Throughout this trip, I’ve heard from locals many times: “Oh, if only you’d been here last month!” or “Summer is really our best season – you should have been here then!” I’ve also heard folks say, (once we’re in the east) “You really should have visited _______ (which is in the west).

Believe me, I know how to optimize. An earlier version of me would have done tons of research for each state on the best places to camp, the best sights to see, the prettiest routes to take, and the best roadfood along the way. I would have plans for exactly what time we should get going so that the kids could get a good nap, and we would arrive at our sightseeing destination just as the kids were waking up from that long, glorious nap.

But if I were spending so much time on planning and optimization, I wouldn’t be present for my family – which is kind of the point of this whole trip. I’d also probably be disappointed a lot, because, well, it’s frustrating when you spend tons of time planning and things STILL don’t go as planned.

So when we headed to NYC, instead of poring over guidebooks and articles to figure out the absolute must-see sights, I asked my Facebook friends for recommendations and used those suggestions as our guide. And instead of planning all the things we were going to do when we got there, we just packed our backpack in the morning and went wherever the wind took us. Did we see all the awesome things there are to see? Nope. Did we at least do the top 3 things you can do in NYC? Nope. But we had a great time, and if you ask, the kids will tell you that they loved our time there.

You see, when I stop optimizing, a few things happen. 1) I have more time, since I’m not spending time planning. 2) I’m not worried about whether or not things are going to go as planned. 3) I am able to enjoy the moment – which makes it much more likely that we’ll stumble upon something extraordinary.

So, yes, because we didn’t optimize or plan better, we’ve missed a lot of things. We’ve driven right past awesome landmarks, missed amazing festivals by a couple of days, and arrived at the most beautiful New England beaches after their season has already ended.

But on the other hand, we’ve had a lot of really good days. In NYC, we spent 2 days at Central Park playing and laughing as the sun shone down on us. And along this entire trip, we’ve stumbled on some really amazing places. Places that we wouldn’t have ever planned on going. Places like Chief Timothy Island in Washington with such perfect weather and water so beautiful that we decided to stay for a week. Places like Erie, PA that probably wouldn’t make it on a list of the best beaches in the US – but on the day we arrived, it couldn’t have been better. We spent 2 gloriously warm, sunny days collecting shells and seaglass on a serene white beach. We’ve spent a beautiful afternoon on the riverbank of a city park that you can barely find on a map (let alone in a guidebook) just because we happened to be in the right place at the right time when the kids needed a break from driving.

For me, optimization is a slippery slope – without realizing it, I will try to perfect our plan and cram more into our schedule and then stress out when things don’t go according to plan. But what I’ve learned is that when we stop trying to optimize, more often than not, we find ourselves in the right place at the right time without even trying.