A Little Reflection … To 2012, and the Case for Making No Plans

Last updated on July 22, 2013

Who can really know what a year will bring? If you had told me last year at this time, as I was packing my bags back in 2011 to move to Chiang Mai the first time around, that I would start 2012 with an 11-year-old in tow and once again in this same city, I would have raised an eyebrow at the very least, and most likely let out an unladylike guffaw. I just didn’t see it happening in my fit of random pre-travel euphoria a year ago.

Last January, I wrote about abandoning plans and embracing whatever life threw in my direction in fact, I exactly wrote:

“I also have no attachment to a plan this time around.”

Perhaps I tempted the universe with this. I put myself out there as open and willing to see what new came my way, and truly some new paths opened before me.

railay beach longboats thailand
The longboats and aqua waters of Railay Beach in the Thai islands

This time last year, I moved to Thailand to hang out with the ever-so-lovely Jodi for a couple of months in a pretty, low-key city. That downtime included an unexpected whirlwind trip/visa-run to Malaysia with a new friend, Paddy, then she dragged me along with her to the Thai islands for a couple of weeks of sun (which I strongly avoid on my own accord, but I admit were fun weeks once I went and enjoyed). And a year later, although Paddy now lives in the islands, she flew up to spend Christmas in Chiang Mai and was one of the first expats to bond with Ana here–that’s Paddy’s smiling face you saw last week in our 10K Christmas Marathon run!

Funny how things come around full circle in even the smallest ways. :)

Rural rice paddies outside of Yangshuo, China.
Biking through the rural rice paddies outside of Yangshuo, China.

Fast forward a bit, and my close friends from back home traveled this way (and by “this way,” I mean Asia). We met up for a quick two weeks in China (not nearly enough time to really see China), but it was pretty great to have friends I’ve known since my high school days come travel with me…in fact, it was a highlight of the year because it completely changed the dynamics in such a neat way.  :)

dead sea jordan
The mountains around the Dead Sea in Jordan

By late spring, I was packing my bags again for an unexpected and wholly unplanned, but beautiful, 10 days in Jordan with the Jordan Tourism Board. The days spent eating and simply experiencing rather than handling all the planning details easily made Jordan one of my most memorable countries.

In the background though, at this point, a new plan was forming that would shape the rest of my 2011; around Easter my family and I began plotting how we could use my current travel/internet-work lifestyle to empower my niece and send her on a journey of her own. Because I am a mad puppet master (and because everything was tentative) I kept this under wraps while we figured out the logistics and I returned to Florida for my annual break spent back home–which is essentially my long-term plan for travel, some months back home, some time on the road…and a bit of life and otherness between.

Key Lime Pie down south in Key West, Florida
An obligatory food photo, I tucked into this huge slice of tart key lime pie at Blue Heaven in Key West, Florida

Speaking of logistics though, it turns out there is a lot to figure out when you take a child who isn’t actually yours outside the country! I spent the summer in Florida visiting with friends and engaged in some furious hand-wringing as I gathered up documents, applied for my niece’s passport, found vaccines, and shoved my head full of everything I thought I might need to school Ana here in Thailand (far more freaking out and hand-wringing than was necessary now that we’re here, honestly, but there was no convincing me of that back then!).

We left, and let me assure you, that transition month last November is one of those things I never saw coming. November was the adjustment period and there were days I thought this travel homeschooling plan was an utter failure (this is where I learned to sing myself the mantra “she’s a child, she is still just a child” — a phrase many parents of preteens have used before me…). But I grew up, and Ana grew (perhaps not up, but grow she did). And we hit our groove over the past six weeks; I figured out the projects, tasks, and things I need to do to keep Ana actively interested in our traveling plans, and she’s become more enthused and excited about the people we meet and places we visit.

weaving in Laos
Ana enjoys a hands-on weaving class in Luang Prabang, Laos (more on that soon!)

It’s January once again, and although I have this niggling weariness about what’s in store (admit it, most of us are worrying about something!), I know 2012 will have its way with me (the hussy) no matter what I actually “plan.” Instead, I once again welcome the New Year with a blank slate because you know, the surprises given to me in 2011 have all worked out pretty well this far, though some threw me for a loop once or twice!

