Thailand to Portugal by way of Russia with no planes allowed.
A trip over land and sea of 18,000 kilometers using trains, buses, camels, and ferries without an itinerary.
An experiment in ‘just-in-time’ decision-making to put fear in its place and concentrate on what really matters: living in the here and now.
It sounds pretty cool in a regular tone of voice, but we like to imagine it being said in Dolby Digital Surround Sound with the booming intensity of the movie-announcer guy, with a slight echo.
I have taken to calling myself Jason Bourne, though behind my back and with a voice louder than he should dare Warren mocks me with the nickname Mason Bourne (Jason’s clumsy and less famous sibling).
To say that we are excited about our Eurasian Adventure 2012 would be an understatement. It is the boldest trip we’ve undertaken so far, at least on purpose (apologies to the erupting volcano and the political coup – you were pretty incredible surprises).
The challenges to our own fears about leaving the future so unplanned in such an unknown environment are the real lesson here.
We want you to learn from our experience in how to stop worrying so much about the future.
I knew something would happen the minute I hit publish on our first article announcing the adventure. We boldly stated our end goal, to travel all the way to Portugal from Thailand without the use of planes. The next day, an opportunity dropped out of the sky and landed in our inbox:
“Want to come housesit at our guesthouse in Kerala, India?”
Um, yeah! One of our goals is to run a guesthouse or B&B for a short time, living on the other end of the life we’ve grown to love. But is this opportunity enough to derail us from our current goal?
We cut short our trip to South America last year to take an impromptu slow cruise across the Atlantic, and it was one of the best experiences of our travels. Could this be the same kind of opportunity?
We weighed it in our minds as we hiked Tiger Leaping Gorge for a few days. In the end, we realized it would be far easier for us to find a guesthouse-sitting gig in the future than to be perfectly aligned time-, location-, and budget-wise to attempt the trip across Asia and Europe again. We said no.
But the lesson here is not that we made the right decision. We made a decision, and our life will flow from it. There is usually no right or wrong, just left or right, up or down, A or B. Either way, we would have been okay.
Don’t get so caught up in making the right decision that you fail to make any decision at all.
As we traveled further north into the Yunnan Province, our goal was to enter Shangri-La and take the less-traveled Sichuan-Tibet highway to go east to the central Chinese hub of Chengdu. It would be a more rural and difficult journey, but it would take us through magnificent mountains and give us a taste of Tibet that we would otherwise not see until we actually get a permit to go there someday.
We discovered as we tried to book our tickets that the road was closed to foreigners at that time. There were protests, including people setting themselves on fire, and the government would not allow any outsiders near.
So we asked around and heard about Lugu Lake, a beautiful area popular with Chinese tourists and somewhat on the way to Chengdu. It was a relaxing destination, and we had some terrific experiences with Chinese travelers while there, plus one of the most spectacular walks we’ve ever had. The setback turned into a bonus.
As we got ready to leave this remote area, we were told we could catch a bus coming from Lijiang if there were empty seats available. We checked at the bus station and found out the bus was not running that day, but we did run into a Chinese traveler looking to go to Chengdu as well, and between her, the bus station clerk, and a minibus driver, we mapped out a way to get to Chengdu with a series of local buses and transportation we would have never worked out on our own. It started a long day of travel, our first night train in China, and plenty of sign language, but we made it – and in less time than if we had taken the original bus.
Setbacks are not always as they appear. Sometimes they are just road signs telling you to take the detour to make your journey more interesting or less difficult.
Many of you have asked about our upcoming journey across Russia and Mongolia. We are excited about this leg, too, and it all depends on two things: getting our Russian visas, which are more difficult when you are out of your home country; and deciding how to travel across Russia, with a tour group or on our own.
We have been given a pretty nice offer of a discount to go with a tour group. It will be so nice to have someone else plan our transportation and lodging and negotiate the language for a change! But if we take this tour it will mean missing out on Nadaam, the Olympic-like festival that has been in place since the time of Genghis Khan.
The other option is to just book the individual tickets and wing it without a guide to smooth the way. It is not really that much cheaper to do this, but it does give increased flexibility in our timeline and destinations, making Nadaam a reality as well as some extended time living in the gers with Mongolian families. Again, we don’t speak or read Mongolian or Russian, so this is a more difficult option.
We are deciding which option to take this week because it impacts our timeline to exit or renew our Chinese visas. Our current location in Chengdu is where our travel plans diverge depending on which option we take.
Choosing one thing over another always comes with some kind of gain and some kind of loss; that’s why it is a choice. You can’t get away from this, so stop trying to have it all and have what you want most.
There have been dozens of other smaller decisions in our journey so far, but the best surprises have been our ability to meet with friends as we make our plans public. Since making our final decisions on the Russian leg of our trip, we have been able to schedule a meetup with an English friend in Beijing in the next few weeks as well as coordinate a meeting with a journalist who wants to write about us. Who knew we’d meet a writer on her way to China?
We have also been able to better predict our timeline in Europe now with the Russian leg better visualized, and a friend in Germany is planning a reunion with us and some friends from our travels in South America.
Add to that the information we glean from other travelers as we make our way around the country, and we are better able to plan our journey as we go instead of sticking to some prearranged itinerary without the flexibility to respond to new opportunities and information.
When you share your decisions with the world, you’ll be surprised at how it rallies to conform to your plans. Keep it to yourself, and you’ll face every decision alone.
How this affects you
Four lessons on just-in-time decision making from the first month of our travels in the Eurasian Adventure 2012 plus a bonus:
- The line between right and wrong is different than the line between choices. Think of it as left or right, up or down, or A or B. No matter what you choose, life will go on, so don’t get so caught up in the analysis of the choice that you fail to make it.
- Setbacks are not always as they appear. Sometimes they are just road signs telling you to take the detour to make your journey more interesting or less difficult.
- Choosing one thing over another always comes with some kind of gain and some kind of loss; that’s why it is a choice. You can’t get away from this, so stop trying to have it all and have what you want most.
- When you share your decisions with the world, you’ll be surprised at how it rallies to conform to your plans. Keep it to yourself, and you’ll face every decision alone.
- And the bonus: Give your big mission a name. We call ours the Eurasian Adventure 2012, and it reminds us just in repeating it of our end goal. Give it a name, and you give it life.
Just-in-time decision making can free you from the worries of the distant future. It is not the same as not planning for the future at all. It is more a marshalling of your best resources to solve the decision at hand and repeating this tactic as you go, always working toward your end goal but creating the steps by every decision you make, instead of forcing each step to conform to a fixed future you can never successfully predict.
Your assignment this week, should you choose to accept it:
- Make a choice
- Take the detour from a setback
- Decide what you want most instead of aiming for it all
- Share your plans
- Name your mission
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