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To Plan or Not to Plan, that is the Question

How much should we plan ahead of our Nomad Life?

This is a heck of a trip! We have been developing our Nomad Life for the better part of two years now. What started out as a daydream grew into a crazy family project and became the roadmap of our life for the next 12 months. There are several facets of the Nomad Life which we had to plan with respect to the quotidian on the road. Everything from work flexibility to school curriculums; from travel insurance to vehicle modifications; from health protection to security considerations. All considered, one of the biggest aspects of our planning has been the itinerary to cover during our one-year travel adventure.

Those who have been following the evolution of Nomad Life since the beginning will have noticed that what originally started off as an ambitious road trip from Canada to the southern tip of South America has changed into a trip from Canada to Panama. Feasibility was the main impetus behind this modification as we quickly realized that driving over 20,000 km to reach Terra del Fuego and come back was an unreasonable amount of terrain to cover in only 12 months. From this realization, we re-examined our maps and landed on a more conservative road trip to Panama, passing through the U.S., Mexico, EL Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. So exciting! So much to see!

Having identified this as our general itinerary, the next step involved deciding how much we wanted to plan ahead during this trip. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to planning and, as we have learned, the adherents of both schools are quite passionate about how to go about travelling for long distances. Everyone is convinced that their way is the best method for travel. We have heard from lots of folks with vocal opinions on how we should go about choosing the schedule of our trip.

In the classrooms of the first school of thought, there are the Free Travelers. These are the folks who fully embrace the freedom of travelling form one point to another and who advocate for discovering the beauty and surprises that naturally come from road tripping. Imagine this traveller: backpack swung over the shoulder, they strike up a conversation with the local farmer as they are buying fruit from a roadside stand, the farmer points them towards an amazing hiking trail to visit a little-known waterfall where they eat their lunch; said farmer invites them to set up their rig on the farm for a peaceful night under the stars; they chat with the farmer’s family well into the night and walk away from the experience with new friends and an invaluable experience. There is no doubt that this certainly sounds amazing.

Through the doors of the second school of thought, there are the Planning Travelers. These are the folks who read books and scour websites months in advance learning about places to visit and locations to explore. They make reservations, take notes in battered travel books, study paper maps to identify routes and points of interest to visit. This is the traveler who lives their trip twice - once in planning and once in real time. Imagine this traveler: with a mapped-out itinerary they arrive at their destination, they have tickets reserved, campsites identified, a general idea of when things are opened and closed. They visit their main attractions and have a feeling of contentment at not having to miss-out on experiences because they did not reserve well enough in advance. They travel with the satisfaction that they are hitting the major To-Dos on their list and that their trip will pack a punch. I can’t help but think that this also sounds quite amazing.

Both schools of thought are valid. There is value in discovering the natural wonder of a wander. There is also much to be said about planning and anticipating adventures to come. The two approaches meet different needs of different travelers.

Patrick and I find ourselves more in the planning school of travelers. We have a map of where we want to go as we travel from Canada to Panama and back. We have a list of places to visit and areas to camp or boondock. We have made reservations where they are required.

Why? There are three main reasons. First, it is because we enjoy the anticipation of a trip almost as much as the trip itself. We have spent countless Sunday mornings with a coffee in one hand and a map in another examining the options for our itinerary and revelling at all that there is to see when you can take the time to travel slowly and mindfully. We’ve gotten excited at discovering places that we never even knew existed and seeing that it can fit into our general itinerary. We have a mix of activities planned for all members of the family. Patrick is looking forward to visiting the birthplace of Dungeon and Dragons in Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. Francis is excited to visit Meow Wolf’s Omega Mart exhibit in Nevada. Their anticipation for these activities is lovely to watch and planning for them allows us to ensure that we have the time and the opportunity to visit them.

The second and more practical reason is because we are travelling with our children. As parents, we want to be sure that we travel safely and that we limit their stress through the journey. Having many of our camping options identified and reserved in advance allows us to know that we will have a safe place to sleep. There is also a certain level of anxiety which can come up for children in the type of long-term travel which we are embarking on. Several months ago, Christophe confided in us that one of the facets of our past summer vacation road trips which he did not enjoy was not knowing where we were heading on a day-to-day basis. When he shared this with me, I realized that I had not included him in planning previous vacations. I assumed that he would just follow along and enjoy the ride. With him, it turns out that not knowing the itinerary and schedule brings him a certain level of anxiety. As a result, we have included him in the planning so that he understands the general route of our Nomad Life. We have an electronic map that that we can refer to along the way and we have a calendar on the wall of the RV with our main stops. This way, everyone understands where we are at any given point during our travels, and we can all adapt to the changing environments as we navigate the next 12 months through different cities, states and countries from one week to the next.

The third reason for planning has to do with our desire to visit iconic places and points of interest. We want to visit those places that we have been reading about in books or seen in movies. The reality is that reservations are usually required long in advance to visit those places. Take the U.S. National Parks, for instance. Patrick and I have been dreaming of staying at Joshua Tree National Park for a long time. We imagine ourselves having a late-night drink in the quiet of the Californian dessert, seated near huge orange boulders under an endless tapestry of stars. The reality is that the spots for national parks fly off the shelves 6 to 12 months in advance so if we want to stay at Joshua Tree National Park, we need to plan ahead and make a timely reservation. The same goes for many of the sites which we want to visit along the way. So we have to plan and make those reservations, otherwise we will not be able to access them.

These are our reasons for planning ahead. Some will find this too meticulous and have warned us of the risk of missing out on awesome opportunities if we are just focusing on getting from one point to the next. There is validity to this perspective. But the beauty of living on the road for the next 12 months is that we cannot possibly plan for every single day. We have our main milestones planned with flex days in between where we will be able to explore and wander more naturally. We are also giving ourselves permission to change our itinerary at any point. If we find a spot that feels so lovely that we long to stay for a few extra days, then we will have the luxury of time to do that. The rest of the itinerary will adjust accordingly.

In the end, all trips should be crafted to fit the needs of their travelers. For our family, this means more planning than less. The important thing is that we do not get stuck in our planning so that when an exciting opportunity for discovery pops up during our journey, we should make sure to seize it. I have been reading John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie as an inspiration for the Nomad Life and he was right when he wrote: "A journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.". In all of our planning and our travelling, we will remember to carpe diem this Nomad Life adventure in a way that would make Steinbeck proud.

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