Both of us have never been great planners. Dale always used to get his friends to get everything organized and ready if there was ever an event to be prepared, and I simply went with the flow, always open to suggestions and changes that might occur. That always worked well for me, especially considering I can be a very indecisive person at times. The only occasion when I had to be well organized and good at planning was at my job, in fact when you are a Product Manager it’s inevitable not to be able to plan, but that was different, it was work. That might actually be the reason why in my personal life I never wanted to plan that much and be more free to see what happened instead.
A lot of friends of ours are extraordinarily good at planning, almost to the extreme in my opinion. When they go on holiday they have a full schedule with the exact time for each activity booked months in advance, they have very little free time left – next to nothing – to possibly fit anything else they might want to do once at the actual location. They are happy that way though, because once it’s all sorted and planned they don’t have to worry about it anymore but simply fly out when it’s time and enjoy themselves. What if they end up wanting to do something different once there? What if they want to simply be more spontaneous?
When it comes to travel planning we are no different, we still don’t do it that much – at least not anymore, and not unless is extremely needed. Why would or should we?
When we started this trip we planned to go to Russia and take the Trans Siberian Train to get to China, but we couldn’t get the Russian Visa whilst in Kiev, so our original plan went into the bin and we changed our itinerary completely and flew to Japan instead. It was very disappointing and frustrating at that time, we’d read so much about the Trans Siberian Train experience that we knew it could be difficult at times, especially in terms of communication (neither of us speaks Russian). We really wanted to challenge ourselves, plus it was a way to get to Asia without taking any flights, something we’re never keen to take due to the time wasted and experience you miss by flying over it rather than through it.
Our expectations built because of our planning in advance which ended up leaving us unsatisfied and with a bitter taste in our mouths. Don’t get me wrong, Japan was AMAZING and we are so glad we went and we wish we could go again soon, but the whole ordeal beforehand did spoil what we thought would be the first major stage of our travels.
Unplanning Leads to More Flexibility
Following that disappointment we decided we would plan only when necessary to make sure we wouldn’t be devastated again if our plan needed to change at the last minute for any reason. The fact that Japan was such an amazing surprise that we both hadn’t planned for convinced us more that being casual with our travel plans and embracing the freedom of being unshackled from them was the only way to go.
We learnt our lesson: nothing is sure in life and anything can happen at any time, so why would we tie ourselves to a certain plan if we could unplan and be free to change our minds whenever we want to instead? The only time we think travel planning can be useful is when it might save us money in the long run, say by buying flight tickets; in fact, most of the time booking a flight in advance can be cheaper, but that is painful for us because it means planning way, way ahead in advance.
Most people would argue with that and say that it’s best to organize everything ahead of time to have some piece of mind by not having to worry constantly about trying to get everything sorted on the go, for them that would be too stressful. For us, unplanning is the complete opposite! Every time we think of booking something way ahead in advance or planning our itinerary, we just stress out. Planning for us also means lose the spontaneity of travelling and the freedom to choose as we go without restrictions.
I’m pretty sure that unplanning is not perfect way of travelling. Some people feel more comfortable planning and some others are more like us. If we look back to before we started travelling, there are many situations we found ourselves in and experiences that we wouldn’t probably have had the chance to go for if we had our plane ticket already in hand (unless we were happy to lose our money, which wouldn’t have been the case).
Unplanning has taken us to places and given us experiences we’d never have imagined – like the amazing month we spent touring Japan.
Or the time unplanning had us ending up sleeping in a Jjimjilbang (Korean public bath) because we hadn’t booked any accommodation, and we couldn’t find anything available at a reasonable price.
Uplanning our travels meant that we could go hiking in the snowy mountains on the Swiss and French border with our Couchsurfing host without any appropriate gear and borrowed waterproof shoes because it was completely unplanned, but thoroughly amazing.
There was the time when we accepted the kind and totally unexpected help of a Thai man in Chumphon who offered to take us to the beach many kilometers away that we were trying to walk to because we’d grossly underestimated and ‘unplanned‘ the trip.
Or when instead of going straight to Barcelona from Montpelier we stopped off in Toulouse for one night only because a lovely couple that Dale got in touch with on Reddit.com invited us for a vegetarian dinner which turned out to be an unexpected (and unplanned!) feast.
Or, on a slightly sadder note, when we had to go back to Italy because my grandfather was very ill and I wanted to see him one more time before it was too late.
I could go on and on with more examples from our travels to show how awesome unplanning can be and just how well it works for us, and I’m sure someone could certainly argue with us about it and come up with many situations where planning is a must; but I guess in those cases we just have to take the hit if we don’t plan and simply carry on and take it from there, but this is the way we like to travel.