Preparing for a recent trip with two friends, I got a text from one of them with an unexpected request: “Can we have a quick call to do a little intention setting before the trip?” the friend wrote. I stopped what I was doing and stared at the text. There was no winking emoji and no follow-up. She was serious.
I pride myself on being very good at preparing for trips. I am usually packed days in advance. I rarely forget items. I have various kits (toiletries/airplane/laundry) that I keep stocked and ready to go. I save all my packing lists in a bottom drawer like weird trophies.
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But never had I ever set intentions before a trip. Planning travel with family and friends, I will spend weeks going back and forth on texts ironing out activity and restaurant details, but in all my alpha planner existence it had never occurred to me to spend even a sentence thinking through what I hoped to get out of a trip emotionally or psychologically.
The Importance of Intention for Travel
That’s not to say I don’t want things out of travel. If I were to paint it in a flattering light, I’d say I’ve always just let the travel guide the transformations. But just as often, I spend the first part of the trip sort of scattered, not quite ready to connect with the experience or the place.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized this was just a giant oversight on my part all this time. It was a step in preparing for travel that I’d simply never realized was missing.
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So I texted back “Sure!” and we set up a call. And then I started thinking: what were my intentions for this trip?
The Difference Between Preparation and Intention
Now this trip was an expedition cruise to see whales during the birthing season in Baja California. I was really excited to go, and had read a number of books about the region and whales in anticipation. But I was realizing that preparation and intention are two pretty distinct things, and I was overprepared and underintentioned.
So I gave myself some time to think, not about the long list of supplies (Binoculars! Zoom lens! Rash guard!) but about what I hoped I’d feel during the trip, and what I might aspire to take back home afterward.
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By the time we got on our call, I knew what I hoped for: Being open to awe and present enough to be able appreciate natural beauty. Because there’s a certain stillness that I sometimes lack but that’s extremely helpful when it comes to letting in beautiful moments.
I’m not going to lie: The phone conversation felt a little weird at first, maybe because it’s new to me. But building in some time to set intentions alongside the packing lists and passport checks, that has a permanent home in my travel prep now. It feels like remembering to pack not just my gear, but myself as well.