When you “follow the path of magic,” great things can happen. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

There are probably just as many “types” of travelers as there are travelers. But when it comes to travel itineraries, you can generally break people down into two categories: those of the what-will-be-will-be ilk (freestyle fellows) and those who want to stick to the schedule so they’re sure they get to do everything that was written down (formatted folks).

I understand the second style of tripper. I really do. I, myself, have leanings that way. I find that usually on a Natural Habitat Adventures trip, there’s almost too much to see and do—and so little time. So it helps to look over the day’s itinerary in the morning, decide where I’m going to need most of my energy for the next 12 hours (during that morning climb up through the “Impenetrable Forest” to find the mountain gorillas or for that afternoon hike down into the canyons’ depths among the hoodoos), and then apportion out my stamina accordingly so I don’t have to miss a single activity. It also helps to know that if lunch is at noon and the optional helicopter ride to see polar bears takes off at 1:00 p.m., I just might want to pass on ordering that mid-day-meal dessert.

The best-laid plans

But take one or two wildlife tours, and you soon learn that nature doesn’t always run on schedule. Thunderstorms, sleet, rough waters and the quirks and whims of animals happen. Sometimes bears or lions reveal themselves to you right at the exact moment you hoped to see them; and at other times, it takes a heck of a lot of patience and a willingness to throw away your wristwatch to encounter them.

Sometimes animals reveal themselves to you right at the moment you hoped to see them. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

On a recent trip to British Columbia, Canada, on a quest to see a spirit bear, I had hoped to retest my sea kayaking skills. I had only tried paddling once before, and I was greatly looking forward to skimming across deep, clean waters again, at whale-back level. Our itinerary mentioned that we would have two opportunities to get out in the small craft.

Our first chance came on a day when the rain was pouring down and there was a strong wind. Being a novice, I opted to wait for calmer weather and waves. The afternoon that we were to have our second crack at it, however, another happenstance of nature got in the way. On a tip from a local whale researcher, we went off the schedule and sailed into a nearby channel where 12 humpbacks had been seen the previous day. Soon, we were surrounded by the respirations, moans, grunts, shrieks, dives, tail lobbing and flipper slapping of a crowd of cetaceans. And, then, in a totally startling moment, two whales breached simultaneously right next to the boat.

True travel

I never did get that chance to sea kayak again. Do I regret it? Sure. But I wouldn’t have given up hearing and seeing those whales for anything.

I was greatly looking forward to skimming across deep, clean waters again, at whale-back level. ©Candice Gaukel Andrews

Maybe real travel is what happens in those unplanned moments. Maybe real travel is what happens when the bus breaks down or the plane can’t take off. On the last evening of that British Columbia trip, our sailboat’s first mate told us that our journey reminded him of the folly of relying on schedules too much; to remember to “follow the path of magic.”

Are you a “freestyle” traveler, or “formatted”? What was your most memorable unplanned experience on a nature tour? Or, did going off-schedule ever cause a mishap?

Here’s to finding your true places and natural habitats,