My plan for this trip is to not have a plan. I spent a good amount of time planning to be prepared to leave (buying stuff to pack, getting vaccinated, researching travel insurance, renewing my passport, getting visas, etc.) but my idea now that I’m actually on the trip is to not have anything planned until right before I’m going to do it. For me, the ultimate worrywart, this sounds like the scariest thing ever. I am always thinking of the bad things that can happen in any given situation and planning for them. As long as I’m prepared for whatever could happen, I can worry less. (Being a lawyer probably accentuated this trait of mine since we always have to prepare our clients for the worst thing that could happen just in case it does.)
Well, I am sick of being such a worrier. My fear of bad things happening and having to prepare for them takes away from the fun of living. My hope is that after a while of not planning and things actually working out despite the lack of planning, I will successfully overcome this fear.
Today was a great start to this lesson.
I took the high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai, which opened just a month ago, and it was so fun. I was feeling pretty good about myself after successfully navigating the train station and making it on the train (I have been known to miss trains), so I settled in my seat and enjoyed the 5 hour 300 km/hr ride. I was feeling a bit apprehensive about not knowing where I was going to stay in a city I know absolutely nothing about, but reminded myself that it was a part of the plan not to have a plan.
At the train station in Shanghai, a woman at a travel desk told me there are many hotels in the area called something that sounded like “People Culture.” (At least, I think that’s what she told me. I’m not sure if she understood me, and I wasn’t quite sure what she was saying.) The subway maps in Shanghai are available in English – yay!
Turns out there is a People’s Square in the center of Shanghai – that must’ve been what she was talking about. There HAD to be somewhere to stay in the surrounding neighborhood of a major square in the center of the city, right? I took the subway to People’s Square, but by the time I was back out in the open air, it was already getting dark. I didn’t want to wander around a strange city in the dark, but I had to find a place to stay or I’d be sleeping on the street (or in the subway station), so I ventured out.
There were plenty of people around and it was well lit, so I felt safe, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find anybody that could speak English, so nobody could help me find a hostel. Under normal circumstances, I would’ve just busted out my cell phone to do a search for nearby hostels. Of course, I didn’t have a cell phone. It didn’t matter, because I was sure that a walk around the neighborhood would be a success – isn’t that how travelers on a budget found hostels in the pre-cell phone/Internet days?
So I walked and walked, down side streets, down main streets, turning down a street if it looked promising, wheeling my backpack behind me, for at least an hour. I’m seriously glad I had those wheels – I don’t know how far I would’ve made it if everything was on my back.
I walked around the entire surrounding neighborhood, and then ended up back where I started, finding nothing. I was so frustrated and exhausted, I sat on a block of concrete staring at the subway station and wondering what in the heck I was going to do. All I wanted was to lay on a bed inside somewhere.
I could see a row of tall luxury hotels in the distance, and I almost claimed defeat and decided to stay at one of those. But I knew that would feed my fear of not having a plan by admitting failure (not to mention wasting a ton of money that could probably go towards weeks at hostels), so I sat on that block for a while trying to figure out what to do. I could get in a taxi and ask the driver to take me to any nearby hostel, but chances were high that he wouldn’t understand me and would just make me get out if I didn’t have a destination in mind. I could get back on the subway and do the same search in another neighborhood, but I didn’t think I could walk for another hour only to not find a place there either.
I remembered seeing an Internet Cafe at the beginning of my exploration, but I didn’t know how far away it was from where I was then at – the idea of walking any amount was daunting. Why didn’t I just go to the Internet Cafe to begin with, I chided myself. Well, because I was determined to find a place by walking around – I mean, can I really not live without Internet? (The answer, obviously, is no I cannot.)
I stood back up and trudged down the street to where I thought the Internet Cafe would be. Thank goodness for my randomly good sense of direction, because it was right where I thought it was and wasn’t too far of a walk. I booked a room at a hostel next to a subway station so I wouldn’t have to walk too much farther.
Okay, now back to the subway. Almost there, almost there, I kept telling my aching back and sore feet as the subway car made stop after stop. Finally, I got off at my stop and exited the station thinking, if it’s right next to the subway station, it can’t be that hard to find, right? Well, I walked around the entire station and just could not find it. And it wasn’t an easy walk – the station is huge.
Right when I was thinking, this is so ridiculous, I’m never going without a plan again, I saw the sign for the hostel. I went in. It was like entering paradise. The lobby had a bar, a ton of computers (Internet!), massage chairs, a travel help desk, and many international looking travelers looming around. They gave me a really nice room on the fourth floor, with two beds, an ensuite bathroom, super clean, much nicer than the hostel in Beijing, and much cheaper too. And when I turned on the TV, a Lakers game was on. I laid down on the bed for a second before grabbing my computer to head to the lobby to utilize the free Internet.
Lacking a plan is scary and when things don’t go perfectly, it can be very frustrating. But when it all finally comes together, I have found that the victory is much more meaningful.