“What should we see and do while we’re here?” It’s a dangerous question, filled with hope and naiveté. When we arrive in a place we often know little more than its name- but within a day we’ve gotten a variety of locals’ tips on things to do, sights to see, routes to climb, restaurants to visit. No matter how tightly we fill our time, each new day adds more items to our to-do list.
“Let’s just roll into Aspen, grab dinner, and move on in the morning” turns into three full days of hiking, climbing, cycling, and the feeling that we’re just scratching the surface. Without a firm deadline for departure, it’s easy to extend our visit indefinitely.
When vacationing with a fixed timeline we have time to prepare and decompress, and the knowledge that we have a short timeline and can’t possibly hope to do everything. In the van, there’s always the temptation to extend each stop by just one more day.
When we’ve lived in a stationary place, I haven’t felt pressure to check off these to-do items: there will always be another evening to check out that new brewery, another Saturday to check out that new crag, another long weekend for that national park you’ve never gotten around to visiting. As a result, I’ve moved away from places without having done the “must-do” sightseeing- six years in Boston without seeing the Red Sox in Fenway, five years in the Bay Area without visiting Alcatraz, two years in Tahoe without fishing in the lake.
The reality is that we could spend a season in each mountain town, and still barely scratch the surface. We’re visiting destinations which others have devoted their lives to exploring: Red Rock, Zion, Lake Powell, Moab, Salt Lake City, the San Juans, Aspen, Denver. We can never feel like we’ve done it all- but we’ll always want to do more.
The result is a delicate balance between the desire to fully experience a place, and the wanderlust which pulls us on to new places. As a friend recently put it, it’s a balance between #FOMO and #YOLO. Without an itinerary, each day is a decision between whittling down our to-do list, and moving on to a new mysterious spot and starting the process over. We have to remember that we can’t do it all, and we probably shouldn’t try. Finding balance has been a challenge, but has taught us an incredible lesson in decision making and prioritizing.