Stepping up to the tee, I was mighty nervous. I was shaking, I couldn’t think straight at all.
It was the first time that the coach of my high school golf team put me in the starting lineup. I was finally playing in a tournament between our school and the high school team of a neighboring town. No longer was I just a member of the worthless practice squad.
I positioned my feet and held the golf club firmly, but not too tight. I stared out at the stretch of green in front of me and took a few deep breaths. I bent my knees and then I looked down at the ball. It was my time to shine.
Well, I swung that club, I most certainly did.
And then I had to duck quickly, along with everyone else in the area. The ball had bounced right off a nearby tree and came flying straight back at us. It zoomed just over our heads and eventually landed about 40 feet behind me.
Terrible, terrible, terrible shot. Most likely the worst golf shot that anyone watching had ever seen.
With nerves rattling even more, and trying to brush off the embarrassment, I quickly settled in for my second shot. But, despite my powerful swing, I only hit the ball ever so slightly and all it did was plop two feet off to the right as a result.
My third shot actually went into the air, but it went right into the branches of another tree and dropped straight down.
I didn’t even finish 9 holes of golf that day. While the best golfers on our team finished 18 holes, I got through 8 before it was too dark to continue and I had to call it quits.
Disappointed was an understatement. During our practices each week, I usually hit the ball well. Nice and straight. I’d been practicing for two years.
But the one time I had a chance to shine, I blew it, in the worst of ways.
How it Relates to Travel
I tried too hard that day on the golf course.
And when it comes to setting off into the world for some travel, we often try too hard as well, with similar results.
We try too hard to plan everything. We try too hard to know every crime statistic, weather pattern, transportation option, hostel dorm room price, street food location, activity entrance fee, potential travel partner, toiletry that we might not be able to find overseas and we try to think about every possible situation that might arise and what kind of gear we might need for those situations…and much, much more.
We want to ‘get it right’.
And that’s perfectly understandable.
But sometimes, getting it right actually involves letting go. It involves stepping back from the thoughts that can actually hold us hostage at times. The thoughts that can put so much pressure on us, that turn our brains into such a mess, leaving us unable to concentrate on just doing what we stepped up to the tee to do.
I can’t tell you what was in my head when I made the world’s worst golf shot. The reason is that there were hundreds of thoughts flooding through my head at the time.
Do this, don’t do this, don’t forget about bending your knees, look straight down, move your right foot back, don’t hold the club too tight, don’t whack the ball, just swing evenly, nobody’s watching, a lot of people are watching, what if I hit the tree…
In the end, I didn’t swing that club. All of those thoughts jumping around my head tried to take control of my swing and, amid their battle, they forced the club down towards the ball. The result was terrible of course.
It’s the same with travel. All of those thoughts that we think are helping us will actually hurt us if we try to pay attention to them all. We can’t figure out everything there is to figure out about travel, we can’t plan everything (nor do we want to plan everything), we can’t remember every statistic, we can’t prepare for every situation. And you know what, they do sell Old Spice deodorant and Colgate whitening toothpaste in Thailand!
We just need to relax and swing. We just need to get on a plane or a bus or a train. That’s all we need to focus on…the main task at hand.
The rest will happen naturally. Your body and your mind will remember what it needs to remember. It will do what it needs to do. It might not be perfect from the start, but it won’t be a disaster.
Thinking too much is what can make it a disaster. It can drive a person crazy, to the point where the fun of travel is gone, where the doubts have crept in so much that we no longer think we can get out there and see the world. We just don’t think we have a good enough grasp on EVERYTHING that we need to know before we get started.
If we don’t relax and let our minds be free, we’ll often hit a tree, then we’ll barely hit anything, then we’ll fall out of a tree and then we won’t even finish our travels because our coach will tell us it’s time to go home.
And then our coach will never let us travel again. He might even kick us off the traveling team.
Anyway, stop thinking too much and just go travel.
Is over-thinking preventing you from traveling? Did you ever overcome this and finally get out there into the world?
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Yes, over-thinking would really prevent you from travelling. When you are concerned too much as to what might happened and could happen, will kill your moment of adventure.
hey Earl 🙂
i love your blog. I am saving up to go travelling next year. Asia and Australia (Working in oz)
I do get where you are coming from with this blog post, yet I worry due to Asia not being the safest place to turn up to without not having a plan/somewhere to stay etc. Furthermore I also worry about not having flights/accommodation booked in advance, this could dramatically blow my budget. I am finding it hard to find a good balance of planning and exploring.
Help me please.
great blog! Why don’t you use Instagram?
I would like to enjoy some more photos form your travels.
That is a bad shot but not quite the worst. Playing 18 holes one time I stepped up to the Tee and took my swing. The club hit the side of the ball and it put SOO much english on it that I drove it a good thirty yards to the right and behind me, it hit the ground rolled and landed at the feet of a man putting on the next hole. Hopefully that makes you feel somewhat better, At least if that tree wasn’t in your way you would have made forward progress. I on the other hand had no shot.
I used to be an incurable (or so I thought) planner. Everything had to be pinned down to the last detail before I would leave the house.
Then I went on a cycle tour which lasted 18 months and took me all through Europe and Asia. Cycling, you just can’t plan more than a day or two in advance, because you never know when a road will be crappy or a tire will blow or you’ll meet a nice person who wants to chat.
All of the best experiences in travel come from things you don’t think about!
Great read and a good reminder that it’s not just travel you shouldn’t overthink, but life in general.
