Travel planning

Travel plans, and how I can’t stick to them

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Travel plans and I don’t tend to get along. I struggle to make them, and then as soon as I’ve done so, I start finding ways to do something completely different. This isn’t just an occasional affliction – it happens all the time.

When travelling solo this isn’t a problem – changing my mind on a whim doesn’t really matter to anybody else – but it’s the kind of thing that can cause massive arguments amongst groups or couples. When someone has their heart set on a particular place or just likes to have everything organised far in advance, and then a spanner is deliberately thrown in the works… well, let’s just say that chaos often ensues.

Luckily for both of us, Lauren is exactly the same as me when it comes to planning. We’ll both throw ideas around for a while, come up with the best one we can, commit to it… and then immediately start thinking of something else we’d much rather do instead.

Petronas Towers

Take, for example, our time in Malaysia back in March. The original intention was to spend around a month in the country, visiting the bustling metropolis of Kuala Lumpur and the foodie paradise of Penang before heading to the Perhentian islands for a couple of weeks of diving and beach time. It was a perfectly good plan, we thought, with a mix of many of the things that Malaysia is best known for at a pace that wasn’t too frenetic after our madcap rush through New Zealand.

Lauren published a blog post announcing our plans for the next few months while we were sitting in our cramped guesthouse room in Penang… and then we changed our minds. Quite literally, the very next day.

School holidays had started in Malaysia the previous week, and as a result decent accommodation was expensive and hard to find in the east coast islands. It turned out that it was the wrong time of year for good diving as well, with reports that the run-off at the end of the rainy season had left the water murky. We juggled around various options, none of which felt quite right, until I uttered the fateful words:

“How about we go to Thailand instead?”

We were in the far north of Malaysia anyway, after all – the border was only a couple of hours away. Even better, minivans ran once a day to the ferry terminal for Koh Lipe at a reasonable price… and we could get an extended Thai visa from the consulate in Penang. Neither of us had been to that small Thai island before, and with peak season already finished, it seemed the perfect place to laze around on the beach, do some diving and generally chill out for a while.

So, just like that, we gave up on the rest of our Malaysia plans, got a visa and booked seats on the minivan for two days later.

Swing, Koh Lipe

Koh Lipe, despite being somewhat over-priced, turned out to be a fantastic choice – relaxing, quiet and generally free of pollution and crowds. From not intending to visit Thailand at all on that trip, we then ended up spending two months there between various islands and our second home of Chiang Mai. It certainly wasn’t what we’d expected to do, but it turned out to be exactly what we needed to do.

Plans be damned.

The same thing happened again just a couple of weeks ago. Almost as soon as I’d published a post saying what we were up to for the next few months, we changed our minds. Sorry, Boston and DC. Accommodation and flights were expensive, buses between cities seemed to take 14 hours for a four hour trip, moving every few days was as unappealing as ever, and my brother happened to mention he’d be in New York City soon after we’d intended to leave.

So, instead, we decided to stay in the Pacific Northwest an extra couple of weeks. Seattle would have been nice, but we ended up in a little house in old-town Tacoma instead. We’re a few minutes from the rocky beaches along the waterfront, in a lovely neighbourhood with some good pubs and restaurants, paying half as much as we would to be 45 minutes north. Did Tacoma ever feature on my travel itinerary before now? Hell no. But, as usual, things have turned out for the best.

Plans, again, be damned.

Tacoma shoreline

Those are just a couple of examples of what has become a theme to my travels. When I first started, I was definitely a planner – and once I had something down on paper, I really tried to stick to it. These days, not so much. For the last year in particular, I seem to have been making plans more for the comedy value than any real intention of following through with them.

So, if I can’t seem to manage sticking to any of my travel plans, what should I do about it?

For me, the answer is clear.

Stop making them. Instead, just choose a direction and go with the flow.

In some parts of the world, that’s completely possible. South East Asia in particular rewards those with no set agenda, and I’m hoping that as we head south from the US (there’s that direction thing), the same might apply.

While visa rules, high last-minute prices and heavy tourism can limit spontaneity in other parts of the globe, it’s still possible if we’re flexible enough. Not having somewhere we have to be opens up the option of going, well, anywhere. Perhaps one day, we’ll even achieve that holy grail of turning up at the airport and picking a random destination from the departures board. Who knows? Obviously we won’t be planning it… but it’s a possibility.

So is almost anything else.

Travel planning image via yuheitomi

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  1. We’ve had the past few years only one plan: no plans.

    That has worked pretty well and it can never fail. Work exchanges, house-sits, pet-sits and hospitality exchange has forced a bit of planning, but that hasn’t been too much. Most of the pressure for planning comes from family and friends, but they are also getting used to the idea of us living in the moment instead of dwelling in the past or postponing things for the sake of brighter future (i.e. planning).

    Our april fool’s prank helped a bit to fix the situation. It was a complete travel plan for the next year.

  2. This is pretty much EXACTLY how my planning process works. I completely understand where you’re coming from 🙂

  3. Sometimes, ya just gotta’ go with the flow mate! When I went to New Zealand for 2011-12 which happened to be my first foreign country ever, I didn’t plan a damn thing. I literally landed and was like, “Ummm” and started wandering. And I’ll be headed to Thailand this November and I’ll likely do the same thing as well.

    Plans be damned, sometimes you just have to see where things take you, If it is too much of an exact itinerary, I feel like it’ll get boring knowing every step!

  4. My wife and I are about to leave for our year-long+ trip next week. I’m the type of person that stresses if I don’t have a plan. Right now I’m comfortable with knowing three months out. I actually just wrote a post about how we plan. Then again what do I know? One of the whole reason we are taking this trip is to learn to live in the now! I do like your mantra… plans be damned!

  5. Hi, Dave! I’m new here and really enjoying reading your blog post. This one in particular hit home with us. We have always traveled with no other plans than the destination and sights we or may not get to see along the way. It’s pretty much always worked out for us but not always. Like when there are no rooms anywhere in town and we are really, really tired from a full day of traveling and sightseeing, but those days are really uncommon and the benefit of freedom to travel as we please far out ways that occasional inconvenience. So, I can see where you’re coming from, the heck with the plans, just enjoy your travels! I’m looking forward to following your blog. Happy Travels.

  6. We are doing just that – turning up at Frankfurt airport in Feb 2020, and asking for a cheap one-way ticket for somewhere in SE Asia where we can do some backpacking, diving and just chilling out. We’ll book our first night’s accommodation online, and have bags we can carry ourselves, and head out for 4-5 weeks. We’re oldies, but fitties (78 and 65) and realise that if we don’t do it soon, we never will! Koh Mak is already on our ‘hope to’ list, but we’ll be flexible. Malaria tablets, inoculations and first-aid kit next on the list.