As advocates of slow travel we have always tried to make the journey, rather than the destination, the focus of our trips. In the recent past however it has often not really worked out quite as we hoped. So we will be adopting a more planned approach for 2016. But will be building in a lot of flexibility.
There are a couple of reasons why our unplanned, exploratory approach has not worked as well as we hoped. Our motorhome is a big vehicle which means that we have to be careful about taking it down small roads and lanes; we could easily get stuck. As I wrote in an earlier post, Byways and bypasses, even minor roads are now avoiding villages and other interesting locations. One rarely stumbles across places of interest as one might have done even twenty years ago; one has to go looking for them.
Serendipity no longer works in the way it once did. The unplanned may provide discoveries that one would perhaps not have made otherwise. Equally it does also mean that important places of interest will be missed. Where the balance lies is arguable but our recent experience does suggest, in Western Europe at least, that lack of planning results in more being missed than found due to all but the tiniest of roads being built to facilitate destination based travel.
The other change driving the need for greater planning is that from the Spring of 2016 I am going to be working full time as a freelance journalist (writer and photographer). That means I have to make sure I cover all aspects of any story I have been asked to write, or that I am hoping to pitch to an editor. There are significant benefits, not just monetary, to this approach. It forces us to be more engaged, more fully immersed in the story and we will have to meet people to get the full picture. That surely is what we wanted when we set out on our slow travels but struggled to make happen?
We are now into detailed planning for a trip to Scotland in April. We intend to follow the Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness and explore some places of interest close by, such as the site of the Battle of Culloden, the last battle fought on British soil. I have a magazine who wants an article from it and I have also an idea for a couple of other articles. For those articles I need to fit in an interview with someone who runs an interesting business near Inverness. So we have to be organised.
For our longer trip to France, and beyond perhaps, we will use the same approach. At the moment we are only at the big picture stage although we have some ideas, the freelance work possibilities are developing. We will continue to adopt a two-level approach to planning. There will be the main itinerary with the main points of interest along the way. There be some preselected overnight locations but the schedule will not be fixed. We will build in flexibility so that if we wish we can stay extra nights if somewhere interests us. The route too will not be fixed but a general direction with some key places to visit along the way. Whenever we can we will have alternative areas to visit to avoid bad weather or other problems.
There will be a second level of planning which will take place on the road. Each day we will decide our more detailed route and pick up on smaller points of interest that we can visit along the way. We will use large scale maps, something akin to Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer maps, which show many more features than even the large-scale road atlases which we use for the main itinerary.
Note, there is no mention of sat-nav. We have it but mainly use it for the last few miles when we need to get to a specific but unfamiliar location. The rest of the time we only use it as a rolling map so we can see where we are. Our route finding is done the traditional way using maps as it gives a bigger picture, a better sense of what is nearby just off our main route. It gives flexibility and helps us find those little surprises that so please us.
We started to use a similar approach late last year but will now be formalising it rather more to meet our new needs. The flexibility allows us to take advantage of diversions and to enjoy the process of discovery. Hopefully this new approach will allow us to make even more of our trips.