It is such a tease the way that airline ticketing works. Especially if you’re flying internationally – the only way you can get a good deal is to buy your ticket about three and a half months in advance. Which I’ve just done – Christmas is going to be a small event in my family this year, so I’m giving myself a big splurge and flying to Paris for the first time ever, for the last week of December into New Year. I’ve bought my plane ticket, and I found an AirBnB place with a fantastic view five minutes’ walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg. That leaves plenty of time to browse travel guides and daydream.
Two and a half months’ worth of time.
See, I’ve never always been that great with simply waiting for time to elapse. When I was still doing theater, there was always this fifteen-minute stretch of time between the moment we opened the doors for the audience and the moment the show could start, and there literally was nothing for me to do but wait for that fifteen minutes to go by and the lack of anything to do always drove me slowly mad. I would check and re-check the props and the set, quiz the house manager every two minutes about how many people had yet to claim their reservations, stare at my watch, pace, fidget and twitch until the show was due to start and I could finally do something.
And that same kind of nervous eager energy is now being channeled into studying every single last thing about what there is to do in Paris. I have surveyed blogs for “New Year’s Eve Ideas”, I have made spreadsheets tracking the shifting schedules for all the big museums, I have done cost analysis of the different Metro ticket packages, and I’m considering making a Googlemap for three of the different arrondisments where I flag each of the different cafes, shops, markets, bars, bistros, cute parks and stores and such that I’ve spotted in my guidebooks. I have even figured out what I am going to pack.
This kind of granular planning would make sense if I was preparing a dossier for myself and only taking that with me. But these same guidebooks I’m studying so intently, I will be bringing with me. But it is too soon to take those books and shove them in a bag with the two sweaters and three scarves and two shirts and two pair of pants and putting on the pants which I’ve deemed comfortable enough for the plane and flying to Charles de Gaulle and taking the exact right Metro that will put me two blocks from the pied a terre and climbing to the top floor and unpacking it all into the little bookshelf I saw under that attic skylight before deciding whether I want to try to go check out Saint Sulpice that afternoon or just get a cafe au lait and peoplewatch.
And even worse, too much planning is going to keep me from exactly the kind of diving-in spontaneity that makes me want to travel in the first place. I’ve learned from other trips that these kinds of lists end up feeling like iron-clad rules, and I race through the whole thing feeling like I’m checking off a list. I hit a mental wall halfway through a trip to London after having sped through St. Paul’s, the Tate, the Globe, the British Museum, the London Zoo, the…. and then on an afternoon when I was supposed to be going to the Tower of London because “it’s there and so I should see it, right”, I suddenly realized “but…I don’t want to.” I never really wanted to, anyway, it was just something that made it onto the list when I was obsessively planning the trip.
Fortunately I had the presence of mind then to completely chuck the day’s plans, and spent a very lazy afternoon riding a ferry back and forth along Regent Canal and striking up a conversation with a little cafe owner. Some moments of that London trip are a blur, but I remember that afternoon perfectly – the shimmer of the canal water, watching the ducks circle an island near Little Venice, the free cupcake from the cafe “because I’m in a good mood”. That’s the kind of thing I travel for; and too many plans weighing me down keep me from finding that. But not being able to go yet just leads to these plans as a sort of active daydreaming.