People travel in different ways. Some people plan their trips to a tee, while others just like to go and see where the wind takes them. For us, there is no right or wrong way to travel. If it works for you, keep on doing it. Coincidentally, when it comes to travel styles, Tom and I are actually quite different. I like to plan…and he, well he doesn’t. For me, although I like the flexibility and freedom of not sticking to a set plan, there are little things which make planning some things worthwhile. Due to the fact that we both travel differently, we decided to write this article from two different points of view.
To Plan: Anna
Although I consider myself a planner, I am still not like most people (hi mom!) who plans everything- I’m talking about a full itinerary…including meal times. I was able to successfully backpack around for one year because I generally planned my route, looked into how I could save money, time, and maximize my stay in each place.
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Plan so That You Save Money
When you’re traveling on a budget (which is by the way the story of my life!), planning plays a big role. You need to be able to look in advance to score cheap transport tickets like trains and flights. In Europe and other “expensive countries”, I find that planning is essential! I was able to request for couch surfing hosts, look for bargain deals on trains, and even manage to score super cheap flights back to Amsterdam to catch a music festival! I would often research on free museum days, how to get discounts on passes, and other little things that would help me save in the long run. In general, I like to search the web to look for cheap travel deals and if I find some that are too good to pass up, I book it straight away. A lot of people think that planning a trip ahead of time removes all the spontaneity but I have found that as long as you book the essentials, you are free to be as spontaneous as you want with everything else.
Plan so That You Know What’s There to See
Before heading to a place, look into things and get informed about what to do, insider tips, and how best to go about it. I have heard of some people who completely miss out seeing certain things because they didn’t bother to look into what there is to actually do in the place. Some websites are pretty comprehensive in giving you an overview of the area. I love using my trusty lonely planet books for traveling around Asia and of course, other travel blogs to get the real deal of the place. Apart from this, as silly as it sounds, I plan according to meals! I research in advance and find out where the best local places are. I will happily scour the internet for directions for some random hole in the wall food place!
Plan so That You Can Save Time
By planning your route ahead of time and looking into transportation schedules, you make the most out of your days by not having to stay a night in a random town. Often, transport schedules can be a pain to deal with, but if properly researched, you can connect between two transports and make it to your destination of choice with ease! I had my fair share of staying in crappy towns because I made the error of not looking into transport times. I don’t know about you, but one of my peeves is walking around aimlessly, with your luggage in tow, trying to find a hostel to stay in. Especially in places like Europe where hostel beds book out easily! By the time I am settled and ready to explore, I see others still wandering trying to find a place to sleep.
Read: Why Traveling Isn’t for Everyone
Not To Plan: Tom
I arrived in China with no phone, no laptop, no iPad, no watch and no plan. Ok, I admit the no watch did start to cause problems, especially when trying to communicate to a Chinese person (who spoke no English) that I needed a wakeup call because I had no alarm clock. However, being without everything else and having no plan worked out great for me. I had a rough idea of where I was heading but that was about it. When people ask me why I don’t plan, these are some of the answers I give.
Don’t Plan so You Can Make Last Minute Decisions
When you travel, you constantly make decisions. After all, you are not in your normal everyday routine. You meet people and change locations weekly, sometimes daily. When you meet great people, you want to keep traveling with them. When you have a plan, you are limited to sticking to that schedule. If you have booked accommodation you are limited to staying in that accommodation and not with those cool new friends you just made. When I was traveling after somebody told me how great Myanmar was over some street food in Bangkok, I booked a ticket and flew to Myanmar the next day. How? Because I had no plan!
Don’t Plan Because That’s When the Best Things Happen
Remember those nights out that you planned for ages? They were ok right? Now do you remember those nights you didn’t plan and decided last minute to drop everything and stay out all night? Those nights you remember. When you plan a trip you are limited and end up doing just the things you planned, while missing those amazing random things that just happen. My friend Sean who I met on a bus from Cambodia had zero plans for Vietnam. Before you knew it, he ended up buying a motorbike and riding all over Vietnam with me. Because I set out with no plan, I ended up meeting my partner in crime Anna, working in the Philippines for 8 months, starting this kick ass blog and continuing to travel slowly through countries. If I had planned like I had originally intended to, I would have done a 18 month trip and would be back home by now.
READ: Reasons Why Not to Visit the Philippines
Don’t Waste Time Planning Because Plans Always Change
Who could argue with this point especially when traveling? Buses get cancelled, planes get delayed and sometimes injuries happen. Instead of planning just relax and go with the flow. Then when those things do happen, you just shrug it off and don’t get stressed. Some people might think I don’t plan because I am simply too lazy and I guess there would be some truth in that. However, I mainly don’t plan because I like to just enjoy every experience that comes my way.
