My last partner and I had a terrific system for traveling. It worked flawlessly – I was the planner, the scheduler, the chooser. I found hotels, restaurants and experiences, booked everything, kept track of the plans and made sure we had access to all of the “must-dos” for every location. A must-see pop-up store in this city, the Michelin-starred restaurant in that place, the museums at the top of the lists and the off-the-beaten-track places that I deep-dove to discover. His job? Finding all the places … like, geographically. Looking at maps, surveying different routes, identifying best transportation options, metro lines to take and connect; all things direction was his domain.
So when we separated, I felt a tremendous weight settle onto my shoulders when it came to travel. Getting lost in a foreign country is a terrifying prospect, especially alone with a child. Metros, buses, rental cars … these all seemed too complicated to navigate. I didn’t have that innate sense of direction that he had, I panicked when asked to switch lines on the tube or the subway in any major city. Looking at maps made me cross-eyed and I didn’t want to pay the exorbitant fees to have cellular data on all days of a trip.
So this year, with my fiancé, I thought I had a new person to bear the responsibility of getting us safely from place to place. Except, he is also directionally challenged, not to mention that our trip to Barcelona was his first time abroad, so expecting him to be immediately oriented and confident was perhaps a bridge too far.
What to do? Well, there was only one thing: figure it out – myself. Who ever said that directions were primarily in the wheelhouse of the man in the relationship? How outdated, how silly, how utterly ridiculous? I studied routes, looked at the metro lines, where they intersect and in what directions each went. I looked at landmarks that lay north, south, east and west of Barcelona and oriented myself accordingly. I looked up directions while at the hotel (with WiFi) before we left for dinner or the museum, boutiques or galleries. Navigation was only frightening because I had never had to do it. But with a partner who thinks that there isn’t anything I’m incapable of doing, one who doesn’t mind if I make a mistake or we walk down a street a half mile the wrong way before I get my bearings, it all seemed silly.
Of course I could find my way around, our way around. Wrong turns became an opportunity to explore, confusion over subway stops became a trip through a different neighborhood. It was … true traveling. I gave us all the chance to discover places not on our itinerary, restaurants we wouldn’t have tried, shops we would never have browsed.
It turns out I’m not just the planner, not just the booker of reservations and scheduler of events. I’m able to do it all! I can find my way around a foreign place and get my family from point A to B safely, even with a few accidental detours. I’m the planner and navigator now; but this time around, I also have the luxury of an assistant who thinks my mistakes make the trip even better, whether it’s choosing a restaurant that actually isn’t that great after all, or taking the metro the wrong way 12 stops just to take it back 15 more in the other direction. Someone to carry the bags and offer encouragement, an extra set of arms to carry a sleepy five-year-old. So with a little help, I can do it all.
And now, I’m finding my way, one trip at a time.