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No Stakes Rambling
Adopting a new approach for more spontaneous traveling
Checking into our tiny little boutique hotel in Hoi An on a much cherished trip to Vietnam in 2016, my buddy Rocky went for the cheaper room. I splurged an extra $10 for a private balcony overlooking the back pond and patio since we were only going to be there for a short stint.
Two days went by in a flash, faster than any other pair of days on the trip, and it was all too soon that we were figuring out our next waypoint. Hoi An was incredible. Words like beautiful, peaceful, relaxing, tasty, colorful, and quaint come to mind, but it’s really the whole gestalt that begs for a single word that I can’t come up with. Rocky was having thoughts about permanently moving to Hoi An, and my daydreams tailgated closely behind with my family in tow. But then we stopped ourselves, woke up from the dream, saw where we were and promptly decided that why were we looking for a “where to go to next?” Could it get any better than this? As we kicked around the rocks under our feet beneath the low table on the front porch of our hotel clicking on potential upcoming hotspots in Northern Vietnam on Rocky’s laptop, we thought not.
Stirring up that bed of gravel under the table, we unwittingly uncovered a pebble of wisdom with our fretting feet. That little pebble, now fully exposed to our pointings and clickings as to what may come next, watched the two of us for a little bit in amusement and then subliminally suggested “Let fate take over. Scrap the looking. You purposely didn’t make any reservations. Don’t be fools! Extend your booking! Stay in Hoi An!” Who knew that a little pebble could be so smart?
You see, in “planning” for this trip, Rocky and I were attempting to fully employ the technique of not making any plans. We made no reservations overseas besides the first hotel on arrival in Saigon for a good solid jet lag recovery. But that was it. Nothing else. The only fixed waypoint was in three weeks time when we had to find ourselves in Hanoi for our flight back home (a seemingly simple ask but we had a big miss on that one - more in a future post). Everything else was to be free-form. Yet, despite this strategy, we found that loose plans were starting to form, especially that evening on the front porch. But that’s just when that pebble of wisdom stirred and whispered its sage advice with perfect timing.
Tacking on another few nights in Hoi An was one of the best on-the-fly decisions we’ve ever made, as we would reflect later. We settled into a nice chill state, explored the back corners of this charming little town and its surroundings in all directions. Only with more time and less structure were we able to discover some of the best spots to hang out, people watch, journal write, sip some drinks, and find spectacular food off the beaten path. We let down, relaxed, and de-stressed into an amorphous gelatinous state. Spending more time chillin’ and less time doin’, we got to know the very kind and warm host of our hotel, Tien, and her family. We spent hours down in the lobby chatting about things that most tourists wouldn’t discuss.
When it was finally time to move on from this awesome spot, we were distraught with mixed emotions. Was it really time? Should we just stay here for the rest of the trip? But Tien had already offered to drive us to the airport to catch the flight we had booked a few hours before. We did want to see more of the country. So we stuffed our already forming sentimental feelings into our backpacks knowing that we would be back here someday to rockhound for even more valuable gems than a precious pebble that lurks under roadside tables.
At the airport, the melancholy goodbye was coupled with the hope that we would see Tien again on a future trip. Oh what a hot spot Hoi An was! And that pebble of wisdom was a keeper! So precious for being just a pebble…“PP” for Precious Pebble…that might be an easy to remember nickname I thought with a snigger, but where did it go?! Aha! Digging through my stuff, I found it stowed away in its new home at the back bottom of my backpack.
I’ve kept that precious pebble, PP, as my most valued souvenir from that fateful trip to Vietnam. More cherished than anything I flew back home with, besides my buddy Rocky, I now pack this pebble as an essential item on all my ventures. Good thing immaterial objects are weightless!
PP reminds me to not drive any stakes in the ground so that I can instantly pivot on a dime and live more spontaneously. I’ve coined this free form travel philosophy “No Stakes Rambling” (NSR for short). No reservations. No fixed plans. Go with the flow. Some people may view this as High Stakes Gambling, but so far, No Stakes Rambling has served me well. NSR works especially well when toting an ultralight minimalist backpack too! Pivoting is a snap when you’re not anchored down with heavy luggage. There’s usually a bed somewhere and a place to eat. And when there’s not, you may just end up with a great story to write about as you’ll see in future posts.
Since Vietnam, my favorite little pebble of wisdom goes with me everywhere on all domestic and international trips. PP has wonderfully transformed my travels with its friendly reminders to practice NSR for much richer and rewarding experiences.