Although we both agree with the benefits of both planning and not planning, we’ve learned how to adapt to each other’s travel styles. As much as I love to plan, I am also all for taking things as they come, and being open to different experiences. Some people end up planning things to a tee and end up missing out on so many awesome things just because it isn’t in their plan! So if you’re a planner…give it a try! Go with your gut feel, be spontaneous, and try out something that’s not unplanned. You will be surprised at how liberating it would feel. In the same way, if you’re not a planner, give it a go. Book a hostel in advance (we use booking.com and hotels combined for the best deals!), plan out your route, and give a little thought into what you want to see. You will be surprised at how easy and efficient things are when you plan. For us, it is all about finding the right balance between the two and ultimately finding out which travel style works best for you. As for us, Tom will still happily drive me around as we hunt for obscure food spots while I will happily ditch our plans if something exciting comes up.
Need more tips for your next trip? Check out a few of these other articles
- The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Gap Year in Southeast Asia
- How to Travel the World and Get Free Accommodations
- Top Travel Apps to Help Save Money
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17 thoughts on “To Plan or Not to Plan when Traveling?”
Nice post! I am myself a fan of planning, especially if I have limited time. Since I have started traveling long term, I have learned to appreciate to be more spontaneous. I tend to just do a bunch of reading to have an idea of what things costs and what I would like to see and do. Still, if I travel for 3 weeks, I have to have everything organised not to waste any time or money 😉
I agree with you! If your time is limited, planning is key..but also need to make room for spontaneity! 🙂 Thanks for reading, Claudia!
Great post guys – I think there are definitely pros and cons of both so it usually comes down to striking a balance for us. We’ll plan out the backbone of a trip and know where we’re staying etc and what there is to do, because we’ve come to realize that you really do end up wasting time once you’re there if you haven’t at least researched an idea of what a new place is about. But then it’s nice to not have anything necessarily set in stone for once you are there so you can chagnge your plans around and be flexible enough if last minute things crop up.
All about balance – thanks for presenting the pros of both sides!
Thanks Megan! Yes, we agree that there are pro’s and con’s. Although now that we are blogging full time, planning has become more essential!
I plan out dates I need to be in certain areas and then wing it from there. When I first started traveling 2.5 years ago, I thought I would plan every minute. After 2 weeks of that, I started to wake up everyday and take out the map, close my eyes, and point to a destination… best decision of my life!
Hahaha! I did the same thing when I left for my very first trip ever. After a week, I realized that planning everything down to a tee is impossible and sometimes, you just need to cover the basics and go with the flow!
I like your attitude, Tom: don’t waste time on planning as plans always change. So true! I have been travelling for 11 years now and I started as a supper-organised person with a detailed plan on what to see, where to go,where to find the best deal,etc.But as I travel more, I realise it is a waste of time and best things happen when you don’t have a plan. When you don’t know where you are going to stay it often happens that you get invited to people’s homes and meet the kind of people you’d never have met if you went straight into a pre-booked hostel.
Definitely!! So much more can happen if you’re open to the experience and willing to deviate from your plan! Thanks for reading!
We generally like to plan those things that are necessary, such as car-rentals, mountain huts and ferries, but prefer to leave the rest in the middle. When going to Yellowstone NP it turned out that everything was actually booked up and we could only find 1 spot left on a campsite, which we gladly took as otherwise we’d have to camp 1.5 hours away from the park … so sometimes planning is better, but definitely not always.
Enjoy Yellowstone!! and yes, that instance right there is a perfect example of when planning comes to hand!
I don’t agree with any of your “DON’Ts.” I like to plan even though sometimes the plans change. I always have fun knowing where I’m going, what I want to do or see, where I want to stay, etc. For me the best things happen when they come out as I planned.
Yes, that is one opinion, however, we do love being spontaneous and seeing just where the wind takes us!
Great post, Anna! Very well said in all its aspect. It’s really all about balancing. Plan just enough to leave room for spontaneity 🙂
I used to plan everything to the next level. Not because of budget constraints but because I never had any time. I was obsessed with to-do lists, I used to make schedules and book everything. Then what happened is that I could never stay longer at a place if I liked it more than expected and I missed things because I was in such tight schedules that I was literally just running around. Now I am on the end of the scale, literally. I barely plan beyond accommodation and flights. Then the problem is that I arrive at a place and waste time because things just don’t work out. So I may miss certain visits which should be booked or don’t fully understand something because I don’t have the background. So, the conclusion? As with most things in life, somewhere in the middle! 🙂
Hahaha! Love it! Couldn’t agree more. Balance is key!!
I used to be an over planner. I had to know what was going on where before the trip. Somewhere, years ago, along the way I kind of evolved. Now I mainly plan where I am going to stay fro the first few days. I’ll decide later whether to move or not. I have a general idea of what is in the area but I find more enjoyment going out and discovering things. If I find a place that is closed or I arrive somewhere and it is too crowded I come back later. After all I am on my own time and if plans change oh well I will find something else to do.
Hah! Same-I think every traveler is guilty of over planning at one point. Nowadays, you just know everything will work itself out!