Often, people get specific ideas of how a trip should go or places they need to visit. I know, I’ve been there! We can easily be blinded by our own expectations, and miss out on some wonderful experiences. As a Type A planner, I understand just how hard it can be to give in to the unexpected and unplanned; I understand that spontaneity may cause more stress than it’s worth. But, I’ve had too many wonderful, serendipitous, or just plain fun experiences from veering off-course that now, I am more open to the unexpected.
The turning point, for me, was our six-week trip to Europe. In 2016, we spent one month in the Hague, a place we had never given much thought or even really wanted to visit. In fact, the Netherlands wasn’t even part of the conversation when we first began discussing a European adventure. After drooling over the Grenada episode of Parts Unknown (RIP, Mr, Bourdain) earlier in the year, we got it in our heads that we wanted to do a few weeks abroad. Specifically in a warm country, surrounded by beaches and fresh sea food, where they take afternoon naps and long lunches. That was also when we discovered the practice of home exchanging, something I thought the movie The Holiday had made up but has, in fact, been a thriving global practice for decades. We joined one of the websites, filled out our profile, and began pitching a swap to anyone in Spain and southern France.
After more than 40 rejection messages, however, we got discouraged, thinking our European adventure would not be feasible. Apparently no one on the Mediterranean coast wanted to trade their blue waters for our landlocked city.
So when the message came in from a couple in the Hague looking for a month-long exchange in Nashville, we gave it serious consideration.
On the surface, there didn’t seem to be a lot of upside to going to Holland, but the Dutch have a very you-do-you attitude that we really appreciated. Plus, once we thought about it, we realized it would be a chance to get to know the culture and people from which my husband’s entire family hails. The fact that they speak English everywhere was also attractive as neither of us speak more than Mexican-restaurant Spanish. (Dos mas margaritas, por favor!)
We had wanted a warm, beachy European destination where we could eat our weight in seafood. Unexpectedly, we did get just that with the Hague. They experienced a heat wave while we were there, so the clothes we packed for Spain got a lot more use than the rain gear we had been advised to bring, and Scheveningen Beach is LOVELY, with a boardwalk and Ferris wheel, and tons of bars and restaurants that feature fresh seafood. We ended up skipping work one day just so we could spend more time at the beach! It was absolutely one of the coolest experiences of our life together, and one of my favorite trips abroad. (I documented the whole thing if you’re interested in learning more.)
A month in Holland was not what we had initially wanted, or had even ever thought about, but the trip turned into a once-in-a-lifetime experience, all because we said yes to the unexpected.
Another home exchange took us to an unplanned and unexpected destination. In June of 2016, a Canadian couple who owned a 4-suite B and B in Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico said they needed a place to stay in Nashville for a week while they moved their son to college. Would we be up for a non-simultaneous swap, getting to stay in one of their B and B suites for a week at a later date? Ummmm, yes please. Neither of us had been to Mexico, and though I can’t say Nuevo Vallarta would ever have been on our radar, the promise of a free week in tropical paradise isn’t something you turn down! The following March, we spent a relaxing week in Casa Leta Suites, drinking cocktails on the beach and exploring nearby towns. It was an amazing trip we never would have taken had we not said ‘yes’ to the unexpected.
During the summer of 2018, we said ‘yes’ to a couple who needed a last minute place to stay in Nashville when we happened to be out of town; in exchange, we’d get to stay at their home in Cape Canaveral, just a few minutes from the beach. My husband loves the beach and, in 16 years of living in St. Pete, I never once made made it to Kennedy Space Center. So we said ‘yes’, not knowing when exactly we’d get to redeem our part of the exchange. We ended up taking our babymoon in January 2019, with a day trip to St. Augustine. Cape Canaveral is not a place I really need to visit again, but I’m glad we took the trip. Despite the cold front and my pregnant ass needing to pee every 15 minutes, we had a blast, all because we said yes to the unexpected.
So now, as we get itchy to travel *anywhere* just to get away from our house for a couple days, we’re looking at all possibilities for day trips, weekend getaways, and road trip routes. We’re trying to arrange a short home exchange for later this month, and are looking at nearby cities where we can use some of our hotel loyalty points. In the post-Covid world, we may all have to be a bit more flexible and adaptable, willing to try new things or at least a new way of doing things. The way we travel may look different, and the places we go may be closer to home than we usually choose, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have meaningful, delightful, and just plain fun travel experiences. Say yes to something you might not have given a passing thought to before, and I bet you’ll have an unexpectedly wonderful time.