How To Have a Wandering Day


Did you ever read Best Friends for Frances?  This was a perennial at our house when I was growing up.  I read it so often, it came to hold, in my young mind, the significance of an Important Book.  In its pages the Hobans dispense such wisdom about gender equality, family and all the power of a well stocked picnic hamper.  This is important.  To be sure.  But, tucked in those pages is another lesson.  Almost incidental, though enormously important.  

When Frances got to Albert’s house, he was just coming out, and he was carrying a large, heavy looking brown paper bag.
“Let’s play baseball,” said Frances.
“I can’t,” said Albert.  “Today is my wandering day.”

A wandering day.  As a child, I didn’t recognize the power of that suggestion.  But, somehow, it seeped into me, this idea of a wandering day.  Yes, of course.  A Wandering Day.

“Where do you wander?” said Frances.
“I don’t know,” said Albert.  “I just go around until I get hungry, and then I eat my lunch.”

A day set aside simply for wandering.  Not for accomplishing.  Not for site seeing or for checking off boxes of any kind. It feels just a little bit magical, even to my grown up brain.  It feels Important.

It turns out that it is.  Both magical and important.  Breathtaking and transformative.

Because Wandering isn't about endlessly amassing experiences.  It isn’t needy.  Wandering is confident.  It is patient.  It is a willingness to be awed.  It is humble.  It doesn’t demand anything.  It is accepting the gifts as they come.  It is exploring with no expectations.

So, in that spirit, I offer this small primer. 


How to Have a Wandering Day

It isn’t difficult or complicated.  That’s the first thing.  There is no formula or secret technique.  Really, there are only two ways to do this wrong.  The first is to not go at all.  And the second is to fret too much over it.  Short of that, if you walk out your front door to Wander, you’ll do just fine.

But, for those of us who love a map, even when the plan is to wander without a map, I’ll suggest two basic principles for having a Wandering Day:
1. Be intentional on the Front End
2. Be open-ended on the Back End

Be Intentional on the Front End

Over preparing is a sure-fire way to morph a Wandering into a formulaic site seeing trip.  So, we won’t do that.  But, some intentionality at the beginning is crucial to start things in the right direction.  

Make an Appointment for Your Wandering

It doesn’t matter how often you decide to Wander.  It matters only that you set aside a regular appointment and then commit to it.  Commit to it—even when there are a million other things to do.  (There will always be a million other things to do).  You have to put it on the calendar and then honor it like a doctor’s appointment.

I’m really good at making excuses to not do the things that feed me, but that aren’t urgent.  I always have an excuse.  There’s work I didn’t get done, projects I could make progress on, a million reasons not to go.  So, when those excuses start to rattle around in my head, I ask myself, “Would I cancel a doctor’s appointment for this?  Or, would I make it work?”  Almost always, I know the answer before the question is finished.  I would still go.  So, if I can keep a commitment to the doctor, I can keep it to myself.

Keep an “I Wonder” List

If have a digital folder full of notes titled “I Wonder”.  It isn’t fancy.  It’s just an ongoing list of places I’d like to explore, things I’d like to know more about.  A friend mentioned a match factory they visited.  It goes on the list.  I wonder why the Chopin benches are located in their particular locations in Warsaw.  It goes on the list.  It isn’t curated and it isn’t systematic.  It is just a container for my curiosity. 

One word of caution here.  Don’t fall into the trap of making this into a checklist.  It is just a list of questions.  They could end with a question mark or they could just be the name of a place I want to visit.  But, each one is a question.  When I’m ready to go Wandering, I open that list.  I use it as a catapult for my exploring.  

Gather a Wandering Kit

I am a girl who can get behind a good supply mission.  I can acquire accoutrement with the best of them.  In fact, I am so adept at researching and putting together the right kit, I may just never get around to using it.  Don’t let that be a thing with this.  Your kit needn’t be fancy.  There isn't a perfect list of things to include.  It just needs to be handy to grab and walk out the door with. 

I keep mine in a little bin in my studio.  Maybe yours will be small enough it can stay in your purse.  Mine has a few pracitcal things, that I like to have when I’m out for the day: a handkerchief, some change, chapstick and bus tickets.  It also has my tools for recording my Wandering.  For me, that’s something to sketch in, something to write on, and something to take pictures with.  I don’t always use all three of these, but I keep each of them small so I can have the flexibility to record as the day unfolds itself.

On Wandering Partners

I wander best alone.  So does Albert.  When Frances suggests that she’ll go with him, Albert demurs.  I can understand where he’s coming from.  I like the flexibility to go at my own pace, to investigate. But, you may wander best with friends.  Know yourself.  Embrace that, when you can.  And, when you find yourself in less than ideal Wandering circumstances, Wander anyway.

Be Open-Ended on the Back End

“Like what?” said Frances.
“Catching snakes,” said Albert”  “Throwing stones at telephone poles.  A little frog work maybe.  Walking on fences.  Whistling with grass blades.  Looking for crow feathers.”

I can get you to the door.  I can give you the direction of a question.  But, after that, telling you how to Wander is a little like trying to tell you how to fall in love. 

I’ll offer, then, a few of my Wandering Precepts for you to ponder.  Take all that resonate and leave all that rankle.

Go slow.  
Wandering is meant to be done at human speed.
Walk all that you can.
Record to process, not to have proof.
Make no demands.
Expectations are only an opening for discontent.
Give yourself over to the experience—whatever it happens to be.
Approach each Wandering unarmed and flexible.
Accept the gifts that come.
Be curious.  
Expect to be surprised.
Allow it to take your breath away.