment are all available in increasingly better quality and price. You rarely need as much as you think, and most everything can be bought along the way if you decide you do need it. Laundry services are super cheap in most parts of the world, so you can usually get by with fewer clothes. Don’t forget to leave some room in your bag for souvenirs!
Bring your own light. You know yourself and what you need. If there’s something you just can’t live without, bring it. Even the best, most exciting journeys have down time, canceled plans, and homesick nights—sometimes a phone or tablet preloaded with your favorite jams or Emma Stone movies can really help you feel grounded and could be a fun way to connect with new friends on a long bus ride or a rainy day in your hostel. I once had an already magical night exploring moonlit sand dunes in the Moroccan Sahara transformed into a positively ethereal experience when my new Turkish friend began playing the soundtrack from his favorite video game of all things. The desert camping trip became an even greater memory because of that personal gift he chose to share with me. Of course, maybe the light you need isn’t media, but your trusty pocket coffee grinder, yoga wheel, or crochet hooks. Whatever it is, be real with yourself and plan accordingly.
Be light. Wherever you go, try not to just take but to give something back. Maybe you can find an opportunity to share something you love with locals or fellow travelers. Being receptive to meeting new people or trying new things can open up doors to life-changing experiences and relationships. Organizing group meals or excursions with people in hostels, or on buses or tours, can be a great way to learn about new people. There is real magic in the stories of other sojourners, as well as in sharing your own knowledge and experiences. Are you a coffee pro? Can you lead a vinyasa or teach merengue? Do you have an encyclopedic knowledge of Paul Rudd movie quotes? Whatever special light you hold inside you, the world will be better for having you shine it, and adventures are great opportunities to let that light show.
Be open to new light. Open yourself up to new opportunities. Swim with sharks. Hike a little farther to see if there’s a different view. Try the strange food from the cart that smells so amazing. Talk to the stranger with the artisanal necklace. Ask the tour guides about their favorite restaurants. Check out that culture night or dance class or ghost walk. Try CouchSurfing or MeetUp or other resources to try to connect with other people.
Wherever you find yourself on your adventure, breathe deep of your present experience.