I’ve become a notorious last minute planner. When I first started traveling, I planned everything out. I knew where I would be on what day, where I was staying, and how I was getting there. Yet over the years, I’ve begun to travel with less of a plan….if any at all. In two weeks, I’m going to Europe and I just booked my flight. I still haven’t booked my hostel. And, while I have a general idea of the route I will take, I can’t tell you where I will be exactly after the first week.
Traveling like this has both its upsides and downsides. On the upside, it gives travelers excellent flexibility. Since nothing is ever booked far in advance, you can change your plans up until the last-minute if something better comes along. The downside is that booking everything so late usually means you miss out on most of the deals. I tend to pay a lot more than I used to. Not because I’ve upscaled my travels in any way but because I’m now booking so late. I missed the cheap flight to Europe. I missed the cheap bus to NYC. I missed the cheap dorm in Valencia. Why? I didn’t book in time.
I think real long-term vagabonding makes you commitment phobic, at least it has for me. When you are a perpetual nomad, you can do what you want. You have a million travel ideas circulating through your head. But the second you commit to any one, all the other travel balloons burst. I would do any of the multitude of trips in my head but you can only be in one place at a time. I think this problem is shared by most long-term travelers. The more you travel, the more realize you can do. And the more you want to try to do. Setting dates means that all those other dreams die.
I live on one extreme when it comes to planning. Most new travelers live on the other. I read a lot of travel blogs and travel forums. Most new travelers do what I did – they planned out everyday. Their entire route was planned, sometimes even down to a specific day. This holds true especially among young or gap year travelers. They try to race and see it all. 2 days here, 2 days there. This is a bad way to travel. When you travel, less is more. Spending more time in a place allows you to better understand it. Why go to Paris when you really aren’t “seeing” Paris? You simply took a few pictures. Moreover, what if you love Brussels but, like Colin Farrell, think that Brugge is what hell really is? If you are committed to your dates and times, you have no flexibility to leave earlier or stay longer.
But there is a middle way to travel and one that people who travel often tend to do. By the end of most people’s year around the world, planning has been thrown out the window and people just go with the flow. As Buddha said, the middle way is the right way and the middle way for traveling is to simply plan your general direction.
When I travel to Europe this fall, I will be starting in Spain and heading east to Austria. I have a list of places I want to see and things to do – wine tours in France, hiking in Germany, beer in Belgium, and tomatoes in Spain. But I’m not tied to any dates. I know general times but no specific dates. Having wiggle room for anything that happens on the road is important. And one thing that every traveler will tell you is that unexpected things happen on the road. This will throw a monkey wrench into the best planned itinerary. If you aren’t flexible, your itinerary will cause you frustration and stress when things don’t go as planned.
Just like my extreme, over planning is not the way to go. The best travel plan gives you a good idea of where you are going with the flexibility to adapt to changes on the road. It’s important to give yourself wiggle room for places you like or dislike. Or if you get burnt out and you just want to take a travel time out and relax for a few days. Decide where you want to go and what you want to see but don’t tie yourself down to too many dates.
Traveling without a plan is a great idea. Traveling with a semblance of a plan is an even better one.