I’ve always been a bit of a planner and so the thought of travel without a plan used to make me very anxious.
My natural tendency is to want to know what I’m going to do and when.
Where I’m going to go and where I’m going to be.
What there is to see and experience so I don’t waste time and miss things.
The longer I’ve traveled the more I’ve found myself moving away from over-planning though. Or even planning at all.
And that’s because there are a number of benefits to doing so.
The Benefits of Travel Without A Plan
It took a while (i.e. years of travel) but I’ve finally chilled out and realized that:
- Life and travel aren’t a race
- Life’s more fun when you don’t over plan everything
I’ve severely over planned the first 3 months of this trip. I had the plane tickets booked to get me from India to Sri Lanka to Thailand. I already knew where I was going to go in India and Sri Lanka. I knew when I was going to enter Myanmar from Thailand and roughly when I would be leaving again by.
Some of that was for practical reasons, such as worrying that air fares would go up if I didn’t plan enough in advance (this was before I discovered the month view option on Sky Scanner which was life changing, no jokes!) and because of visas I’d bought in advance expiring if I didn’t enter the countries by certain dates. But what I realized in doing all of that and subsequently planning a lot less after it is that I had a hell of a lot more fun once I stopped the over-planning.
I really enjoyed my travels around those countries and saw some amazing things. But the over-planning definitely reduced my enjoyment of them. It meant that if I heard about a really cool place along the way from other travelers I didn’t have the time to divert my plans and go see it. For example I found out whilst in Goa that lots of people go to visit Hampi from there. I’d never even heard of Hampi before I went to India so it hadn’t occurred to me to go there. I didn’t know it was an option. And I didn’t have the flexibility to go there when every one in my hostel went “Yeahhhh, let’s all get the bus there and go explore”.
Once I stopped planning as much though it meant when I was in Southern Thailand and heard about how amazing some places in Cambodia are, that I hadn’t visited on a previous trip I’d taken there, I could decide to just change my plans, take a 16-hour bus and boat ride and go explore those incredible places. Doing so almost meant I got to, coincidently, see some friends from home who happened to be traveling in Cambodia at the same time and take a little break from solo travel (which I love, there are so many benefits to solo travel, but sometimes it does get tiring and it’s nice, once in a while, to just have people you already know around for a bit.)
It also meant that when I was in the south of Thailand and a fellow traveler suggested going back to Koh Phi Phi (which I’d just left) I could decide to join and ended up having an incredible 3 weeks hanging out there, and made a life long friend with that other traveler in the process.
It also meant when I was in Laos and met two guys in my hostel who were gong to the same location as me next but by motorbike, rather than bus, I could decide to leave the same day as them and get a ride through the countryside in Laos on the back of their bikes, which was incredible.
Having switched to my travels being without a plan allowed me to do all of these things.
Not planning as much also meant that when I first arrived in Indonesia and decided I loved it and wanted to stay to learn to surf and learn the language that I could. I was originally supposed to be in Australia by August 2015. I had a plane ticket booked and everything (thanks to my over-planning). But I cancelled it as I decided that I no longer want to have any fixed plans. It’s now November 2016 and I’m still in Asia!
I could never have done the above if I’d continued to over-plan.
Planning definitely has its role. It can be extremely useful to have a travel itinerary if you have a limited amount of time somewhere and therefore want to work out if you’ll have enough time to see the things you’d like to and make it back in time for your flight home.
That’s precisely why I’ve plotted out the routes I’ve taken around countries for all of you, so you can see how long you’ll need in each place and the distances between them.
However having plotted militant itineraries like the one below that I took around Sri Lanka before where I knew exactly where I was going to be on each day and what I was going to be doing, I’d now very much suggest that if you do need to know the timings, you plot it, and then remove some of the planning.
Have an idea as to where you want to go and what is feasible in the time you have available. But don’t book it all it. Don’t set it all in stone. Allow enough flexibility so that if you get somewhere and don’t like it you can move on or if you get somewhere and love it or want to visit another location nearby you can then do so without losing money on pre-booked plans.
I’m writing this today because I’ve just arrived in Malaysia. And I decided for once, that not only would I not over-plan but that I’d go in completely the other direction. I have no travel itinerary and no plans, literally none, for my time here. I haven’t researched anything and I don’t have an onward flight. I’m just going to go and explore. And I’m so excited about it. So excited that I can go and do literally anything I might want to or feel like doing.
It feels incredibly liberating.
I’ll be basing where I go next just on where people I meet along the way, or you guys, suggest. If you’ve been to Malaysia and have any top tips on things to do and places to visit please do let me know if the comments below. You can literally shape my trip.
Here’s to no plan, being the best plan.
I hope :-/
Either way I’ll let you know how the total lack of planning goes soon.
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