Read most any account by or about the world’s greatest explorers such as Magellan, Columbus, or Byrd, and you’ll find this common thread: Repeatedly challenged by what was required to get there, they were excited by what they found.
Back then, “challenge” was a one-word term that covered a wide range of conditions. Some were expected or anticipated, others were surprises because early explorers had little to no information with which to guide their actions. Instead, and often with loss of life, they had to discover for themselves what they suddenly and without warning had to overcome.
Upon arriving, however, they felt a strong sense of accomplishment, of recognizing that what they were seeing and experiencing was a “first,” a reward for all their efforts, the fulfilling of a dream or a mission.
Beginning in 1990 and for fifteen years afterward, I wrote and published guide books for cruising boaters wishing to cruise southern portions of America’s inland river system. I sold thousands of those books and gave dozens of presentations during which I gave boaters detailed accounts of what to expect.
Except for a picture on the cover, none of the total of thirteen editions of the three books contained any photographs. Neither did I use any during the presentations some of which were attended by as many as 250 participants for as long as two hours.
Nobody, however, ever complained. That’s because instead of following the usual thought pattern of traveling from point A to point B, I portrayed them as explorers and discoverers, uncovering the adventurous side that all of us have.
Soon afterward, however, rapid advances in electronic technology made it possible to quickly view every mile of the trip and every detail of the destination. Understandably, cruising boaters were delighted and impressed by that new capability.
Having predictability replace the element of chance, however, forfeits a deep sense of satisfaction in everyone’s ability to get there and the joy of discovery upon arrival. Instead, they merely confirm what they already knew.
Now, ask yourself this logical question: What if there were no surprises in life, such as no wrapped presents under the Christmas tree or no surprise birthday parties? Perhaps that will help you begin to understand the psychological downside of technology “delivering” your trip to you before you ever take it.
My wife and I gave this approach a stiff test by using it to not plan a 25-day overseas trip that involved one major city in each of five countries. All we knew before we left home were flight and hotel reservations. We were then free to innovate, be impulsive, act according to how we felt, follow a whim or a “must see” a local had told us about. Throughout the entire trip, we acted the part of explorers and discoverers to make it one of the best trips ever.
None of us would want to return to the time of our ancestors with all the uncomfortable, inconvenient, and sometimes dangerous uncertainties of travel. It’s well to remember, however, what keeps us excited as we explore and what surprises us at the end.
There’s no question about how useful and helpful technology can be in our travels. All of it, however, bows to this bit of logic: Because you can use it doesn’t always mean you should.