Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Wandering Tale

By Edith McClintock

A few months back, I was in a five-week training course where we spent a day on Myers Brigg team-building exercises. For those of you who may not know, Myers Brigg is a psychological test that measures how people perceive the world and make decisions. My classmates and I had all taken the test online during our first week of training, but only the trainers knew the results (although a few of us, including me, did know our “types”).

For the last activity, the trainers asked four of us to leave the room. We waited in the hallway for about ten minutes while the rest of the group did something—we weren’t sure what. Then we were asked to come back in the room, sit in front of the group, and, together, plan a trip.

Backpacking, Florence, Italy, 1990s
So we did, contemplating oceans and mountains, deciding why not have both, riffing off each other, laughing, wandering down byways. Everything fun and flexible. Nothing too thought-out or well planned. We ended up sailing for Croatia, stopping at various sites along the Albanian coast, ending in the ancient city of Dubrovnik.

No one discussed booking tickets, passports, packing appropriately or reading travel guides.

The four of us, it turned out, all scored high on perceiving in the Myers Brigg judging/perceiving (J/P) typology. Before us, the trainers had asked a group of high judging classmates to also plan a trip, and the result was very different—obviously much more structured.

I’d like to note that judging does not connote judgmental, nor does it have implications for one’s level of organization. Judgers simply prefer a planned or orderly way of life. They like to have things settled and organized, to bring life under control as much as possible. Perceivers prefer a flexible and spontaneous way of life, to understand and adapt to the world rather than organize it. They like to stay open to new experiences and information.

So what does this mean for how I like to travel?

It means I don’t like to read guidebooks. I don’t like to have a plan or particularly know where I’m going. I like to wander, to explore the random and unknown. I like to get lost.

Priene, Turkey
You can imagine this doesn’t work well with strong judging types, which I learned on my first big trip—backpacking through Europe with my sister and two friends when I was nineteen. One friend showed up with a plan for the entire month of travel, a day-by-day, nearly hour-by-hour schedule—with listings of museums, restaurants, even our scheduled wake-up time each morning. Some of it was useful information, true, but the idea of a detailed breakfast schedule on vacation was incomprehensible to me—still is.

She was, I have no doubt, high on the Myers Brigg judging scale. Two of us were high perceivers. My sister is probably somewhere in between. We didn’t make it through the trip. There was yelling at the Naples train station. Three of us went to Germany with no plan. The other stayed in Italy.

That’s not to say I’m not perfectly happy if someone wants to sort out monotonous details for me—important sights to see, bus schedules, country crossings, visa details. That’s lovely, and I can do that too, if necessary. I can even enjoy it sometimes. What I can’t do, or hate to do, is travel with a schedule or stick to a plan when there’s a random brown sign on a map, maybe indicating a castle off the highway. Sure, it’s not what we had planned, we don’t know any details, possibly we don’t have enough gas or a spare tire, but why not take a look? I prefer to travel with someone who says, “Sure, why not?”

Bay near Dilek Peninsula National Park
We did this in Turkey when I was traveling with another friend. We’d rented a car to visit the ancient ruins of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma scattered along the Aegean coast. But we saw that brown sign and headed off the highway to follow a dirt road surrounded by cotton fields. After several turns, helpful pointing in the opposite direction from a farmer, followed by a long, rocky road through more fields, we found ourselves confronting an unimpressive ruin of a castle on a tiny hill.

There was a reason it wasn’t listed in our guidebook. We took a few pictures that will never be shown to the world, scurried back to the car at the first sign of a barking dog, and were soon back on the highway and en route to exploring the guidebook-approved sites, only two hours delayed.

Doğanbey, Turkey
We rushed through dusty, archeological sites under a baking sun, and by late afternoon, I thought we should try a new route back through a national park, maybe take a swim somewhere along the coast. We again followed winding roads, stopping first at a beautiful deserted bay, where the water was too shallow and warm, the bottom mucky, and we decided to find something better along the way. Unfortunately, there was no other way. The road ended.

We turned around, making several more attempts to find a road through the park, but instead we kept ending up near what looked like a ghost town nestled in the side of a small mountain. It was there we found a visitor center and learned there were no roads through the park from the south. Problem solved, we’d have to backtrack.
But in the meantime, why not explore the ghost town? We followed the narrow, cobbled roads, past crumbling stone houses snuggled next to restored, boutique cottages, catching glimpses of sparkling bay through gnarled olive trees and draping bougainvillea. Just cats and silence.

Doğanbey, Turkey
The town, we discovered, was renamed Doğanbey from Domatia after the 1923 population exchange when Turkey gained its independence and ethnic Greeks were pushed out of Turkey (as were Turks living on Greek islands). Doğanbey was left to crumble for many years—until the parks department acquired several buildings, and wealthy foreigners looking for seclusion bought others.

Today, it’s a perfect, sleepy village. And not in any guidebooks.

But that is essentially how I like to travel, whether it’s by car, foot, plane, or train.
Sometimes you get a dusty cotton field and boring ruins, sometimes a spectacular desert cave outside Petra with no toilet or running water, other times a visit to the Valley of the Kings with no tourists.

You never know. But that’s the fun. 

For more, you can visit my author website and/or personal blog, A Wandering Tale. Even better, order a copy of Monkey Love & Murder on AmazonBarnes & Noble, or the Book Depository (free shipping nearly anywhere in the world).

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