AN ESSAY ON TRAVEL: Preparation and Improvisation: Key to Success

Thought I’d take a break now from our Spanish travelogue and try to offer a higher level view of travel in general.

A friend told me recently that she was enjoying my travelogues about our recent trip to Austria and Spain, and wanted to know how is it that we have so much fun on every trip we take? It was that question that inspired this essay on travel.

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Why do people want to travel? What is it that makes a trip great?  How to ensure that every trip is a great experience in the end?

Would you like to know some answers to those questions from a person who has traveled several million miles around the world? If so, read on…

Chamonix Shaman_w

Why Do People Travel?

Some people think of travel as vacation. Others travel professionally, for business. So they think of it as work.  When people ask me – “was this or that trip business or pleasure?” – I usually reply, “what’s the difference?”

You see, to me…

…travel is life, a way of being who I am.

So I don’t approach travel any differently than any other aspects of my life. Spontaneously.

Usually something happens first, either internally or externally, that initiates the process of trip generation.  Maybe your spouse or partner says, “I’d love to see Italy one day.” Or your boss suggests, “perhaps you should call on such and such a client in New York?”

Or, as is most often the case with me, you get intuitions or dreamtime Spirit guidance about past lives and experiences.  They sometimes lead to an inspiration to take a trip to certain places in the world.  Or even move there for good.

That’s, for example, what happened in Aug 2008 when I had a dream about moving to Hawaii. In March 2009, Elizabeth and I moved from Arizona to Maui.

Preparation and Improvisation

So, how do we ensure that every trip is a great experience in the end?

The short answer is – Preparation and Improvisation.

At a first glance, the answer may seem contradictory.  You prepare as as not to have to improvise, right? We plan so as to reduce the chances of unwanted surprises, right? Wrong.

For, I have a surprise for you. No matter how well you prepare and plan, the unexpected will always happen. Guaranteed.


You can’t control the weather, for example. Or airlines. Or traffic. In fact, you can’t control almost anything except your attitude toward everything.

See what I mean when I say “to me, travel is life?” 🙂

So embrace the unwanted surprise. Accept the unexpected as a silver lining of each trip. Run with it. Cherish it.  And then make the most of it (also see “Stay Home: Keep Away from Airline Sharks“).

Which is where Improvisation comes in.  Were it not for the unexpected challenges we have had to overcome, no trip would be truly great. Nor worth writing about.  Who wants to read a travelogue about how you spent all day on a beach under a sun umbrella sipping piña coladas? 🙂


But when you experience the roaring floodwaters of the Urubamba river in the Sacred Valley of the Incas in Peru, or are stranded in London because of a New York blizzard, or are scammed and shaken down by Russian customs officials (see “Leaving Saint Petersburg,” 1997) – and you struggled and improvised to overcome such challenges – you have just made an unforgettable memory.

It is unforgettable memories that great trips and good stories are made of, not the well-planned and executed itineraries.

Which is why both Preparation AND Improvisation are prerequisites for a great trip.

Why Austria and Spain?

But back to our latest trip to Austria and Spain, the inspiration for the trip came to me back in January. Elizabeth had never been to either Vienna or Spain.  My elder daughter and her family now live in Vienna.  I have never traveled through the Spanish countryside. Yet, both of Elizabeth and I have strong past life connecEurope 2011 maptions to Spain.

I knew from past travel experiences how geomancy works (see the Delphi, Greece segment of Europe 2011: Epic Pilgrimage along Spine of Europe, Oct 2011).

And I was certain that we will have some great revelations along the same lines this time.

Vienna-Spain trip logo

Indeed, we did (see Restitching Holy Roman Habsburg Empire, Reconnecting with Liszt, El Escorial Phillip II Ceremony).  But we also did a lot of preparation beforehand.

Spain 2014 map

In early February, I started studying Spain’s geography, history and various tourist attractions using “Spain This Way” website as an aid. Eventually, I had the rough Tour of Spain sketched out. It would take us from Barcelona to Malaga, hitting most of the (for us) most interesting sights.

Our actual trip pretty much evolved along this route, with some  changes and deviations from the plan (enter Improvisation).  Before we left Hawaii to go to Arizona, I had printed the information about our “target sights” and cities. Then Elizabeth and I read it together.

Three months later, just before we left on this trip, we read it again. And then every day, before we started driving, I would pull out the pages about our possible destinations and “target sights” for that day, and would hand them to Elizabeth. She would then read them out loud in the car. And we would make a rough plan for the day. Screen Shot 2014-05-26 at 9.16.39 AM

From there on, it was Improvisation and spontaneity 100%.

For example, on May 22, we had planned to overnight in Valladolid.  The reason this city was one of our “target sights” was that Valladolid was the birthplace of King Phillip II, one of my past life Spanish incarnations.  But after having enjoyed our Zaragoza visit so much that we never left that city until early afternoon of May 22, we decided to bypass Valladolid and head for Salamanca.

