Do you really need to think about travel planning? It’s the age-old discussion between travellers. Planning has never been easier with the internet, but being a free spirit is part of the fun. There are definitely advantages to travelling with or without a plan and it really depends on your own personal travel style.
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Some travel clutching a Lonely Planet or Rough Guide to their chest, others just turn up somewhere and don’t even know how to get from the airport to the city, let alone where they’re staying. I find that most travellers are somewhere in between these two travel planning extremes.
The Pros Of Travel Planning
Depending on the length of your trip, planning can be time consuming, especially if you want to plan every little detail. But planning ahead can have it’s advantages:
You Know Your Destination Before You Arrive
You know where you want to stay, what museums you want to see, what day trips you want to do and have maybe even planned how you will be successful in seeing everything. You’ve already done the groundwork and don’t have to worry about figuring everything out once you’re there.
You can literally hit the ground running. I was in Puebla and I knew I wanted to get to Loreto Fort, the Museum of Religious Art in Santa Monica, Santa Rosa and Museo Amparo. I had originally planned to do all of these over two days, but because I figured out the best order to do these museums I was able to get the bus to Loreto Fort and work my way through them all. I managed to see them all in one day – and I didn’t rush them at all. This meant I ended up with an extra day in Puebla and was able to see another nearby town.
It Can Save You Money
We all know that booking in advance tends to be cheaper than booking last-minute. Whether it’s a flight, train or bus, transport is cheaper in advance. If you know where you’re going and what you want to do you can keep an eye out for deals online, say for that street food tour in Bangkok you really have your heart set on. Another great plus to research is you can find out when museums are having a free day, and see if you can take full advantage.
You Can Save Time Too
By planning your transport in advance, you can avoid having to stay over somewhere that you didn’t want to. Sometimes connections really don’t work when you don’t plan ahead. Another way it can save time is the fact you can plan your sightseeing. You can plan your routes around the city (like I did in Puebla) and make the most of your time there.
Helps You Stay Secure
One reason I like to plan ahead with accommodation is the fact that it means I will always have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep on. I like to have that security. There are also popular attractions that you may have to book ahead to ensure you can see them.
You Can Get To Difficult Locations
Some destinations are difficult to get to, unless you have your own car. To get there you do have to plan. One destination I really wanted to get to in Mexico was Calakmul. But these ruins are hidden deep in the rainforest and are hours away from anywhere. To get there I had no choice but to plan ahead and I booked a trip with Bacalar Adventure Tours – it was one of the best tours I did and with all the transport it took over 13 hours! No way could I have made it without booking ahead.
It Can Be Good For Your Health
For some destinations you need to have vaccinations, or malaria tablets. There are some places where you won’t be let in or out of the country if you haven’t had the correct vaccinations. Travel planning at least where you are going means you can have the correct medical advise. Bringing an illness home with you isn’t what anyone wants! And let’s not forget you need to know where you are going and when to get your travel insurance!
The Benefits Of Not Planning
On the other hand, not having a plan can be said to be the true spirit of travel. And not planning does have its advantages too:
Flexibility Is Always Good
With no plan, you can be flexible. Whenever you get to a destination, there’ll be an amazing thing to do that you haven’t heard of before. When I got to Merida, everyone in the hostel was talking about the Homun Cenotes. Despite my research I’d never heard of them, but they sounded great. Luckily I had extra time so was able to adjust my plans to fit this.
You Can Be Spontaneous
You never know what will happen when you meet new friends, but you do know that you’ll probably want to spend time together. Not having a plan means you can go with the flow and be spontaneous. In Puerto Vallarta this happened to me. I ended up joining some new friends for a walk to a secluded beach.
Nothing Can Go Wrong
With no plan, nothing can go wrong. So there’s no stress when a bus doesn’t turn up, or you get on the wrong train. When in Mazatlan I was catching an early bus as I had to get to El Fuerte for early evening for the start of a trip I was booked on (the journey included one bus change and then a colectivo drive). The bus never turned up. I have no idea how an entire bus full of people just disappeared, but it did. It was the most stressful travel day of my life. If I hadn’t of had the trip planned, it wouldn’t have mattered at all.
You Can Follow Local Advice
Local knowledge is the best. With no plan you ave the time to seek out local people and get their recommendations, which are always better than anything you will find in a guidebook. I went to a restaurant in Puebla, based on TripAdvisor reviews and it was terrible. The service was appalling, food was good but everything else was horrific. On the other hand in Valladolid someone told me about a local food court and I had some of the best food I had in Mexico there.
Locals can also tell you how to best get to a place. I was trying to get to the ferry to Isla Mujeres from Cancun. I knew that there were two ferries, one cheaper than the other. After a short conversation in terrible Spanish with the colectivo driver, saying I wanted the cheap ferry, he refused to let me out at the second ferry stop, which I thought was the cheap one. He took me to the car ferry, which was even cheaper.
You Can Save Money
I know I’m contradicting myself here, but not having a plan can save you money. If you literally have no plan, you don’t really care where you are going or when, you can just jump on the best deals with no forward planning. Last minute bookings can also be cheap for hotels.
You Can Take The Time To Absorb A Place
If you have a plan and really want to see all the attractions of a place, you risk missing out on the place itself. Sometimes it’s nice just to wander around, sit and sip on a coffee in a cafe, act as the locals do. Being planless gives you ample time to do this.
Finding The Balance
There’s no right or wrong way to travel, it depends on you and what you want. Personally, I find having a balance between travel planning and not planning works best for me. It gives me the best of both worlds. For me, I tend to plan a rough idea of what I want from a trip, but this doesn’t have to be set in stone. I like to know what I REALLY want to see and things that would just be nice to see, which allows me flexibility if someone tells me about something amazing.
I also like to make sure I will have a roof over my head every night. So I’ll always book accommodation in advance. But I will only book a night or two. That way if I don’t like the destination or accommodation I can move on, but if I fall in love I can stay longer.
For me, it really is all about finding the right balance.
Nat is a part-time backpacker, trying to make backpacking a full-time lifestyle. The travel bug first bit on a round-the-world trip in 2010-2011. The trip did not reduce the bucket list, but instead made it bigger! Since then Nat has been trying to see more attractions closer to home in the UK and Europe. She also manage to tick a big one off the list in 2015 when she succeeded in climbing Kilimanjaro.
In 2016, she launched Natpacker to help other travellers, focusing on backpacking and budget travel, which is her preferred style. The blog contains her own adventures, destinations, reviews and travel advice.
Nat also has a passion for food, animals and the environment, all of which tend to drive where she visits and what tours she does.