If we sat down and drew out our travel route over the last 9 months, it would like we planned the entire trip after a few too many wines. We zig and zag, head north, then south, then north again. Return to some towns numerous times while skipping some obvious ones completely. But the truth is while we may indeed drink a few too many wines and beers when we make most decisions, we never had a solid plan to begin with. In our opinion spontaneous travel is the best way to see the world. It has allowed us to have the most incredible unexpected experiences in places that we never would have thought we would end up, with people we would have otherwise never met. It is why we never follow a trip itinerary.
We’ve met hundreds of travellers who have almost every second of their journey planned. From transport schedules to accommodation options, right down to what restaurant they want to eat at and which bar they want to drink a specific cocktail at. They know exactly what town they will be in on what day and which show they will be watching that night.
I can understand why some people choose to travel like this. For some it is reassuring to have everything. Otherwise they might not travel to start with. Naturally you don’t want to miss out on a ‘must-see’ attraction, or end up stranded at some bus station with no idea of where you are going. However by having everything set in concrete, are you actually missing out on so much more?
Why Are Travel Plans Limiting?
Travelling is one of the greatest experiences you can have. Outside of an all-inclusive resort, it is almost guaranteed to open your eyes to a new world. Allow you to have incredible interactions with people from all walks of life. To temporarily (or permanently) immerse yourself in a culture that is not your own. When you finally take that step to visit a foreign country, why would you want to limit your opportunities?
Creating a trip itinerary can have a number of pros and cons. On one hand it can help you maximise your time and ensure you visit the exact things you want to see. On the other hand it restricts your options to experience things you hadn’t thought about. You may be unable to say yes to an unexpected opportunity. Sitting at home researching travel gives you a general idea of what sort of things will interest you the most. Yet as much research as you make it cannot substitute actually standing in a city or attraction, taking in the sights, the smells and the atmosphere.
Pictures on the internet or a reading a travel blog can’t tell you whether you will truly like Singapore or not. You have to be standing in the middle of China Town to know for sure. If you love it, why not stay? If you don’t, why not leave? Malaysia is close by, so is Thailand. Why not go there and check it out instead? Not your cup of tea? Well Australia is only a flight away. Only a handful of external factors are really stopping you; time and money being the main ones.
Lesh and I are lucky that we don’t have a time frame. No set date we have to return home by and no place we have to be except for right here, right now. The only true limitations we have are money and visas for specific countries. That means we can go almost anywhere we want, when we want, how we want.
But that doesn’t mean you have to be in our shoes to consider ditching your trip itinerary. Even if you are on a two week vacation you can still travel with no plans besides your arriving and departing flights. Unless it is Semana Santa in Central America or Buddhist New Year in South East Asia, things will rarely be booked out. If arriving in a foreign city seems scary, just book the first two nights. This gives you enough to time to do some on-the-ground research once you are there.
In our opinion, the best way to plan your trip is to have no plans. Wait until you arrive to make them. Ask other travellers and talk to the locals about where they would recommend. They might suggest somewhere you had never considered or tell you some caveats about a destination you were desperate to visit. Maybe you will make friends with an amazing person who makes you an offer to tag along on their adventures for a while. Be open to spontaneous travel and the doors will open along with it.
Spontaneous Travel – The Best Way
Although Lesh and I do have a general idea of the way we will reach South Africa without flying, nothing is solidly planned. In fact beyond tonight’s accommodation, the only thing we actually have to work around is our current visa’s end date. This luxury can’t be afforded for all countries, such as Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Tibet (China), etc, where you actually have to follow a trip itinerary in order to visit. But for most places the only thing locking you into a plan is you!
If we decided to keep a strict travel itinerary, we never would have bought our motorcycles to explore South East Asia. We would not have ended up crewing on a private catamaran in Central America and learning how to sail. In the huge amount of time we have spent travelling there is the odd occasion where if we planned something, we may have ‘seen’ more, but we would not have truly experienced a place the same way we have now.
If you are not already a spontaneous traveller, try it on your next trip. Ditch the itinerary and see where you end up. Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back. Not having a place to stay already organised does not necessarily mean you will end up homeless. Just because you haven’t researched the best restaurant in the city doesn’t mean you will go hungry. If a town isn’t in your Lonely Planet guidebook it doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth visiting.
Minimise your travel plans and be open to change. You never know what path it will lead you down.