Do Puzzle, Do Travel

Where was I going? I puzzled and wondered about it til I actually enjoyed the puzzlement and wondering. – Carl Sandburg

It’s no secret that I love to plan trips. Just the thought of pulling together a weekend visit to Milwaukee sends me into full-on giddiness so you can imagine how my heart pounds when we embark on an international excursion. Our recent two months in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico almost ‘did me in’! Recently I tried to analyze why I have such a love for trip planning and I came up with one conclusion: It’s because I love jigsaw puzzles.

I grew up eating most of my dinners on top of a tablecloth that hid a puzzle-in-progress underneath it. It turns out that there are several skills required for successfully completing a jigsaw puzzle that are evident in the trip planning process. Organization, visualization and focus are not only important for getting that 5,000th piece properly placed, but are utilized while getting that family ‘vacay’ booked. While you can’t break up your expedition and store it neatly into a box when you’ve returned home, you can relive your journey over and over again as well as having sharpened your skills for planning your next adventure.

While rw2′s work schedule sometimes dictates where/when we visit, finding a place to go is half the fun. What time of year will we be going? What’s the weather like at our destination? Have we been there before? Is there a language barrier? Is this an active trip or one for relaxing? This step is much like sorting the edge pieces from the inside pieces; a general look at the overall information.

After the destination is decided I start to analyze aspects of the trip: lodging options (hotel/hostel/cabin/flat), attractions, transportation options, night life, good restaurants, etc. Much like putting similar colored pieces together. This is where my love of maps enters the process. In short, Google maps is my friend! I often rely on maps in guide books, but these are usually an on-the-ground resource after having mapped out the routes to and from well in advance from the comfort of my living room in chicago.

I tend to be a visual learner, so the use of as many pictures as I can find for our destination and activities is a must. This strategy is not only helpful to get a sense of place, but adds to the building excitement of the trip itself. Ever want to go someplace you’ve never actually seen? Me neither. However, on a recent trip to Mt. Rushmore, this concept worked in reverse. We’ve all seen pictures of the majestic mountain with the 4 famous presidents on it, right? Well, after flying over Mt. Rushmore in our plane, we decided that it seemed much smaller than we had anticipated for the last 43 years and were greatly underwhelmed. After seeing it ‘up close’ from the ground, we maintained our position and decided that the whole affair was highly overrated. Sorry Tom, George, Abe and Teddy. You look much more immense on film.

Anyway, back to the puzzle. The penultimate step is to start placing the pieces in their correct spots and that means making the reservations for flights, lodging and any other necessary bookings. This is when the puzzle starts to take shape and make sense. The more pieces I place, the more the big picture starts to come into focus. Of course, the actual traveling itself is the largest part of the enjoyment and that would be when large chunks of the puzzle you’ve been working on on the side are set among the already placed pieces. For me, the puzzle is complete and the final piece is placed when I set foot on my front doorstep, post-trip. For me, it’s not just the traveling that makes the voyage, it’s each component from the moment that ‘travel monster’ in me rears its lovely head and closure is very much a part of the task.

Much like those who glue finished puzzles together and display them to gaze upon in repeated praise of the accomplishment, we can relive our trip journeys over and over again through memories, photos, souvenirs and new friends we’ve met along the way. This reflection sparks more adventures and I happily repeat the process. Here’s to a long and happy life of puzzling ~ *Cheers*.

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