I don’t know a fraction of what there is to know in the world, and neither do you. An itinerary is like a songbird’s cage, like blinders on a horse but voluntary, because an itinerary is born within the confines of that fraction of a fraction of what we do happen to know. While general intentions are necessary and the research we do before a trip is useful, making an itinerary down to the exact hour is neither.
Just like it’s impossible to know what will happen in any future, near or far, it is impossible to police a trip with a piece of paper, no matter how bolded the font. It’s like trying to reign in life with absurd expectations like wanting to be married by a certain age or have children by another. This isn’t an argument for predestination – far from it – it’s the happy acceptance of our ignorance and the subsequent open-mindedness and willingness to observe and learn as things come. To choose where to go and what to see once you’re already there, once you’re present and more informed, dealing with the real and not the imagined situation. It’s the idea that you will make your choices just before the branching of the road and not three miles back.
It’s easy to confuse a lack of planning with recklessness. But there is a difference between this percieved recklessness and recklessness of the moment. The difference is one of speculation and reality. In reality, I trust myself to make the responsible choices, choices dripping with the consciousness of self-preservation. And all I ever propose is that speculation, a veritable indulgence of the what-ifs, is at best a waste of time and at worst a self-imprisonment and nurturer of fear. Making Plan A’s and Plan B’s and Plan C’s and so on, you’re concocting stories from thin air. To cover every possible one, you will need more than twenty-six letters. And I so reject this game altogether.
It’s the idea that you will make your choices just before the branching of the road and not three miles back.
Sometimes I’d get strange glances and looks of annoyance from those who don’t share this perspective. “Where are you going after Beijing?” “Somewhere,” I replied. They took me for being needlessly pedantic, but “somewhere” was the only certainty I accepted. “How will you get from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales?” I said “I don’t know” because I didn’t know. And I was fine with not knowing, and I was fine knowing they were not fine with not knowing. This mantra affords the keeper a very light singleness, the idea that I needn’t appease anyone, answer to anyone, explain my actions, motives, and being to anyone. Such is not possible with an itinerary – if you fall behind or astray, and hopefully you will, people will say they thought you’d be in Delhi by now, and then you will have to explain.
But the absolute worst part is having to justify and explain to yourself, an internal dialogue that can corrupt any adventure. Those who desperately need itineraries, I feel, are those who will be most hard on themselves when the paper reveals itself to be moot. An itinerary is simply an absurdly high expectation – the expectation that the world is clockwork and you are the clockmaker. And when the chaos reveals itself, when the randomness of the world takes hold of you and your trip, it will be difficult to let go of that one reservation, that one ticket, that one expectation. And so the efforts are misplaced, in my opinion, because while you can control yourself and only yourself, you cannot secure the timeliness or even appearance of a Nigerian train.
And more often than not comes the implication that this choice of conduct is unsustainable, a by-product of the wishy-washiness of youth, when in reality, it’s the healthiest outlook I can imagine. With it, I allow myself the freedom of possibility, to know precisely what I can control and what I can’t – I am the pirate captain of my vessel and no one else’s – to open the cages and burn the blinders we affix. And to do all this, the itinerary must burn as well.
And so I have no itinerary for Hanoi. I have no idea what I will be doing, where I will go, for whom I will work. The first week, I’ll find a hostel to crash in while I scour the buzzing metropolis for apartments with balconies. The real questions begin when I find a place, shove my few clothes into the closet, perhaps buy a potted plant, make the bed, and truly sit down for the first time in my new home, muted silence enveloping me but feeling the rumble beneath my feet.∗