The Importance of Choice

Nürnberg vs. the Alps.  How does one decide?

In 2009 I went to New York City for the first time.  We had decided to go just before Christmas with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law.  We (my sister-in-law and I, the boys aren’t really the planning type), spent 11 months making a list of EVERY SINGLE New York City experience a person should have.  Then I printed out 30 separate google maps, and tirelessly taped them together until I had a map of Manhattan the size of my office door. I then labeled, and colour-coded, every single item on my list until I crafted the perfect and ultimate of itineraries.  We had 5 days in the city, and we were not going to miss anything.  This, as I learned later, was a terrible plan.

Firstly, because FOMO should not run your trip. I have talked about FOMO on my blog before (Fear Of Missing Out).  Any place worth visiting, is worth visiting again.  Checking items off a list as “seen” does not always make for an authentic experience.  I know we want to make the most of our money spent, but an afternoon “wasted” away in a French cafe is as meaningful as one spent at the Eiffel tower or Louvre (more for some, less for others, see my second point below).  Sometimes we have a habit of rushing our travels, seeing many things barely, at the cost of having richer experiences at any of our destinations.  Our fear of missing a monument, museum, building, or famous street sign, means sacrificing the opportunity to really get to know, understand or enjoy another destination or experience.  Early on in my travels I didn’t yet know the difference.

Secondly, because not every member of your group has the same interests.  What can be the highlight of a trip for one, can be painful and/or tedious for another.  Or, less drastically, what one person loves or enjoys may just be different than another.  My husband loves things that tend towards food or sports.  He loves Van Gogh and War History.  He loves to hike, and he is a huge fan of aquariums.  I love to visit places of significance, and stand where important moments of history occurred.  I love photography, and so small quaint villages, rivers, waterfalls, green space, gardens, and unusual urban settings call to me.  We just love different things sometimes, and it’s important to recognize and affirm those differences.

Thirdly, people travel at different speeds.  Where one could spent 8 hours in an art gallery, I can power through in 45 minutes.  Some love to stroll the streets slowly, and stop every few feet to take it all in.  Others can power walk all day long, with never a pain in their heel.  Some want long lunches and extended coffee breaks, and others walk and eat street food while heading to their next destination.  And some of us can live on 4 hours of sleep while others can’t function without a proper 8. You can’t force an individual to run on someone else’s speed.  They feel rushed, exhausted, bored, stagnant – pick a word.  Chances are, you have felt it once.

Lastly, we believe the best travel must be done together.  We love our travel companions, right?  We want them to experience our joys, share in our passions, and be by outsides through it all.  And often this is true.  There have been many times I have delighted in an experience, not because it mattered to me, but because my husband was loving it to much. In Germany in 2013 we saw a FIFA qualifying match.  It was 8 PM, it was – 10 C, and it was snowing.  I was freezing, and couldn’t care less about soccer (or football, or voetball…), but there he was, grinning from ear-to-ear, bouncing up and down in his seat, eyes wide open as he watched Germany demolish Kazakstan.  But we also grow as individuals when we do things in solitude.  We can restore balance, be empowered, and find joy.  We need to give ourselves permission (and have strength) to follow our passions, but also to release others from having to walk every journey with us.  If we can learn to do so, we are better for it.

When Ray and I travel just the two of us, it’s often just a game of compromise.  Balancing things that he is interested by with things I would like to see, and of course prioritizing those that intrigue us both.  We have learned to balance busy days, with mellower ones, and take advantage of leisurely lunches or afternoon naps to make sure we don’t burn out.  On our first trip to Italy, Ray took a cooking class alone, while I enjoyed some well needed quiet time back at the apartment.  And when he took another class in Paris, I spent 3 hours wandering the streets alone, guided by little more than my camera and instinct.  And more recently, I enjoyed, for the first time ever, a solitary 45 minute breakfast in a French cafe, just watching the world go by.  I cherish these moments.  In Lisbon we left the boys to go to the aquarium, while the girls went on an adventure through the city, and in Hawaii the girls went for massages one day while the boys went hiking or for a round of golf on others.  Half the group went on a night time photography adventure, while half stayed home and played board games.  Sarah road horses alone, Chris went to the top of the mountain alone, Ray took cooking classes alone.  Listening to everyone’s speeds, and interests, being okay with missing out on some sites, and learning to go the path both together and alone are lessons that I have learned thus far from my experiences as a traveler.

