“Of course I’m biased on the route I would take, as I’d always go West to the Highlands!”
The island of Great Britain is less than 8% the size of the contiguous United States, but it presented a very big question: Which way should we go? We began our trip through the United Kingdom in the city of Inverness, in the center of Scotland’s northern coast, and, for the first time in our trip, were facing a real dilemma. On the one hand, my friend Ruaraidh, a native Scot, was recommending we go west. On the other, Edinburgh and Dunnottar Castle lay to the southeast—and I really wanted to head in their direction.
A week later, sitting in Edinburgh, I became paralyzed by the fear of missing out. I no longer saw the line I plotted on my map; I only saw the unmarked area, the roadside sights, people, and experiences that we’d be ignoring. We can go anywhere we want on this trip—we have the ultimate freedom—but we can’t go everywhere. I sat at my computer, Google Maps, TripAdvisor, and the Sustrans map of British Cycling Routes open in separate windows, and was overcome with stress. I had barely touched my beer, my hands were too busy supporting the heft of my aching head.
It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. It was supposed to be more fun. Kristin asked what was wrong.
“We had six years to plan this trip and we intentionally didn’t over-plan. And now I’m drowning here. I don’t know where to go.”
The truth was that I did know where I wanted to go. I had spent some time perusing UK travel guides at a library and stuck a bunch of pins in a digital map. All I had to do was plot a route that would collect the most points, a trend line that omitted the outliers. But, as with my Scottish mountain biking friend, I’ve also collected acquaintances aboard the Queen Mary 2 who each didn’t hesitate to recommend their own personal favorite spots. I glanced back and forth between my map of points, the bike routes, and my own paper road map of Great Britain and broke out in a sweat. Nothing made sense. I wasn’t cut out for this. It was getting too hard, too fast.
I suffered a horrible night’s sleep but awoke before dawn with a clear head and a confident disposition. I took up the mouse, plotted a route from Edinburgh to Melrose to Carlisle and onward through the Lake District. Just as I originally intended before hearing the siren song of the Coast and Castles route. It was just like being back at work, waking up early and solving a difficult boss battle on my first try after spending the prior night staring at a steady stream of “Game Over” screens. Achievement unlocked.
I scrolled through the photos I had taken during our first week in Scotland and saw them with fresh eyes. It was time for a pep-talk. No, Doug, we didn’t go west to the Highlands, but look at what we did see! Look at the views, the roads we found ourselves on, the places we camped! Was this not the Scotland you dreamed of? It was, I told myself.
Negativity bias will always lead to our being asked about the places we’re not going. We humans can’t help ourselves. And more than a few of you have heard me say something along the lines: “You can draw a thousand lines on a world map and never see everything.” I always believed this to be true—the map hanging in my office the past six years provided a daily reminder—but now I know this to be true on the small scale as well.
Great Britain isn’t a big place, but it’s got a lot to offer. No matter how much we don’t see, we’re still seeing more than if we had never come at all.