“In battle, what cannot be predicted is the enemy’s reaction; in exploration, what cannot be predicted is what is around the next bend in the river or on the other side of the hill. The planning process, therefore, is as much guesswork as it is intelligent forecasting of the physical needs of the expedition. It tends to be frustrating, because the planner carries with him a nagging sense that he is making some simple mistakes that could be easily corrected in the planning stage, but may cause a dead loss when the mistake is discovered midway through the voyage.”
—Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
The journeys I take are not Voyages of Discovery, and they do not involve dozens of men for several year. Yet, I feel some sympathy for Ambrose’s description of Meriwether Lewis’s struggles in planning for the unknown. Though it can sometimes be stressful, I deny that it is in fact frustrating – at least not during the planning phase itself. I actually get a certain energy from the planning, spending much more time on it than necessary, and getting more excited for the trip ahead with every moment.
I love reading a map – planning the route of a road trip is one of the best parts. Deciding which personal effects to pack for a journey helps me realize my priorities. Determining meals for a backpacking trip makes me examine my true needs.
However, it is true that I usually pack too much. Maybe I am afraid of those “simple mistakes that could be easily corrected in the planning stage.” Of course, I’m sure most of you can attest that bringing along unnecessary items can be as big an error as omitting a useful tool!
The frustrating part for me is when the journey is not an adventure. Making hotel and plane reservations do indeed try my patience. I prefer to travel in a way that does not require advanced planning for every step of the way. Yet, even planning the complicated logistics of a longer trip or one with multiple participants or specific objectives to accomplish can stimulate me. In that case, it may be less excitement that I am feeling, and more a positive type of stress. It is that feeling that I imagine Captain Lewis to have had while planning his famous journey to discover what would become the western two-thirds of the United States.
What about you? Do you find planning and packing to be exhilarating or frustrating? Do you have tups to make the process go more smoothly? What is your favorite part about planning for a journey?
The photos on this page document the packing portion of a research project that I worked with in Chile, ten years ago. We not only had to pack our personal items, but also quite a bit of our food for four months, as well as materials for the project, including fence construction. These photos show us packing the gear once in Santiago, then bringing it to the boat yard in Valparaiso, where it was loaded into crates for its journey to our island destination. That was, indeed, a frustrating project! And yes, we packed many things that we never used, and not enough of some items we couldn’t do without! Luckily, we were not in uncharted waters, and were able to make things turn out alright in the end.