But it wasn’t always like this.  in 2009 when we went to New York, we scheduled 16 hour days that were go-go-go-go-go, and everyone did everything together.  Now, we saw a lot.  Impressively so – we got to everything on our list!  We walked the Brooklyn Bridge, ate hot dogs in Central Park, saw the Rockefeller Christmas tree, visited the Met and Natural History Museums, made it to the Statue of Liberty, World Trade Centre Memorial and Top of the Rock.  We saw a Broadway show and taping of Jimmy Fallon.  We toured NBC, flagged down a yellow cab and ate at Ellen’s Singing Star Dust Diner, Justin Timberlake’s Memphis BBQ joint, and Lombardi’s Pizza in Little Italy.  I can’t imagine packing more items into our 4 night/5 day stint in NYC.  But it wasn’t all roses.  I was pretty sure my feet were going to fall off.  They ached unlike anything I had experienced.  We had a snowstorm, and my Uggs soaked through with the post-storm salty-slush mixture, and I walked 10 straight ours with heavy wet leather/sheepskin and cold wrinkled toes.  No time to return to the hotel to dry my feet.  We paid for a cab to take us (what would have been only a 15 minute walk) to a bagel shop that was apparently the best, because we didn’t have 15 minutes to spare if we were going to get through our to do list.  There were a few times that my husband was just DONE with me, because he couldn’t visit one more store, or market, or “quick stop” to see this “really cool [statue/tree/movie set/monument].”  In fact, two of his favourite memories from that trip were the two time we “released” the boys from the itinerary.  One night they just went to the movies, and met us back at the hotel.  We (Vanessa and I), sent them with our souvenirs.  Ray put my Wicked t-shirt bag on the floor of the movie theatre, which got covered in orange soda, and Josh dropped Vanessa’s Christmas ornament on the subway tracks, and had to retrieve it with a coat hanger.  They still talk about this.  The other highlight was on the last morning, when they went to visit an aircraft carrier while Vanessa and I continued, unwavering, to the list.

So why am I talking about New York?  I should be talking about Nürnberg and the Alps.  Well, NYC taught me a lot about travel planning.  In fact, every subsequent trip, by ourselves, with my best friend, with family, and with my students, has allowed me to better understand how different people travel.  And here is one thing I have learned: people need choice.  It is okay to split up the group.  Sometimes we compromise, sometimes we stick together, and sometimes we split up.  Last summer in France we gave students a choice between quiet time in the hotel, and going to the beach.  A choice between chocolate making classes, or wandering Montmartre.  And this spring one day they had the choice between going to Nürnberg, or going to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (to the Alps).  When I first presented the options to the students they had a hard time deciding.  Some of them chose Nürnberg because of it’s significance, or their love of history.  Others specifically chose the opposite, because they felt that after Munich and Dachau, they needed a break from such heaviness.  Others wanted a more diverse experience of Germany (away from city explorations), and others just craved a connection to nature or loved hiking.  Some disliked hiking, and preferred the city option.  Others knew the city option was a day long tour, and found hiking and view of the Alps to be a shorter and more relaxing day mid-trip.  They all struggled with a fear of missing the other option.  But when they day was done, they had all made peace with it.  They chose based on travel speed, or interests, or by picking the ONE experience that they didn’t want to miss.  Some picked with their friends, as the shared experience was most important to them, and others were brave enough to chose for themselves independent of their social groups.  And when all was done, they came back together and shared their stories with each other.  After hearing of each others adventures, both groups said to each other “next time in Germany I’ll definitely do that.”  A great traveler attitude.  Next time is okay.  Next time is good.

My introduction turned into an essay of it’s own, so I’m going to keep the rest here brief.  On our last full day in Munich we gave our students a choice.  There was a walking tour in Nürnberg, starting at the Congress Hall and Nazi Rally grounds, then moving on to the Old Town.  6 hours in total.  And I’m the first to admit, that was 3 hours longer than any teenager wants a guide.  Lesson learned.  It was freezing, and our feet hurt.  But we learned A LOT.  I would tell you about it, but right now all I can think about was how cold I was.  Wasn’t prepared for the windchill of -2 C.  The other group went south to the Bavarian Alps, taking a gondola to the highest point in Germany, Zugspitze (2962 meters above sea level).  They then took a gondola down the other side to Lake Eibsee and did the ~8 km walk around the lake before taking the cogwheel train back to the main station, and heading home.  While you see snow in their pictures, they were actually way warmer than we were.  (Note: there are obviously way more pictures shown from Nürnberg than the Alps for no reason other than it was my group, and I tend to take a *few* more photos than Ray does.  #understatement)

Congress Hall and Rally Grounds

Hauptmarkt & Old Town

Top of Zugspitze and Hiking around Lake Eibsee

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