If you’ve talked to people who are planning an international trip, then you’ve probably heard something like this:
I’m planning the trip of a lifetime, and I want it to be perfect!
This is a perfectly reasonable thing to search for. After all, going overseas isn’t always easy, and it’s certainly not cheap. For many, going overseas for an extended period is the trip of a lifetime, and it’s important that the investment works out as dreamed.
But I’ve found that planning a perfect trip is impossible. We help people find the best place to volunteer their skills, but “best” is not “perfect”. In fact, we guarantee to find people a match, but we can’t guarantee that it will be perfect.
Why Can’t a Trip be Perfect?
The answer is quite simple: There is no such thing as a perfect international trip… there are only perfect tripS. Let me try and explain with two quick thought experiments…
Experiment #1: Think of your friends and family and ask yourself these questions:
- How many would prefer an Alaska cruise over a beachside resort in Mexico?
- Who do you know that prioritizes safety over a sense of adventure?
- Do you know anyone that travels in the nicest resorts instead backpacker hostels?
Experiment #2: Reflect back on the last time you went traveling:
- What is your fondest memory… Maybe it was the random strangers you ended up sharing drinks with?
- Did you ever not enjoy something you thought you would… Maybe seeing that destination you dreamed of didn’t look quite as good as the photos you grew up seeing?
- What is the story you tell the most from your travels… I bet it’s not of the hotel you obsessed on finding?
As it turns out, you’re not alone if the highlight of your trip was not what you originally planned. As happiness research Dan Gilbert shares in a New York Times Article ‘The Futile Pursuit of Happiness‘
…When it comes to predicting exactly how you will feel in the future, you are most likely wrong… We overestimate the intensity and the duration of our emotional reactions — our ”affect” — to future events. In other words, we might believe that a new BMW will make life perfect. But it will almost certainly be less exciting than we anticipated; nor will it excite us for as long as predicted.
Simply put, because you probably don’t know what will make you happy, you can’t plan a trip that will make you happy.
What Spaghetti Sauce Can Teach Us About Travel
Wait, did you just say spaghetti sauce?
In his captivating TED Talk (at bottom of post), Choice, Happiness and Spaghetti Sauce, Malcolm Gladwell shares the genius of Howard Moskowitz who revolutionized the spaghetti sauce business by introducing to the world that there is no such thing as a perfect spaghetti sauce, only perfect spaghetti sauceS. In his talk, Gladwell shares a famous quote from Moskowitz: “The mind knows not what the tongue wants“.
As Moskowitz discovered, everybody will be happy with either plain, spicy, or chunky sauce Some might like all 3, some might like 2, but everybody only truly loves one. Each sauce is perfect to its own audience. But, as shared before, the challenge is that you won’t know your favorite sauce until after you’ve tried. The same applies to travel.
So How Can You Plan a Perfect Trip
In his talk, Gladwell leaves you with a parting thought:
In embracing the diversity of human beings, you will find a surer way to human happiness.
When it comes to travel, don’t just search for existing itineraries and trips, instead try looking for new and unique experiences.
The trip of a lifetime is different for everybody, so experiment until you find your perfect trips:
- Lower Your Expectations: Accept that you will probably plan things that you might not enjoy and experience things you might not like. That’s OK!
- Do Something Meaningful: Consider volunteering your skills as a way to fully engage in local culture and have truly authentic experiences.
- Focus on People: Instead of a long laundry list of places to see and things to do, engage with the people around you and learn from them.
- Diversity: Keep experimenting and trying new things so that you can find your personal perfection.
If you like this post, let me know in the comment below, and if you want to know more about the science behind perfects, watch this video from Malcolm Gladwell: