The art of loosely planned travel: A Baja California Sur adventure
I’m not much of a planner. Sometimes though, I really wish I was. Recently, while travelling in Mexico, this exact thought came to mind. Planning ahead, it seems, is not my strongest point and I had to wonder: When it comes to travel, would carefully calculated plans be better than my approach of just winging it?
Over the holidays, my partner and I found ourselves able to take an eight-day trip to Baja California Sur, Mexico. Already, I knew eight days would be a struggle for me. I anticipated that it would likely be over in a blink of an eye. I wondered if it would be enough time to truly explore a new place, as well as get the necessary R&R I’d been needing. (I know, woe is me right?). I’m the type of person who is always concerned about running out of time. This was no exception. Our aim was to a) see as much as we possibly could, b) spend time in the ocean and maybe catch a glimpse of a whale, and c) book accommodations that had free cancellation policies so that we could change our plans on a whim if need be. Given that we have just over a week, I wondered if our lack of itinerary was careless. Still, we jumped into our trip headfirst and without a plan.
We flew into San José del Cabo. For two days, we walked along charming vibrant streets, hopping from one lavish restaurant to another. Delicious foods? Yes. Fancy cocktails? Oh, you betcha.
But I had hoped to spend some time lounging on the beach, basking under the hot sun, and plunging into the ocean—and San José didn’t exactly honour this dream of mine with its nippy waters and roaring waves. So we agreed that we’d rather spend our time in a place with a simpler, less tourist-focused vibe.
We rented a car, and with nothing on our to-do lists except making it to La Paz, we set out on a road trip adventure. A wee mirco-cabin awaited us in La Paz, and we were looking forward to staying there, thinking that this quaint beach town would be a peaceful and relaxing destination.
We decided on the scenic route. This ended up being… long. Twice as long as if we had taken the highway. Our route was like a real-life Mario Kart track, with sandy, sinuous roads lined with cacti as far as the eye could see.
Before reaching La Paz, we stopped at Cabo Pulmo—a national marine park known for its exuberant sea life and snorkelling tours. As it turned out, arriving after 3:00 p.m. wasn’t the most opportune time to hop on a boat for a tour. Had we planned better and shown up earlier, we could have partaken in this experience. The case for being a better planner, right?
Our route was like a real-life Mario Kart track, with sandy, sinuous roads lined with cacti as far as the eye could see.
Feeling a little frustrated, I had to rework my mindset. It was about the journey, not the destination, I told myself. (Cliché, yes. But also, true.) The Mario Kart road we took had already been an experience in and of itself. The snorkelling tour would have to wait, but next time, we'd get there much earlier in the day.
We hopped back in the car ready to continue towards La Paz. When we reached it, we were surprised—it was much more of a metropolitan city than we’d thought. With 300,000 inhabitants, it was hardly the sleepy beach town we were going for. Our next surprise was that our cozy cabin wasn't tucked away in a quiet corner near the beach as we had expected, but instead, it was located on a residential driveway. I’m embarrassed to admit that I did look at a map prior to our arrival, although clearly, I just skimmed the surface.
Mexican highway 19 / Josh Withers
Although I didn't know much about La Paz, I did know one thing - that it was renowned for its beautiful beaches. Finally, the beach day I’d been looking forward to. I woke up late in the morning (not the plan, but hey), ready to thaw my bones from Canadian winter. Together, my partner and I enjoyed some of the best coffee we’ve ever had before to hitting the road to Balandra Beach—about 30 kilometres from La Paz’s centre. Funnily enough, it didn’t matter that we showed up later than we intended because the beach wasn’t accessible until 1:00 p.m. that day. Who would’ve thought that was even a thing?! Finally, a case for not having a fine-tuned plan!
Balandra was wonderful. We spent the day walking in the water and on the sand, getting absolutely roasted by the sun. Finally, my mind calmed and for the first time on our trip, I wasn’t thinking about what we were going to do next and how we were going to do it. I simply soaked in the sensational surroundings, noticing that I hadn’t really been living in the moment until that point.
By 5:00 p.m., we were ready to leave (and by ready, I mean we had no choice because the beach was closing). “What next?” we asked each other. Without to-do lists or any plans, that familiar question can only be kept at bay for so long. We were back on Google figuring out what the area offered and what might be in store. Sure, I don’t always love that, but that’s the sacrifice we made to allow ourselves the freedom to make decisions on the go.
Balandra Bay, La Paz / Josh Withers
To our surprise, we learned that La Paz was the place to see whale sharks. That would be a dream come true for both of us! With that in mind, we booked an additional night in La Paz, extending our stay to fit in a whale shark adventure (and revising all loosely-made plans from then onwards).
We snorkelled right beside gigantic, magnificent fish in complete awe and disbelief.
We were determined to get on a boat the next morning—but due to the strict regulations on visiting this protected area, we were told that tour companies had to go through a daily lottery system to decide which ones could go out into the waters. In other words, planning even as far as one day ahead wouldn’t be possible. We wandered along the malecón (waterfront walkway) and luckily for us, it only took four tries before we finally found a tour company with available space on their boat to take us out that day. So you know what we did? We set out to do the thing that we had hoped for most from this vacation. We snorkelled right beside gigantic, magnificent fish in complete awe and disbelief. Snorkelling in these ocean waters was even more magical and thrilling than I could have imagined.
Whale sharks / Cameron Armstrong
This was the moment I had been waiting—and wishing—for. Thinking back, it’s the time I treasure the most. It’s one thing to go somewhere without a plan, but it’s another thing to truly savour the moment. Until that moment, I had been so concerned about what to do next, and constantly battling with my own irritating and anxious thoughts urging me to do more.
Find the best restaurants.
Visit the coolest spots.
Choose the best, least expensive tour company.
The same voice kept reminding me that time was passing by quickly. I dreaded my return to the cold Yukon winter. But there, in the ocean, next to these incredible gentle giants, all of those thoughts and anxieties were drowned out.
Spectacular things can happen when you don’t plan for them and remain open to receiving the pleasant surprises that pop up along the way.
Spectacular things can happen when you don’t plan for them and remain open to receiving the pleasant surprises that pop up along the way. Sure, there are some things that I would’ve done differently to plan a little better for this trip. We could’ve saved a lot of time knowing a few more places to go and things to see beforehand. But I guess I'll just have to take it as a lesson learned. Besides, even with solid plans, things can get cancelled, the weather can be tumultuous, and mishaps can happen. Life is full of unexpected plot twists, and though it’s probably not super healthy to anticipate that things will go wrong, it’s never a bad idea to be prepared just in case. How I interpret an experience is entirely up to me, so why not look on the bright side?
I can’t help but quote the late, great Dr. Seuss: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
I did, however, cry almost allllll the way home.