Earlier this year I was on a solo trip and I met a pretty girl. She was interesting, cool, and a huge amount of fun. I knew fairly quickly I wanted to spend more time with her. After a short discussion we agreed changing our plans to spend a few extra days together would be crazy...so we decided to change all our plans and spend a few extra days together.
More recently, I was staying in a small town in New Zealand to do some snowboarding. Built on the edge of a beautiful lake and surrounded by snow capped mountains, this town is everything that New Zealand promises tourists in its advertising. If however, on your second day snowboarding you slam into the ground bruising your ribs and rendering yourself unable to breathe properly, you will find yourself trapped in a three road town, with an old railway, a small playground and a single store which also acts as a cafe, restaurant, bar, and the local post office. After moping around the house for a week in a state of melodramatic melancholy, I changed all my plans and left.
Meeting the girl and leaving the town aren't the focus of this article but it did make me think of some great advice I give people who are in the process of planning their travel. I have found more people tend to naturally follow this advice as they become more familiar and comfortable with travelling, some faster than others, depending on your state of anxiety.
Do not plan every minute of every day
I hate the tour bus attitude to travel. You get on the bus where some overly-friendly driver runs through the usual script. "Shout if you're from the United Kingdom". If you have spoken to anyone from the United Kingdom you will know they're generally too polite to generate much in the way of noise unless they've had three beers for lunch. The opposite can be said for the Americans whose screams and continued chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" can be heard by anyone within a mile radius. You then follow the map to the places listed in the brochure while the driver makes the same tired jokes he will use on every trip that week.
Travel shouldn't be about working through a checklist of top ten attractions before claiming you have seen all there is to see and heading off to the next place. Sure, if you go to Paris and don't see the Eiffel Tower you're a bit weird, but equally as important is to aimlessly wander the streets, absorbing the atmosphere, and seeing what daily life is really like. I would place sitting in a cafe and trying to talk to Parisians equal to climbing to the top of the Tower. Getting a Parisian to talk to you may prove difficult of course. Life is full of challenges.
Pre-booking does not always save you money
When I started travelling, I was under the assumption that by paying for everything well in advanced I was saving time, money, and a lot of stress. I believe I was wrong, at least in part. What I was eliminating from my travel was the opportunity for random, chaotic chance. While many would argue this is the exact reason you absolutely should plan everything, random chance is the one of most exciting parts of travelling.
What inevitably happens when I pre-book as much as I can is an opportunity arises which forces me to make a choice; cancelling my bookings and losing my money, or missing out on something truly interesting and exciting. I do not like losing money, nor do I like missing out.
I have noticed, especially through Asia, you can often find a local price significantly cheaper than the price you'll find online. There is also some power in being able to walk next down the road to the competition. Bargaining power can go a long way, especially if you have time and patience. This can only be done on the ground.
Your plans are your plans
Always keep in mind your plans should revolve around you, with a few exceptions made for the people you're with, assuming you like them. There is no point flying to a new country to see a bunch of shit you aren't interested in just because some asshole on the internet said it was awesome. Yes, I am referring to myself.
Some things you may not need to experience. I am not a foodie. I eat for sustenance. I have almost no desire to visit a Michelin star restaurant just because the chef made a momentary splash in some circle of people I don't care about. I am not judging people who do enjoy it, but the experience, and the money, would be completely wasted on me. My growing hunger usually gets the better of me and I spend most of the evening wishing I was in a late night warung eating a heaped plate of nasi goreng.
I always recommend stepping outside your comfort zone so if something looks cool to you, do it, but your plans are for you. Go to places you want to go and do the things you want to do.
Plans were made to be broken
I have been fortunate enough to witness some things not many people get to see. Usually this is due to one of two reasons; I was open to the possibility of change, or I was completely fucking lost and ended up somewhere I wasn't supposed to be.
Being open to possibilities means looking and listening, considering offers from people and accepting them more often than turning them down. Sometimes that means dressing up in traditional dress and going to a temple ceremony. Other times it means accepting an offer to have dinner at a person's home. It definitely does not include getting into a tuk-tuk for a "tour of the city" which always starts with a jeweler, a silk shop and then a really good tailor the driver knows. I know I'm not the only one who has fallen for this bullshit before.
Still do your research...
While I am an advocate for not planning too much, you should still do your research. Do not turn up to Vietnam's Hang Son Doong caves and learn there is a two year waiting list at the door. Know more, plan less!
When things don't go to plan
Something will happen to your plans. Something unexpected can always happen. If you are lucky, it will just be the weather and you'll get wet while wandering around a Chateau gardens. If you are unlucky, all your luggage will end up in Beijing, while you're in Berlin.
You should view the plans you make as guidelines, not rules. Try avoid getting into an argument with your travel buddy because they said the train left at 11:00AM and it actually leaves at 10:45AM. Or should we say it left at 10:45. It isn't worth it. They're just plans. Everything can be fixed with time and a bit of money. It will only ruin your holiday if you let it.
Have a great time making or not making your next travel plans. Keep them loose, keep them fun, and don't let them weigh you down! Have a great time.