Spontaneous Discovery as a Way to Travel

Yesterday, we climbed a mountain, swam in the ocean, shopped in seaside towns and sampled great cuisine. We drove along Pacific Coast Highway 101, meandered through little towns, explored the craggy outcroppings of desert elevations.

Dinner last night was the best sushi I’ve ever had – Eliana’s choice, for her birthday dinner. And the dessert, pear pie with lychee ice cream, was something we never would have ordered but enjoyed more than possibly any sweet we’ve tasted.

This trip has been a spontaneous adventure, deciding at the minute what comes next. It’s the best way to travel – well, really, the best way to go through life, if you think about it – because we are perfectly here in each moment, tasting the salt air, reveling in the bright sunshine, oohing and ahhing as the birds and the helicopters fly low and fast over the waves.

My daughter and I have been in San Diego since Friday, a one-on-one trip in celebration of her 10th birthday. I take every child of mind on such a trip when they turn “double digits,” to a place they uniquely want to discover and explore.

Since she was little, Eliana has insisted she will live in California when she grows up – even though, before this trip, she had never been here. And when I asked what kind of trip she wanted for her double-digits, she said California, without missing a breath.

It’s a pretty big state and so I thought long and hard about which destination we could adequately cover in a mere 4-day trip. Los Angeles? Too much driving. San Francisco? She wasn’t interested. She wanted swimming and shopping, so I figured San Diego – with perfect weather every day and many attractions and activities within close proximity – was our perfect destination.

It took a lot of thought and planning before I settled on this destination, and I’m so glad I did. At first, though, I wondered if it might not be too far to go for a 4-day trip. And yet, it was what she wanted, for her birthday, so I found a way to make it happen.

The world is such a small place if you think about it. The only things standing in our way to discovery and exploration are money and distance – and yet many people travel on a dime, standing-by for an available seat on a midnight plane to their future.

With kids, it’s more complicated, but only if you make it so. Sure, I won’t take them out of school or pack up and miss a month of work just to see where we can land.

But I will take every opportunity to explore new places, listen to the way people speak there, absorb the nuance and detail of life another way, in another place.

On Friday, jet-lagged and exhausted, we made our way out of La Jolla up toward our hotel. Having never been here before, I drove slowly and carefully, looking for the signs to lead me on the right roads back to our hotel.

Oops – missed a turn, so I skinnied into the left lane, but there wasn’t enough room to fully make the switch. The back end of my tiny rental car stuck out a little in one of the straight lanes.

You would think I’d set fire to a whole neighborhood, the way people were honking at me. One woman actually rolled down her window and shouted, “Asshole!” as she drove by. Fast.

It was 7 o’clock on a Friday night and I just laughed, so my daughter would too. “Sorry!” I said inside the closed car. “I’m not from here. I don’t know the roads.”

Whenever we travel, my kids so love exploring new cultures and locales that they end up wanting to move to wherever we’ve been. I explain that if we lived there, it wouldn’t be an adventure, just business-as-usual, which was how I explained the foul-mouthed driver Friday evening.

End of the day, end of the work week, the sun setting over the Pacific. How can anyone be that mad about a slight inconvenience on the road? It’s why, a store clerk explained, so many shops bear the sign We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. People need to know that not anything goes.

So it’s an adventure. Today, I’m not even sure what lies ahead. Eliana’s still sleeping and the day is dawning gray and cloudy – perfect for the famed San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park? Perhaps pop into Old Town San Diego? Oh, and she of course wants one last day swimming in the surf.

I grew up in a family where every moment of every trip was planned, down to what tick of the clock we’d be rolling down the driveway to the airport. It’s hard for me not to be Type-A.

But when I travel, I try as much as possible to adopt a perspective of what-are-we-doing-in-next-minute, allowing for spontaneity, exploration, and ultimately, self-discovery with every step in an unfamiliar place.

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