Knowing when and how to change plans is an essential life skill. In fact, given the impermanence of all things, keeping an open and flexible mind is the only way to live a joyful and free life. The trick, it seems, is creating enough structure to give shape to your life, including your travels, while not becoming attached to them. Easier said than done, especially when you’re on a trip of a lifetime.
When life doesn’t unfold according to our preconceived plan our first reaction is to buck up and solider on, getting through it as best we can. Stiff upper lip and all that. But are we just wasting time not addressing the issue? Time is the most precious resource we have. Like an aquifer hidden deep underground, it’s impossible to know how much is there. How many days do we have left? Here’s where a little math is useful.
The average life expectancy in the USA is 79.3 years. Let’s say you’re already 50 years old.
You have 10,430 days left.
If those days were dollars, how long would it take to spend them? Life is too precious to waste a single moment not living fully. When we’re resisting change, we’re not living fully, we’re stuck in a sad corner, beating our head against the wall. So how do we recognize when it’s time to change plans? And how do we come up with the best solution?
When and how to change plans.
After achieving our goal of teaching English in Chile we were enjoying our reward – exploring other parts of South America, ticking off bucket list items and looking for a place to live outside the US. After spending a year in a city of eight million, we knew we wanted someplace much smaller to call home. We had a rough plan with a couple of set dates and places, but we were mostly creating our journey on the fly.
We spent a month in Valparaiso, a coastal city of 284,630, admiring the colorful murals, eating fresh seafood and wandering up and down the hills. We could see ourselves living there or in one of the much smaller towns along the coast. A ninety minute drive from Santiago, there’s a lot of development but it’s still affordable.
Then we headed further south for an intense nature fix: three weeks in the Aysén region of Patagonia, hiking to remote waterfalls, riding ponies up steep mountainsides and bouncing across crystal lakes to spectacular, sculptural caves. Most folks head to Torres del Paine but we needed nature not people. Aysén fit the bill perfectly – we’ll go back to explore more but it’s too remote (for us) to live.
Onward, ever onward.
Next up was Ecuador for a month. We arrived in Cuenca, a charming Spanish colonial city of 331,888 in southern Ecuador. It looked promising. A moderate climate, inexpensive housing and not too many expats. (Although we overheard more English here in three days than we had in the past seven weeks in Chile.) It also had a university, plenty of interesting cafes and was overflowing with history.
A brief time out.
The next day, we moved to Ayampe, population maybe 120, and enjoyed a few days of redemption at an idyllic beach front Vistamar. We snorkeled. We bought fresh fish, fruits and vegetables from the vendors who pulled up in front of the house every few days. We cooked in the open air kitchen and made new friends. We took long walks on the beach, greeting the fishermen and marveling at the lack of tourists. This was more like it.
But we were soon due in Quito for our first house-sitting gig. After three days of bliss, we had to move on. The depressing signs of poverty appeared constantly, with only brief flashes of prosperity. Ecuador has made tremendous economic and social strides but it has a long way to go. Our moods fell with every mile. Arriving in Quito eleven hours later we splurged on a taxi.
When the thrill is gone.
It was clear we were out of the flow. Poverty is a fact of life. Plumbing problems happen. Being sick is nothing new. Places don’t always live up to their online hype. Things get left behind. It was our reaction to these common occurrences that set off the warning bells. We were depressed. Dispirited. We were in that sad corner, beating our heads against the wall. It was time for a new plan.
Two months before, we had arranged our first house-sitting gig through Trusted Housesitters. Staying in a spacious home perched on a hillside in Quito and taking care of Frida for two weeks would give us time – and space – to consider our options. If we hadn’t had that planned, we would have stayed longer in Ayampe, which had the spaciousness we require.
Beginning the process.
Arriving in Quito we quickly unpacked and settled in. Our helpful hosts, Brenda and Matt, had left comprehensive information on the neighborhood markets, dining options and dog parks. Our routine was soon set. Always up first, I took Frida for her morning walk, picking up fresh fruit or pastries, and enjoying the clear, musical Spanish spoken by the consistently friendly Ecuadorians.
With freshly brewed coffee in hand, I’d spend a few hours researching our options. A week finished our house-sitting assignment, we had a meditation retreat planned in Colombia. Our flight was already booked. Ecuador is strict about tourist visa limits (unlike Chile) and want to know when you are leaving when you arrive.
We hadn’t booked a flight out of Colombia, as we expected to spend several weeks there. Most of Colombia was deemed safe at that time. We didn’t know when we would leave or what airport we would be flying out of. Or where we would fly to next. This open ended style of travel isn’t for everyone, but we have found a balance of planning and free styling that works for us. It helps that airfare within South America is surprisingly inexpensive as several low cost airlines have recently started up.
Discussion and distraction.
By the time David was up and fueled with coffee, I’d have enough new information to discuss. The soaring views from our temporary home refreshed and inspired us. The changing light and cloud formations were a distraction I never tired of. For the task at hand, our location was ideal.The neighborhood, with its clean sidewalks, tiny markets, and flower filled parks, was calming.
Based on our discussion, I’d either book something – a room, a flight, a train – or note additional research for the next day. After a hearty home cooked brunch, we’d go exploring. Descending the hillside into the city, we’d either keep walking or catch a bus. Sometimes we had a specific destination but often we wandered, delighting in finding little coffee shops or admiring the lush, tropical landscaping.
Implementing the new plan.
Within a few days, our plans had clarified. When our house-sit ended we’d go north, to Cotacachi, a mountain town known for it’s leather work and near Otavalo, with its famous textiles market. We’d spend the week at Casa Aleli, in the countryside with our own kitchen and views of mountains and meadows from every window. Then the bus back to Quito the day before our flight to Columbia.
The five warning signs.
It’s time to change plans when:
- You have little tolerance for the normal delays, disruptions and disappointments of life.
- Your energy is low.
- You are drinking more coffee and alcohol than usual.
- You are getting sick.
- All you see around you is ugliness.
Six steps to a solution.
To figure out what you need to change:
- Find a quiet place to retreat for at least three days.
- Spend two hours each morning mediating, thinking, and free writing about the problem. Encourage your partner to do the same.
- Truly enjoy a small pleasure every day.
- Spend an hour researching solutions and gathering information. Make notes.
- Go for a walk, in a park if possible, or someplace new.
- Discuss the situation and options with your partner or with a trusted friend.