Great post and great blog, Earl! I’ve been following your blog for a while now and that’s been inspiring me to just go and travel.
I haven’t started my long-term trip yet (but soon I will), but taking a look at life in general, another thing that I notice is that over-planning and overthinking about stuf like that (travel, events, parties) can make you create a lot of expectations about everything, and when those are not met, when things don’t go exactly how we planned, we can get really frustrated.
The idea is as you said, just relax and swing. Of course, it’s good to have a general ideia of what you want to do, but we shouldn’t worry to much; sometimes we got to just let the future happen, and figure out as we go. This can save us a lot of stressThat’s how I’ve been trying to do lately, although it’s something hard to achieve completely.
Great post !! really good advice for life we dont need to plan everything and we dont need to have the control of everything
You’re spot on about how overthinking can ruin a travel experience or never let it happen! I’ve been overcoming this recently and find that no matter how much research I do, the best think I can do is be aware and just let go and experience the moment. I find that not having the most detailed itinerary with every hour planned out is the best way to go. Sure, you might want to have certain things in mind each day because certain things you want to see are only open on certain days, but the rest of the time, just explore and let things come to you instead of seeking them out.
Perfect timing, tomorrow I’ll be heading to Tuscany for a few days and I’ll have my very first Golf lesson! I already know that it’s going to be a disaster… or maybe not? You made a good point here: Pressure.. it can ruin everything. From your dream trip, to your work, relationships and so on.
Hell, pressure can ruin your entire life. The best trips I had so far were those where I decided my next destination in a matter of hours. Just the time to buy the tickets and go. No expectations whatsoever, no disappointments either. Being spontaneous while traveling is one of the best advice you could give.
I still laugh remembering my packing struggles when I set off for my RTW trip. I’m an hypochondriac and I took with me the whole pharmacy, including an emergency kit to fix my teeth (no comment!).
Three days later I took a picture of me in a hostel in Bangkok, hands over my face ..laughing like there were no tomorrow, as I didn’t know how to fit all that stuff back into my backpack. I ended up throwing away 70% of it.
I kept Just a couple of dresses, shirts my camera and a travel journal. Nothing can beat that feeling of freedom.
Getting out of your comfort zone also means leaving behind your stuff. What’s a real adventure if you have everything planned beforehand? Where is the excitement, the surprise?
That’s why I’ve never read a guide in my life, this way I am still able to be surprised like a 4 year old kid discovering the world for the first time.
Going back to the golf class, since I won’t have any pressure or anyone to impress I actually think that I’m going to have my usual beginner’s luck. It’s always like that. Remove pressure from life and you’ll be successful. If not, you’ll have a good laugh anyway, and nothing can beats that 🙂
Great post, I’ll be thinking about it when I’ll try to hit my first ball on the grass tomorrow!
The timing couldn’t be more perfect. My gf and I are planning to go to China for a couple weeks in October. I started by thinking we would go with a tour group. Then I thought, I don’t want to be told where to go, when to be there, and what to see, so I decided to look at some flights, hotels, and train tickets. Now, most recently, I have been thinking, why not just book the RT flight and wing it the rest of the way. You are so right about the experiences of winging it. That’s always how I have the best experiences, and usually 80% of the initial plans fall by the wayside anyway. Thanks for the post.
Hey Craig – Seems like you know what to do already! Like you said, often times, all of the pre-planning we do ends up being useless as we find new things to do and new places to go once we arrive, leaving those original plans behind.
What you write about over-planning isn’t just wise advice about travel, it’s great advice for living a mindful life generally. (It also goes well with your earlier post about meditation and travel: https://www.wanderingearl.com/five-minutes-meditation-makes-better-traveler/) I used to be an obsessive planner when it came to my travels but these days book nothing more than my flight and first night’s accommodation in advance. What changed my mind has been finding again and again that the most meaningful experiences I’ve had while traveling are those I never could have planned for. On just one trip to Uruguay, starting a conversation with someone I’d shared 4×4 taxi with led me to change my plans for the week and introduced me both about how to make a proper Uruguayan BBQ and also the work of the country’s most famous author… who I met by sheer chance literally hours before my flight out and then invited me for a chat and signed copies of his books I’d just bought.
Hey Owen – That’s how it works….if everything is planned, and we stick to those plans, the chance of us being able to take advantage of those random opportunities that arise becomes much less. In fact, the chance that those random opportunities will even come our way will be much less because we won’t be looking for them at all!
Awesome post man. And at a perfect time for me because I’m leaving to travel for the first time at the end of August. It’s nerve racking to say the least and I have a tendency to over think everything.
Hey Will – Try your best to let many of those thoughts just go! I can tell you that once you arrive in your destination, it won’t take long for you to realize that there wasn’t much point in all of the over-thinking that’s going on right now! I can almost guarantee it.
Ouch, that hit close to home. I’ve been an over-planner since birth (so much so that I’m not convinced that I wasn’t involved in planning that somehow too!) and have spent way too much time over the years planning the crap out of every minute of every trip. And then I took a year off work to travel in C. & S. America, and something happened – there was too much time to make a meticulous “plan” about, so I just didn’t plan it at all. Booked the first flight and first accommodation and decided I would figure the rest out along the way…. and it was marvelous! 🙂 Thanks for a good read!
Hey Pam – Not much else to say about that….as I was reading it, I knew that you were going to describe your non-planned trip with some positive word and ‘marvelous’ seems like a good one. Glad it worked out that way and I guess you’ll be using the ‘less planning’ method from now on!