If you’ve been thinking about traveling but find the logistics just too overwhelming I’ll give you a little hint. Just worry about the first day. Don’t think about day 6 or day 45 or even day 347. Just think about day 1. That’s because day 1 is the hardest day of traveling.
When you are home, and have the desire to travel but haven’t taken the plunge, you feel like going somewhere on a short term visit is hard, that doing long term travel must be impossible with all the planning, packing, booking of hotels and flights.
But here’s the secret almost all travelers figure out eventually. Once you have uprooted yourself and gotten away you realize how easy traveling actually is. Distances that once seemed huge to you now are just jaunts. You start to have thoughts like, “Well if I’m flying from Beijing to New York I might as well stop off in New Zealand for a month as it’s practically on the way.”
There’s also a little thing called road magic. Every traveler stumbles upon it eventually. Some things seem difficult or even impossible when you are looking at them on a map or in a travel book. Yet, get yourself traveling and you will find that somehow things just work out.
When my husband and I traveled around the world we only made one advanced booking, and that was for our first few nights at the start of the trip. We knew we would be tired, nervous and every experience was so new. Once we got to our first stop (New Zealand) we found a great local hostel guide and used that for our time there. We found some fantastic hostels that weren’t listed in our guide book that we would have missed out on if we booked ahead. After that, we never worried and often booked our rooms by actually going into the hostel in the next city we were at.
Here are some additional benefits of not planning ahead:
When you plan on the go, you tend to find better deals. When you are sitting on your couch in Portland, Oregon figuring out if it is better to fly or take the train from Switzerland to Berlin you have few options. You can look up flights and train schedules on the internet. But if you wait until you are in Switzerland you might discover it is a popular route and –surprise- there’s another traveler with a car going to the same place for only the price of gas.
My husband and I recently figured this one the hard way. We spent 4 weeks traveling around southwestern China right before the biggest holiday of the year, Chinese New Year. We had heard about how many people travel (hundreds of millions) that time of year and how everything can get booked up weeks in advance so we pre-booked all of our hostels. It turned out to really hinder us.
We had based our plans on what we thought we might think of a place. We came to our assumptions based on our Lonely Planet. If a place had a lot of attractions we might stay for 3-4 nights, smaller places maybe just a night or two. We planned this from the comfort of our bedroom and the reality turned out much different. We wanted to stay in certain places either more or less nights than we originally planned, but to do so meant that we would have to call every single hostel afterward and change our reservations. It was just too much trouble so we felt stuck and resented certain places.
You never know what you are going to find when you travel and being open and flexible will ensure that you have a better time. (Of course due care must be taken around major holidays when planes and trains tend to book up. Also, listen to your fellow travelers. If they say somewhere is popular and fills up quick, then book ahead.) Don’t let the planning stages be too much of a hindrance and just get out there and go!
Graham Phoenix says
What we find really helpful is to have a two level approach. We have a large scale structural plan over the next few months or year leaving the detail to the flexible approach you talk about. We are currently travelling down through Spain taking each day as it comes, but are also settling dates for a singapore trip at Christmas and have flights booked for a trip to Colorado in October. We mix and match to ensure we get interest and contrast in our travelling.
Love it! 😀
Although I, the perfectionist, can’t help planning more than that…
Good thing is that I have friends all around Europe (where I travel) and they, being locals and travelers, know better than any (just) traveler… So my trip that started only in one place has already grew up to 5 places! Summer is not Summer without a big trip! 😀
Thank you for the post! 🙂
I can definitely agree with the idea of partial planning. I backpacked Europe and only booked the first week and a half or so, just went with the flow after that! The flexibility was wonderful! My guy and I are off to Thailand next week for 3 weeks and we so far have only booked hotels for when we get in really late and before we leave the country super early. 🙂
Or the worst thing is when you make really complex arrangements and spend hours going out of your way to get somewhere only to find out a new/cheap/efficient mode of transportation has opened up recently and is too new to be in any of the books! (And of course you already bought your return ticket on the old/longer/expensive route.)
Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist says
Great advice. As for “popular places” and making reservations, there’s two sides to this, in my experience: Popular places may be popular for a reason (nice people, good value), or just for better marketing (websites, guidebooks, etc.). Here in Latin America, often the latter is the case: The popular places are crowded and comparatively expensive, while you can easily find a better place for less money once you’re in town. This changes, of course, when towns fill up because of feasts etc. In these cases it’s certainly better to look for something on time, or just be very flexible and accept a night in the park, if necessary.
I agree with all of your aspects, but especially saving $. There’s nothing worse than booking from home and spending a lot of money and then getting to your destination to find that you overpaid, usually by a lot.
I also love the term “road magic”!