In the Unplanned Moments, Travel Happens

Candice Gaukel Andrews February 25, 2010 9

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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,



  1. Jack March 2, 2010 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    I don’t like to waste time in hotels when traveling, and that takes a certain amount of formatting. Conversely, I don”t want to kill myself of “vacation.”

  2. Travis March 2, 2010 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    Happy accidents!

  3. NineQuietLessons March 1, 2010 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    It’s the unexpected moments that are always remembered best, but it never hurts to have a plan. At least if you have a plan, you can always modify or discard it; if you don’t, you might end up without a concrete idea of what to do next.

  4. John Howard Gaukel February 27, 2010 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    The way I see it is when you are embarking on a outdoor nature trip you must be prepared to juggle your itinerary somewhat. There are daily weather conditions to deal with, wildlife activity or inactivity and the condition of the terrain you must travel over. From day to day you never known exactly what you are going to see, encounter or experience when you are in the outdoors. Being able to adapt to the conditions or situations and getting enjoyment and satisfaction from your experience is what makes it a “great outdoor adventure”.

  5. Kit Nordeen February 27, 2010 at 7:45 am - Reply

    On the summer Churchill trip, I was paddling a kayak alongside some beluga whales, and I got so spellbound by the experience that someone had to paddle out and get me. I might have gone out to sea with them! Definitely “unplanned.” Great memories thanks to you!

  6. Art Hardy February 26, 2010 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    Magic can happen in both structured and unstructured travel, but it always seems like those unstructured experiences are fate and meant for your eyes only. One of my favorite moments occurred in a January NatHab trip to Yellowstone and Old Faithful. Following an early morning hike to the Castle Geyser our group was returning to the lodge for breakfast. I was bringing up the rear, shooting some photographs and losing sight of the group because of the geyser steam. Suddenly, 15 feet in front of me a large bull bison appears, stops and stares straight at me. I silently watched a cow and her calf come out of the mist, walk behind the bull and head off toward the hills, followed by the male. Luckily I remembered to snap some pictures to show the group. Quintessential Yellowstone!

  7. Muriel Shiff February 25, 2010 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    I guess I would be an “independent”. Going with the format has it’s pluses, of course, but when going off schedule a vacation can turn into an adventure. Adventures can make for the most colorful telling and remembering! Without going into detail I will say off scheduling has provided laughs, amazement and totally scary and unnerving situations for me.

  8. Joel A. February 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Formatted enough to get there, and then freestyle.

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