Also of note though, is the business side of things. I have several volunteer projects I hope come to fruition this year (you’ll be hearing more about that soon!). Many have been in development in the past weeks and months, but out of some internal fears I’ve kept them fairly secret. So, soon they will launch.

Though my closet type-A personality gets anxious sometimes, all this time in Buddhist countries this year is wearing off on me. I can’t possibly know what is in store for me, so the anxiety, planning, and fear does no good. Instead, I eagerly open my arms to what awaits. In the past I was a planner—I spent several years creating poster-sized vision boards with my full-year goals. Other times I wrote out epic lists of resolutions and five-year-plans. And I even spent time in morose futility once or twice.

Like last year though, I will quote Joseph Campbell, because unlike any guru’s message I’ve jived with in my various fits of fancy, I truly believe if we’re doing something right now that brings us happiness, then we’re heading in our own “right” directions.

Follow your bliss. If you do follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.

If you’ve made it this far in the post, I’d love to know what do you think of Campbell’s message, and do you find it true in your own life as you begin 2012? 

30 thoughts on “A Little Reflection … To 2012, and the Case for Making No Plans”

    • Thank you Jill; I really love Joseph Campbell– he tends to summarize these major life ideas into tiny, digest-able chunks that just make sense :)

  1. Love your post and love the quote! After three years of random adventures I am back in Australia and have no clear plans of what to do next.. I am open to anything which is both frightening and exciting! Hope this year brings more opportunities to travel to everyone… Coming home can sometimes feel daunting seeing everyone settled and I still feel like I need to see more of the world… As long as I find some work soon to continue following my bliss I will be able to start making vague plans again.. I miss Indonesia!!!!! Have a fabulous adventure with your neice.. What a brave and incredible experience for you both!! xxxxxx

    • Hey Tasha, wow, you’re back in Australia, I had no idea your Jakarta adventures had ended (for now). Coming back home is always quite strange, it’s the joy of seeing friends, of knowing you can spend quality time in hellos, but perhaps knowing your place is still out traveling. I have no doubt you can find some bliss to follow over there, while you save up and firm up some more travel plans…would be wonderful if our paths crossed again soon! :)

  2. Hi ShannonOD
    Nice post and the pictures are amazing. Thanks for sharing….
    HapPy New Yera 2012 May be this year bring new plan and adventure for you :)

  3. Shannon happy 2012, great (un)plans you have :) I’m making some travel plans and I hope I’ll manage to have some volunteer experience too.

    • Thanks Angela! Interested to hear where your travels will take you this year…sometimes planning is the only way to make sure you can fit it all in :) Cheers and happy 2012!

  4. Happy 2012 Shannon! Yeah, let’s follow our bliss! I’m excited for 2012, my guts tell me that its gonna be a year full of learning and of course adventures (and misadventures). I’ve been travelling around mainland Southeast Asia for almost a year now while learning how to be self sufficient and I’m enjoying the journey… and hope it continues until the end of this year :-) Wishing you more adventures this year :-)

    • Cheers Flip to a year of misadventures in random places all over the world :)  Congrats on making it nearly through your first year of travel, that first year is the learning curve, so I hope your 2012 continues your adventures  :)

  5. I think it’s refreshing to have more of less a blank slate when it comes to travel.  I’ve noticed over the years I’ve been leaning more towards this directions and when I hit the road again in the future I think I’ll embrace this fully. It’ll be interesting to see where all of this takes you this year – best wishes :)

    • Best wishes to you as well Samuel! It can be so freeing and scary to head out on a year of travels and the such without plans, but in the end, I love the idea of so many open possibilities. Cheers and have a wonderful 2012!  :)

  6. Whenever I planned for vacations I failed but without planning a enjoyed a lot my vacations, visiting beautiful places and playing game/sports/adventures with my friends. These moments keep me fresh all the year. That’s why I think planning a trip is not good.

    By the way your post is nice and worthy.

