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Death Valley/Vegas, Part II: Traveling Without an Itinerary

I’m an incredibly organized person. I not only keep a detailed calendar on my phone, but I have a separate agenda that I write in every day for to-do’s, meetings, and other plans. I schedule Skype calls with my friends on the east coast, making sure we agree on a day and time. I can’t stand to start my day without first making my bed. I’m not OCD, but I do like organization. In like, a kind of strange way that makes you think I could be OCD but I’m not, I assure you.

I already talked a bit about my trip to Vegas this past weekend, mostly about my experiences traveling minimally. But the other part of the journey was the lack of planning involved. Other than catching a flight from Vegas back to LA Sunday evening, there was no place to be and no particular thing to do. I’d figured out a way to get us back to Los Angeles, but we had to figure out how to get there. Somehow.

Mandatory photo of the Chihuly-covered ceiling at the Bellagio.

I definitely looked into all the options for getting to Vegas before letting my boo know about the trip, just so I was informed. There were trains, flights, rental cars, buses, and rideshares. Because we’d only have 24 hours to decide on how we’d get there, I wanted to make sure we were well aware of the possibilities available. So right after I surprised him with the tickets, my dude and I sat in bed for about an hour trying to figure out what we wanted to do.

We could take a train to Flagstaff or Phoenix and rent a car from there. We could take an evening Megabus on Friday and get there Saturday morning. I perused the Craigslist rideshare, and have also heard good things about Zimride, another rideshare service. He looked at Amtrak fares and routes.

This is about traveling without plans, but I have a confession: I had done a small amount of planning and tentatively reserved a car at the end of December. I know! I’d found a great price shortly after Christmas, and since I didn’t even have to put a credit card down I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. If we decided to go with a car, we had an inexpensive one, and if we didn’t then I would cancel the rezzie. Homegirl had been saving up some funds for this trip, but I definitely didn’t have $350+ to burn on wheels for the weekend. I was glad I did that, too, because we ended up wanting to do a car. It allowed for the most freedom–we could literally go anywhere! Anywhere within a reasonable vicinity of Vegas, that is, but it felt like the entire western part of the US was our oyster.

Open road!

By the time we left Saturday morning, these were our plans:

1) Leave LA. Early. Like 7am early. Woof.

2) Drive through Death Valley.

3) Spend the night in Vegas.

4) Return the rental car by 4pm, catch our flight right after.

That’s it. Loose plans–dare I say, *hella loose?–for the whole weekend. Everything else in between would just happen.

There are definitely some not-so-ideal things about traveling without set plans, and there are also some pretty cool perks.

Death Valley was incredible.

Not-So-Ideal Things:

* Cost.

If there had literally been no planning involved at all–if I hadn’t gone ahead and reserved that rental car price–we for sure would have ended up spending more on transportation. Traditionally, bus, train, and plane tickets jump a little as the date approaches. If I’d waited until the Friday of our trip to buy the return flights, I would have easily spent double. There are always options, and you might get lucky with some buses that travel at unfavorable times and are therefore cheaper, or a hotel that would rather make some money on renting out a room than none at all. But unless you have a super flexible travel schedule, buying last-minute costs dollah dollah billz. $$$

* Regrets.

Regrets suck. This trip was fabulous, and I’m not left feeling at all like I should have done this also or seen that instead. But I can definitely see how this style of travel could lead to that. For funsies I like to check out a website called Places to See in Your Lifetime, and I just think about all the cool, amazing shit that you don’t even know exists. Like, that you don’t even know exists in your country, or your state even. I just discovered the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, which is about 3 hours north of where I live. What if I’d driven up the coast and didn’t do any planning and so I didn’t see the glass beach and then on my deathbed I’m all old and like, “Ah, but the glass beach!” That would just suck.

* Anxiety.

My boo-thang reserved a hotel prior to our departure from LA. If we’d instead just showed up in Vegas and hoped a room was available, who’s to say that would have happened? Of course, Vegas would be hard-pressed to run out of rooms, but ya know what I mean, yah? Say we had been traveling in unfavorable weather and gotten stuck somewhere, or stayed at a hotel that had terrible online reviews due to bedbugs, or any other number of situations that can happen when you don’t do a little research? Chances are I would’ve gotten a little 1) grumpy and 2) nervous. Sure, the whole seat-of-your-pants thing is part of the journey, and I get that (see below), but it can still be a little unsettling.

We managed to catch the fountains at the Bellagio. I’ll never listen to Faith Hill the same way again.

Pretty Cool Perks:

* Freedom.

The option to go anywhere is always available to people, it’s just sort of hard to see sometimes. Traveling without plans makes that freedom unbelievably evident. My dude and I brainstormed a lot of cool options for the trip, and one was stopping at the Grand Canyon. After further inspection, that would take a crazy amount of driving that neither of us were up for. But, it was a nice thought! And, I mean, all I knew was that I’d be in Vegas–I had no idea I’d get to go through Death Valley–it all just happened.

* Excitement. 

Sure, it’s a little unnerving to not know exactly where you’re going and can lead to some anxiety (see above), but it’s also really exciting! If you look at it as a sort of game, it’s just a fun, impulsive vacation that happens organically. If you don’t feel like you’re in serious danger, then go balls to the wall (I will refrain from saying yolo here, but you’re all thinking it, you know you are). We left LA at 7:30am and arrived in Vegas around 5pm–that’s a long-ass time to be in the car, but not once was I bored. It’s pretty amazing to take a step back and just see where the days take you, and experiencing the feeling that anything is possible is enough to give you butterflies.

* Relaxation.

There’s no place to be, no set times to do certain things. That’s one of the best feelings in the world! Shedding those kind of commitments is a huge relief. Ever have one of those lazy days where you just sit in bed all day and watch Netflix without a care in the world? This is how it feels, except instead of binging on Breaking Bad you’re going cool places. Vegas is an exciting, intense, and almost overwhelming place to be, and I personally tend to get a little high-strung when traveling (Am I forgetting something? Will I be there on time? What is the weather like?). But because we both were very go-with-the-flow about the whole trip, it made the entire experience laid-back and surprisingly easy.

* Presence.

I’m going to risk sounding like a total hippie right now and say that for the entire vacation I felt entirely present. Does that make sense? My mind wasn’t wandering to any other part of the trip other than the part that was happening at the moment. I was just there in the car, or in Death Valley, or in Las Vegas, experiencing a lot of amazing things to the fullest and thoroughly enjoying my company. And I can wholeheartedly say that if that were the only thing I got out of not planning a trip, then it was a successful one.

Checking out sand dunes in Death Valley.

The road trip through Death Valley and up to Las Vegas would have been amazing no matter what, but getting to travel without plans made it even more wonderful. I dove head-first into a weekend where I knew one thing only: I had a seat on a flight from Las Vegas to Los Angeles Sunday night. As I mentioned, the feeling that I fully experienced the weekend from beginning to end was enough to make it all worth it, so I’m looking forward to traveling like this again soon. Turns out, I’m actually pretty good at not planning.

See ya next time, Vegas!

*For those of you who don’t know what “hella” means (hey mom and dad), it is Northern California slang for “hell of a lot of.” Used in a sentence: Cheddar, mozzarella, and provolone!? That pizza has hella cheese on it, man.

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