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.
22 thoughts on “Spontaneous Travel – Why We Don’t Follow An Itinerary”
Agree 100% with this type of travel. The Mr and I never have solid plans apart from where we will stay the first night we land. This way of travel has given us so many amazing experiences and opportunities. Recently, while in India, we decided to spontaneously spend time in Nepal and Dubai. Flights were cheap and we had never been so why not!
Hi Wendy, thank you for your comment. You are so right about the amazing experiences. We feel the same. It sounds like you guys have had many. You schedule is more open and if opportunities come up, you can just go. Best way to travel. 🙂
I just returned from 3 weeks backpacking in Asia, and I was advised to have flights booked because immigration wants to see when you are leaving. I was glad I did this because they did check, but next time I think I will book 2 one way tickets so they can see a return flight, and then book with low cost carriers in between to keep things spontaneous. I was in one city for a week and I felt I only needed 4 days, and another one where I wished I had another week. With a set itinerary, you are a little bit stuck sometimes.
Hi Aaron, We had this also just recently entering Thailand. We were asked by the airline before exiting our destination to go to Thailand, not immigration. We had a 2 month visa and told the airline we are exiting by the slow-boat to Laos. She asked to see our ticket and we told her you cannot book this until you are in the country as there are no agencies. She accepted this but we were a little shocked. We have been in and out of SEA a lot in the last couple of years and never been asked. I think this is to do with stricter visa laws now. They are cracking down on people who live in the country and come and go on free visas.
I totally agree with this. We backpacked around SE Asia for 7 months when our son was a baby, and even then we didn’t plan. Our plan is to not have a plan 🙂
Having flexibility meant that we could visit places recommended by other travellers. It’s much more fun and gives you a sense of freedom.
That is awesome you travelled unplanned with your baby. Many wouldn’t. Spontaneous is the best way indeed. Travellers and locals are the best guide books. And sometimes you like a place and therefore can stay longer. Don’t like a place, leave and move on. Happy travels guys.
I agree. I love planning so I will do research before I go somewhere and maybe book the first couple of nights accom but leave things open to change. I usually have an idea of where I want to go and the route I want to take but won’t book anything so I can change my route.plans etc at the last minute. This works well for me. On my upcoming trip to British Columbia and Alaska I will have a couple of Help X work exhanges booked in advance but will probably only book the rest a few days beforehand
We’ve heard so much about Help X, but have never used it ourselves. I bet it would be great around BC and Alaska! Doing a little bit of research is good. Sometimes it has backfired on us where we have left a town, and didn’t realise there was some great waterfall or museum there. Those times we wish we researched. Thanks for reading Katie 🙂
‘You make plans destiny laughs!’ great quote by ‘not sure who’ 🙂
Hi Lesh & Jazza,
I almost fully agree with you… Almost, as this is 100% true if you are traveling for a longer period of time. If you have let’s say 2 weeks to discover an area, then some planning might / will help, especially if this is during high season.
One aspect surprises me: why on earth do you need any planning for Iran? Book a flight, and enjoy the country. Extremely safe, extremely easy to travel, and probably the most welcoming people you can imagine!!! Putting Iran in the same basket as Turmenistan & North Korea is in my opinion utterly wrong.
I spent 2 weeks there in April, we had no booking except the first night, a theoretical itinerary that we ignored quickly, and enjoyed one of the most spectacular trips we have ever had…
You bring up a very valid point. Iran does not deserve to be put in the same basket as North Korea or Turkmenistan. I was trying to convey the point that with Iran, one cannot simply show up at the border unannounced. The authorisation code must be obtained first, and then an embassy nominated from where to pick up your visa. For us this means we have to have somewhat of an itinerary, since we will be applying for our visa from one of the neighbouring ‘Stan countries. I agree with you that perhaps I unnecessarily grouped Iran in with other countries that have stricter visiting requirements. Thanks for the correction!
We will be entering Iran sometime this year, and are very excited about it. We have only heard amazing things from those who have travelled there. It is indeed one of the countries we most excited about visiting. We will definitely hit you up for some advice on where to go and what to see (and itinerary be damned). Thanks for reading.
How often does the #1 thing you hoped to see turn out to be your favorite experience? Almost never in our case!
“Unplanning” or spontaneous travel seems to bring back the adventure in each day!
Love that you guys could attend the music festival outside Hanoi due to “unplanning” – what a great experience. We’re bummed we couldn’t make it!
Exactly Brandon! Most of our favourite experiences came from things we never knew would happen, or even existed! We didn’t expect to buy motorcycles, yet here we are almost 7 months down the track with them. Unplanning is such a great term. Quest was awesome, although I’m sure you guys will come across another equally wicked event somewhere which you can attend. 😀
Hi Lesh and Jazza!
I love this article. The best trip I’ve ever been on in my life has been with minimal planning, just going ‘where the wind took us’.
Following your progress through Vietnam has been phenomenal, since I am currently doing research for my own South East Asia backpacking trip! Our first flight arrives in Hanoi mid-January. We are trying to do as little planning as possible, just a few basics and everything else as we go.
Hey Jordan, thanks for reading! Glad you can resonate with the article. You will love Vietnam. We’ll be living in Phong Nha for a while, so hit us up when you get to Hanoi. Will be happy to meet up with you for a drink. Happy planning =)
I love this. I do think its important to leave yourself open to what you find along the way. I still like to research places a bit, find out what other people loved or hated and have a sense of what the options are, but I think travel is best when spontaneous.
Thanks Rebekah. Yes, it is important to do a bit of research for sure. After all, that’s what our travel blogs are actually for, right? Haha. I think you’ve got the right idea about how to travel – do some research but keep your options open. Great way to do it!
Traveling just like paper should not be restricted by lines or a set itinerary. Although, when I do travel internationally I do have certain places that will be set as destination spots but I do not limit myself to just them.
Wishing you SAFE & HAPPY travels.
Beautiful way to put it, Michael. We agree it is good to have a rough idea about some places to check out when you travel internationally. Stoked to hear that you don’t limit yourself to these spots though. Thanks for reading!
I couldn’t agree more with you and I even wrote about the same subject a while ago. Like you guys, we like not to have any specific plan, it’s so nice to have the option and freedom to decide at the last minute what and where to go plus if an opportunity comes up we can just take it if we’d want to without turning down anything else already planned. We like to call this way of travelling, “unplanning” and as you said it’s the best way! 🙂
Unplanning! Perfect way to put it. We might even ‘borrow’ that term from time to time 😉 You two are definitely a great inspiration for other travellers!