Part of the fun of taking a road trip is the spontaneity of the journey. Some of my fondest travel memories started with an impulsive point towards a roadside attraction and an enthusiastic, “let’s stop here!” While I don’t regret any of my road trip experiences, I’m still uneasy with the simple fact that I never end up having enough time to explore all that I had planned.
I call this “traveler’s guilt.”
I often think of the night Kevin and I finally arrived in Innsbruck, Austria at nine p.m., exhausted after an exciting day spent exploring Salzburg and Berchtesgaden National Park. Before we left the States, I’d created a list of sights I planned on seeing in Innsbruck, but since we entered the town so late, all of our activities were closed.
Frustrating, isn’t it? We spend so much time researching and planning our trips, and we know in the back of our mind that we simply won’t get to see and do everything, but we have no idea what will end up falling by the wayside. And this makes sense. We can’t predict traffic, long wait times at attractions, or exhaustion. In the early planning stages of a vacation, you also don’t know what interesting locals you’ll strike up conversations with or crazy sights you decide to visit in the spur of the moment after seeing a vague sign along the highway. And it’s those moments that we tend to remember…so why can it be so hard to let go of that itinerary?
A few years ago, the phrase “FOMO” struck our collective consciousness, and while the phrase itself sounds laughably juvenile, there is truth to the millennial fear of missing out on what might be the best experience of our lives. Personally, I feel so lucky to be able to travel to spectacular places like Innsbruck that I don’t want to waste a minute. As someone who didn’t travel internationally until well after my twenty-first birthday, I didn’t want to take my time abroad for granted. For some reason, ingratitude became interchangeable with the reality that there are only so many hours in a day. I didn’t know when, or even if, I would have the chance to return, and I wasn’t thrilled that the trademark Alpine landscape sat invisibly under the thick cover of nighttime. The only photos I took in Innsbruck were blurry, dark shots of building facades that I found pretty.
Thankfully, one Innsbruck’s most popular sights is always open – well, it’s part of a building’s edifice, so I suppose this is ought to be self-evident. The Golden Roof remains from Austria’s imperial days, as it would provide a royal vantage for those times when the Emperor and Empress needed to make a speech or spectate an event. And, like Austria’s other major cities, Innsbruck’s historic buildings were tastefully illuminated and thoroughly enjoyable at night – but, again, I do apologize for the blurry images. At first, I simply wasn’t going to write about Innsbruck, but I realized my ramblings on traveler’s guilt – a topic I’ve wanted to discuss for some time – might be worth a few iffy photographs.
Finally setting my sights on the city’s top attraction (I’m not kidding; Innsbruck is partly famous for this roof), I started to feel my traveler’s guilt begin to subside. The last time I felt like this had been in London. I’d just gotten off a two-and-a-half hour train ride from Paris after a late bedtime the night before, and when I arrived in the U.K., I went back to the hotel and snoozed for about three hours. By the time Kevin gently tapped me, dusk had already started to settle in and the London Eye had closed for the day. We were leaving for Norway in the morning and I felt saddened that I’d wasted my last day in London with my face planted onto an Ibis hotel pillow.
As Kevin and I wandered over to a pasta restaurant in downtown Innsbruck we’d found online before arriving, the part of me that was still disappointed over our late arrival continued to calm down. It didn’t hurt that we passed by some of the most charming architecture I’ve ever seen:
As we sat waiting for our dinner, I scrolled through the array of photos I’d taken throughout the day, and I realized I chose to postpone our stop in Innsbruck because I wanted to ride on a boat at Lake Konigssee in southern Germany. My photographs reminded me I’d made the right decision – I can’t do everything, but I can see a few sights thoroughly and that’s exactly what Kevin and I did. I’ll never regret the boat ride that brought us here:
So, here’s the secret: whether you have one night or fourteen nights, you’ll never feel as though you saw and experienced enough. Learn to make the most of whatever time you have in a way that feels right for your personality and travel style. I enjoy semi-planned wandering, while Kevin’s impulsive side often leads us to explore something that “looked cool from the highway on the way in.” Having traveled quite a bit now, one of my biggest pieces of advice would be to break the habit of viewing your itinerary as though it were set in stone. You can always adjust your itinerary, omit some parts, or even forgo it all together – just don’t risk getting so stressed out that you fail to enjoy your stunning destination.
Honestly, I don’t think I could have functioned the next day had I not napped for half of eternity in London, and you know what Kevin and I did the next afternoon after we arrived in Norway? We hiked up to a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the charming city of Bergen, Norway – one of the most unforgettable experiences from that particular Europe trip. And Innsbruck had to wait because a stunning lake in Bavaria called our names.
Will I ever manage to get used to the “can’t see everything” part of travel? Probably not. Whenever I leave a place for the first time, I always feel as though I only had a tantalizing taste. I never seem to feel as though I’ve done the local culture justice, and my brush with the lovely little city of Innsbruck embodied this discomfort. Part of what eases my traveler’s guilt is looking at all of the other fantastic, unbelievable things I saw instead – and how lucky I am to be able to do this in the first place.