It was a good thing we did it, even if it made our May 22 drive the longest of the entire trip. For, we found Salamanca much more charming and interesting than Valladolid would have been (Elizabeth had read out to us on the drive from Zaragoza to Burgos from our “Spain This Way” guide that Valladolid is now a mostly industrial city).

Conversely, Toledo was said to be one of Spain’s most beautiful cities, according to the same travel guide. “Spain This Way” urged travelers to be sure to also overnight there.  But when we got to Toledo on May 25, after a great deal of effort in just finding our way there from Aranjuez, Toledo left me cold. Like a cold blade of the swords this city is famous for.  I did not know why, but I just didn’t feel good there.

So we left Toledo early and drove on Don Quixote country and his windmills (Consuegra). We ended up overnighting in Ciudad Real. And we had a delightful dinner in that otherwise quite ordinary city.

Similarly, May 28 was our last day in Spain. We were in Malaga.  We considered driving up to Granada to see its famous Alhambra. This site was on our original tentative plan.

Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 5.00.38 PM Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 5.00.53 PM

But we decided “enough is enough.”  After all, Malaga was our 18th city in 7 days. We had been on the road for 2,400 km (1,500 miles). So we decided to take it easy at the end.

Although it was doable to drive up to Granada and return to Malaga before our 3PM flight to Brussels and London, it would have been just too much.  So we went out for a leisurely walk around Malaga instead. And we had a great and relaxing time.

Phillip II and El Greco

Interestingly, during our visit to El Escorial two days earlier, we also learned that El Greco, one of the now celebrated painters of the 16th century Spain made his home in Toledo. In fact, he died there and there is now an El Greco Museum in Toledo.  It is one of the recommended tourist attractions.Elgreco50

Back when I was Phillip II, El Greco came to El Escorial trying to pitch his paintings and become one of the official court artists. But Phillip II felt the same way about El Greco as I did about Toledo. He was disappointed. And I felt the same way about El Greco paintings we saw at El Escorial and Del Prado now as I did 500 years ago. They left me cold, like Toledo.

(Interesting how consistent our tastes remain from lifetime to lifetime, isn’t it? For more Phillip II and El Greco, as the NOTE at the end of this story).

A similar thing happened the following day. We had read raving Albert-2reviews of Seville. I had also found the city attractive because of its musical connection (Rossini’s opera “Barber of Seville“). In fact, that was the opening number of our first ever concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in Oct 2010 (another geomanticly important venue for us – see “Albert & Victoria Revelations,” Oct 2011).  

So we had planned to overnight in Seville. But when we got to this Andalusian city on May 26, we ended up ensnared in its traffic, narrow one-way streets, and enormous crowds.  In frustration, we had almost given up on Seville completely.  Elizabeth actually suggested at one point that we just leave the city and go on.

“I am not ready to give up just yet,” I said. Within minutes, we were finally able to find a parking spot.

But after walking around for about an hour or so, Seville left me cold. Kind of like Toledo the previous day. So we decided on a spur of the moment to drive on to Cadiz. And we had just a marvelous time there, back on a beach for the first time in over three months.

Cadiz was never on our original itinerary. But once there, we also learned that it is actually Europe’s oldest city (more on that later in our Tour of Spain travelogues).

SUMMARY: Preparation and Improvisation – Key to Great Trip Experiences

So, back to the original question – how do we ensure that every trip is a great experience in the end?

The short answer is – Preparation and Improvisation.

BOTH are prerequisites for a great trip. You have to do a lot of homework and planning. At the same time, you have to be prepared to chuck it all and go with the wind and your own intuitions.

So with that, I invite to rejoin us on our Tour of Spain: May 22 -Zaragoza-Burgos-Salamanca – our longest day.

Foreign Trips header

Here are some of our recent foreign trip travelogues:

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And now here, are some of our domestic travelogues:

New York

Sunrise Grand Tetons_Panorama2

Other States and Provinces

SOME OLDER TRAVELOGUES (“Travel Vignettes” from old Truth in Media web site)

For example, here’s a story on “English as a Second Language”: How to avoid “Specialists in Women and Other Diseases” 🙂 (July 1990)

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El Greco did not plan to settle permanently in Toledo, since his final aim was to win the favor of Philip and make his mark in his court. Indeed, he did manage to secure two important commissions from the monarch: Allegory of the Holy League and Martyrdom of St. Maurice (right picture). However, the king did not like these works and placed the St Maurice altarpiece in the chapter-house rather than the intended chapel. He gave no further commissions to El Greco.  Philip’s dissatisfaction ended any hopes of royal patronage El Greco may have had. 


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