  7. That is one mighty high slice of pie! If your bliss led you to that I am pretty certain you are on the right track.
    Great to read your round-up of the year – what an incredible journey! I remember when you told me about your plans with Ana when we were in Bangkok. I was pretty blown away by it at the time and even more so now that you’ve made it happen. So much respect.
    I really like that quote but I sometimes think that we (or maybe it’s just me) don’t always know exactly what our “bliss” is. Sometimes we don’t know it till we see it, which makes it hard to follow. Still, I think we can get just as much fulfillment in the search for it, and I agree that if you start looking in the right place you’ll meet others on the same path who help with the search. Then you can go and have pie together. yay!
    Hope to see you on the path sometime in 2012 :)

    • I have to agree pretty whole-heartedly, that it’s the search for the bliss that shows you’re on the right path–if your decisions and actions are making you happy and jiving with you at the moment, I think that’s the best we can do…and hope good things come from that. I would love for our paths to cross sometime again soon Ms. Anna Jura, have a wonderful 2012 and perhaps it will all align! :)

  8. We’ve started this year with a pretty clean slate in terms of travel and while we chosen to do this deliberately, I do have to admit it feels both liberating and frightening. There’s always this fear of “missing out” if we don’t do all the planning in advance. But we find that things do work out in the end usually in the best possible way. 

    Although I had seen this quote from Cambell before, it really resonated with me when I read it again tonight. Sometimes we stray from that bliss because we feel like we “should” or that’s what’s required to be “successful.” It’s a struggle we face regularly, which is why it’s important to take time out from time to time to reevaluate. Thanks for the reminder!

  9. Amazing wrap up post and a truly inspiring quote at the end. Yet many of us are so terrified to follow our bliss for fear of failure. His words, ‘don’t be afraid’ address this though it is easier said than done for most. However, I’d like to think that if everyone can get over their fear and truly follow their bliss, than they can realize exactly what Cambell is talking about.

    And as always, beautiful photos with this post!

    • Thank you! The fear of going off of a scripted path is the hardest part, the need to control everything and orchestrate our successes (and our failures). Though I certainly don’t have it figured out, it seems as though I notice so many more positivities in my year when I’m not fixed on a specific goal/plan/thing!  I hope you have a wonderful year ahead of you in 2012, thanks for your support last year on the site :)

  10. Wonderful wrap-up :) Love the quote at the end. I agree- I plan to ‘follow my bliss’ this year and start some exciting projects!

  11. What an inspiring post! Congrats on such an amazing year and I can’t wait to see what 2012 brings you. I absolutely believe in following your bliss.

  12. Sometimes not planning for a vacation in advance proves to fabulously well to you, glad to read this post of yours. Even i love to travel with the bliss and enjoy the surprises comes on the way. Thanks!

    • I love to see the surprises I might have missed if I was hyper-focused on an end goal for the year–most times the best travel moments happen to be the unplanned ones!  :)

  13. I love the idea of not planning.  I used to be an over-planner myself.  And then life sort of forced me to let go of that, and you know — I love it.  It feels freeing, and I’m incredibly happy.  I think the Joseph Campbell quote sums it up pretty well.  Follow your bliss, and see where it leads you.  There isn’t much in life better than that.  :)

    • Glad to hear that it has worked out for you in your own life Heather, I find now that I’ve adopted this mentally, I am more open to following through with opportunities–and seeing the opportunities–presented throughout the hear. I hope 2012 goes amazingly well for you!  :)

  14. This is the first time in a long time (possibly ever) that I’ve started a new year with no plans. I’m in Bali, arriving on NYE. I’m flying to meet friends in Thailand on the 27th. And until yesterday, that was it. I just decided to go home for a couple of months in April–like you, I need to intersperse some ‘home’ time in my travels. But other than that, 2012 is completely ope and I’m looking forward to seeing what adventures come my way! (ps I’ll be in Chiang Mai at some point in February or March–would love to finally say hello and “I love your blog!” in person!) 

    • Wow! Must feel a little scary to let go of the planning, but it sounds like you already have some really positive things in the works, and with the openess of a year, who knows what else will manifest! :) I would LOVE to meet up with you when you come this way, my niece and I will be in Burma until the second week of Feb, but then were here for a couple months, so it will be great to grab a meal and share some stories (also Jodi will be here too, so we can all meet up!) Enjoy Bali, it rice paddies there are pretty much the prettiest I’ve seen in the world! See you soon!


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