when i went for my great graduation trip to the uk a couple of years ago, i planned my itinerary down to the last minute. my train pass allowed me 8 days of unlimited travel, so i visited a total of 8 towns in 14 days. i looked up train schedules, worked out travel times and budgeted what was necessary for each attraction. it was a little rushed but i covered most of what i wanted to see and i came home tired but satisfied.
an unplanned, impromptu trip is almost inconceivable to me. when i met the irish couple who came with just an idea of what they wanted to do in malaysia but nothing much else, i thought they were nuts.
then, i met suzie.
it was a short trip to penang to celebrate a friend’s wedding. i went on my own, had a pleasant flight, but then was faced with the prospect of spending 74 bucks on a solo taxi ride to batu ferringhi. as my turn at the airport taxi counter approached, i looked to the back of the line, hoping i’d see a tourist who may be heading for the beach as well. there, two turns behind me, was a tall caucasian lady who looked really lost. i decided to do something completely out of character and asked if she were going in the same direction. to my surprise, she was heading to ferringhi as well and, in what is either a happy coincidence or divine intervention, her hotel was located right opposite mine!
suzie, as i found out, was in penang just for the weekend. she had flown in from melbourne the night before and decided to book a ticket to penang as she heard it was a place well worth visiting. she knew nothing about malaysia, wasn’t aware it was thaipusam the next day, and asked what she should do during her time there. before i launched into my role as an ambassador in denial, i thought – holy crap! all she did was catch a flight to a state she knew close to nothing about, had nothing planned out, and brought nothing other than a tiny backpack that contained goodness-knows-what! and i had a proper carry-on with three changes of clothes, a set of clean underwear, heels, and a toiletry bag full of makeup and other miscellany!
when i met suzie again the next day – yes, we split a cab to the airport too because (surprise, surprise!) we were taking the same flight out – i found out that she spent the previous day at the pool and even managed to check out the thaipusam procession. she was pleased with her (painfully) short stay in penang and looked forward to spending the rest of the week in kl. i helped her work out the details of getting back to her hotel and we went our separate ways once we landed.
what amazed me was the ease of her trip to penang. she came alone and by sheer luck got to share a taxi (twice!) with a friendly malaysian who wasn’t out to rip her off, who even bought her a box of tau sar peah, and she got to chill out at a nice hotel with a nice stretch of beach and experience one of the most colourful festivals in the country. all without much planning at all!
i haven’t gone on a trip out of the country – other than singapore, but that’s basically my second home, so it doesn’t count – since my fortnight in the uk. it’s stressful just booking the flights and timing it so i’d be able to check into my accommodation yet not waste too much daylight. there’s the duty of meeting up with friends who live in whichever place i visit, and the attractions i want to see. if a museum is on the list, i have to allocate at least 2 hours for it. then there’s checking out noteworthy cafes and slotting in time for anything unexpected.
that’s right, i even plan for unplanned things. an extra 1/2 hour for an interesting antique bookstore, or an additional hour at the park. maybe another 20 minutes at a small museum or a walk through a pretty arcade.
perhaps i need to learn from suzie and that irish couple. although a well-planned trip ensures adequate “coverage” of the place i’m visiting, it leaves very little room for me to meet people who can give me helpful tips on what to do or where to go. suzie would have prolly missed out on thaipusam or tau sar peah if she hadn’t met me. she could have paid more than she should have for a rented taxi to the city or been late for her flight to kl because she didn’t anticipate the traffic.
my graduation trip, or even the many little excursions to singapore, could have been very different if i had just let go and let life, coincidences, divine interventions, whatever, lead the way. who knows what opportunities and experiences i’ve missed by being such an uptight type A woman?