At a recent interview – for the job I am in currently – I was asked to describe my organisational skills. I replied, “Freakish.” And they are. I am a list-maker. I have reminders – electronic and on post-its and on calendars – for all sorts of things. I do not forget birthdays, appointments, work responsibilities or social arrangements. My job requires that I adhere to a strict timetable, and I am responsible for decision-making and organization that immediately affects 180 students and 6 other staff members.
I am a planner in most aspects of my life – except when I am in ‘travel mode’.
When I travel I revel in the freedom it affords me. I shake off the shackles of timetables, commitments and calendars. I take off my watch and happily forget what day it is. On occasion, there are planes or trains to catch at specific times, but mostly I can indulge a side of myself that is rarely seen in my day-to-day and working life. In recent travels I am happy to plan a day or two ahead, and leave the rest to unfold as it comes. And I am often happy for others – in many cases Ben – to make big decisions about what, where and how. I give over to the lack of obligation, and it feels terrific. I haven’t always traveled like this, but in the past few years I have been fortunate with travel companions who allow this side of me to emerge.
My greatest experience of this feeling happened in late September 2006. I stood on the dock of a small marina in the south of Santorini, Greece, and I searched the fleet of sailing vessels for the one with the red G.A.P. flag.
Standing next to me was a tall, dark-haired stranger who seemed to share my nervousness about being in the right
place. “Are you on the sailing trip up to Mykonos?” I asked. “Yes, god I am so glad I am in the right place.” “Me too.” “I’m Ben,” he said with hand extended, “Sandy,” I replied as we shook hands and smiled at each other. We made our way down to the marina and found our yacht. We were greeted exuberantly by our skipper, Patrick, and introduced to the other 5 people we would share the next 9 days with. All were strangers to me, yet within hours I sat with them at dinner, laughing,
enjoying terrific local seafood and knowing that I was amongst friends.
Earlier that day, when I said goodbye to old friends and left to take up my trip with strangers, I had fretted. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find the right bus to get to the right marina to meet up with the right yacht. I had all the same worries about the people on the yacht that a child has about their fellow students on the first day of school. “What if they don’t like me?”was foremost in my mind.
I needn’t have worried. I am still in contact with these fellow travellers 18 months later, and Ben from the yacht is the same Ben who shares my passion for life’s experiences, and peppers my posts about subsequent travels.
We all shared something on that boat that I have never experienced before; an intense feeling of freedom. We slept when we were tired, and we ate when we were hungry. For people from diverse professions all driven by deadlines and timetables, this was liberating.
I lost my watch and did not find it again until packing on the last day. I did not miss it. I forgot what day it was, and
not because the days all melded into one, but because each day seem twice as long as the frantic days of home. Each
day was filled with languid hours, each moment was lived in present tense, which is the key to this kind of bliss – not obsessing about the past, not fretting about the future.
Even the itinerary was ‘loose’. Patrick was the perfect skipper for this kind of trip. He knew the Cyclades islands so
well, that he sailed according to the whims of the weather and the sea. No matter the island on which we landed, he
knew the best places to eat, the best places to see, and how to squeeze every minute from the day without feeling rushed.
Sailing between islands came with its own unique joys. Being on the water with no other place to be at that exact moment, is exhilarating. Swimming off the boat, diving into the bottomless dark blue sea, is exhilarating.
Watching dolphins cresting waves beside the yacht is exhilarating. Breathing salt air, basking in sunlight,
feeling the spray of the ocean on your face, holding on tight to ride the swell and looking ahead as the next island emerges from a hazy horizon – all bliss.
There are so many terrific stories to tell from this trip, and I will some day, but more than unbelievable meals and
extraordinary sights, this trip unlocked something in me. I have described it to Ben as a loosening of knots. I discovered that life is less about timetables and meetings and the pressure of deadlines. Much more important are the moments when we are completely present.
I consider this particular trip a gift. 8 nights and 9 days in the middle of the Adriatic to remind me to be present, to stop obsessing about unimportant things. Whenever I get too caught up in the rigmarole, I think back and remember to breathe.
Oh yes, I will still be obsessively on time for flights, but when I get to the other end and my real journey begins, I
happily and purposefully lose my watch.