My first trip to Europe was for 6 weeks, back in 2010. It was the first time I took a real holiday which I had to organise myself. I was travelling with a friend and it was really exciting planning and booking things in advance. We booked all of our hostels and most of our transport between cities before we even left Australia. I thought that because I only have 6 weeks, I would need to plan perfectly in order to fit in everything I wanted to do.
Actually I went to Europe and had a great time.
While it was an awesome trip, I did miss out on several opportunities. Opportunities to visit places I hadn’t heard off, opportunities to travel with new people I met and opportunities to do things I hadn’t included in the plan I made from my computer at home. I was so caught up with all of the new experiences that this didn’t bother me at the time.
For the trip I am on currently, I had about 18 months to plan. For me the only thing that came close to filling the hole that travel left when I was back at work, was planning future trips. Even though I read many times on other blogs and websites about how much better it can be to have no plans, I still didn’t really understand what the problem was with booking a couple of things…. well for the first four months of this trip, I pretty much had everything planned out, leaving a few days here and there for breathing room. This made it possible for me to visit quite a few places, and attend big events like Carnival in Brazil and Ultra Music Festival in Miami, where its best to book accommodation in advance ifyou want to stay somewhere great.
So you are probably asking, what’s the problem with booking things in advance?
Now, after 10 months of travelling, it makes me cringe to have a certain date that I need to be somewhere. One of the main things I wanted to do on this trip was to go to Tomorrowland (a big music festival) in Belgium. This required significant forward planning, and left me with a certain date I had to finish with South America so that I could get to Europe on time. Because of this I missed out on what seemed like millions of things I wanted to do, such as go to Ecuador.
The big problem with booking things in advance from home, is that you will only find a tiny bit of information online or in a guide-book about what you can do in a certain country, and they are all written from someone else’s point of view, not your own. Until you get somewhere, it’s impossible to know how long you will want to spend there, or what you will enjoy doing. Once you speak to a couple of people at your destination, it’s very likely you will hear about 5 more places you never knew existed that sound really cool. In fact, your awesome new friends are heading to one of these tomorrow and can give you a ride for free. Just one problem… You have already booked your hostel in the next city, or already booked your flight somewhere else for tomorrow.
The reality is, the more you book things in advance, the more things you miss out on doing.
So what is the alternative to booking everything in advance?
Travel without plans. Its easy!
Basically you just book your first flight, and maybe accommodation for one night. You arrive, get to your hostel. If its good, you can book some more nights, if not, time to move on to another hostel or city. There is almost always accommodation available on short notice. Plenty of people travel around without booking anything ever, they just go to a hostel, and if its full go on to the next one. The best way to find out if a hostel is good or not is to go there!
This leaves you open to a world of possibilities. One of the best things about travelling are the unlimited opportunities that you have to be spontaneous. The fewer plans you have, the more spontaneous you can be. Many of my best moments on this trip have resulted from spontaneous action, and it has led to me meeting many new people and having some amazing experiences which simply would not be possible if I had too many things planned in advance.
My life is very stress free at the moment. I attribute a big part of that to the fact that I don’t have to be anywhere by any certain date, and can take each day as it comes and change my plans to suit my mood at any time.
Sometimes I book transportation in advance if I know for a fact that I want to be somewhere at a certain time to visit someone or to go to an event, because it can be cheaper. I still only do this if I am 100% sure I will be going there at that time.
I am not saying that it’s wrong to travel with everything planned, I just want to draw attention to the fact that when you have no plans, the worlds is your oyster and the possibilities are endless. Don’t be afraid of what might happen, things always have a way of working out when you are travelling.