In front of me is an itinerary. It is for a trip to New York City. It is categorized by day. It is subcategorized by time and event. It is color-coded.

The shocking thing is, it is mine.

The first step to solving a problem, they say, is admitting you have one.

Let me say it: I have become an Itinerarian.

There are two types of travelers in this world, Itinerarians and Mr. Side Trip Guys.

If you know where you are going for your summer vacation, what you are going to do when you get there, and where you are staying for part or all of your duration, you are an Itinerarian. Itinerarians are planners. They scope out weeks in advance what time the museums open and what their exhibits are, what flowers are in bloom in which part of a fabled public garden, what dish is the specialty of an up-and-coming chef at a well-reviewed restaurant. They read.

If, on the other hand, you have a vague sense of perhaps a continent you were thinking you might visit, with a general feeling of the season it might be when you get there, and absolutely no earthly idea where you will stay until you arrive, you are a Mr. Side Trip Guy. Mr. Side Trip Guys are free spirits. They wander where their interests lead them. While in Paris, they know about the Louvre, but they'd just as soon sip wine through the afternoon at a neighborhood cafe. They hang.

I used to be a Mr. Side Trip Guy.

I would sort of just appear in another town, a little like the way the Star Trek guys did, molecularizing onto its surface. I went where whim led me, following my instincts, secure in the notion that serendipity was the best guidebook. I was, as the saying goes, free as the wind blows.

Now, I want to know exactly from which direction that wind is blowing and at what velocity and whether it is better for sailing or for kite flying.

I used to travel quite a bit with a good friend whom I chided for being the über-Itinerarian. He knew precisely which restaurant to go to at precisely which time on precisely which night of the week. After dinner, he knew precisely at which bar he would be drinking and which drink he would order when he got there. It struck me, watching him bury his head in research, that he was draining the life from his travel experience.

Then I noticed something. He went to better places than I did.

So I tried my hand at itinerizing. Lightly at first. Getting the name of a good hotel, finding out about an interesting nightclub. Before I knew it, it became … this: the precision-timed, categorized, subcategorized, color-coded task master before me.

But there is something I don't know. Did I consciously decide to become an Itinerarian or, being at heart a Mr. Side Trip Guy, did it just sort of happen?

Whatever the case, I have embraced my new orderly identity with the same zest that animated my old shambling role. I tell myself that this tyranny of color-coded times and places actually liberates me.

I can play my visits like jazz. I have a structure now, I know where I am going. But within that structure, I can improvise. It is true improvisation, a sense of simultaneously playing within the boundaries while at the same time enlarging­ the musical landscape. It isn't just meandering, going hither and yon, making sound, perhaps, but not music.

With an itinerary, I can choose in advance to do something, then do it, rather than think about it when I get there and, well, not do it. Doing, we know, is better than not doing.

Of course, the true Mr. Side Trip Guy would say it depends on what the definition of "not doing" is. For example, what if you sip wine at a cafe while watching the clouds and the people pass by? What if you enter into a conversation and soak in the atmosphere of a place you have never been until it feels almost - for a fleeting second anyway - as if you are not a tourist but instead some guy who lives there and happens to have the day off? Is that not doing? And if it is, is that okay? Maybe that is what they call free jazz.

I wonder if I can schedule that into my itinerary.