Notes From The Road: The Open-Ended Travel Plan

Why open ended travel plans are the best
A Christmas Eve picnic in the tea fields of Eastern Nepal was not part of the original plan.

As a card-carrying type-A Virgo list-maker, it may surprise you to know that I’m also a huge proponent of the open-ended travel plan.  What?  Yes.  Despite my fondness for never-ending lists (what to pack! things to prepare for! toiletries to bring!) I’m also the girl who says things like “Oh, I don’t know.  I guess I’ll just see what happens when I get there.” What.a.hippie.

Why Unplanned Travel Can be The Best

Many of the best and most exciting things that have happened over the last five months of travel were completely unplanned.  I didn’t leave America intending to teach English to third graders in Eastern Nepal.  Teaching Thai sex workers wasn’t part of the plan.  I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to Laos until I was at the border crossing.  Now, I’m in my  spiritual homeland of New Zealand.  When am I going to back to the states?  I don’t know.  I’m waiting to see if NZ presents me with any life-changing opportunities (read: Bret McKinzie confesses his undying love for me) There is a contingency plan, but there is no exit ticket.

Of course, this hippie-dippy, loosy-goosy approach to travel probably doesn’t work for everybody.  I’m traveling alone, earning money as I go – no one’s depending on me to return home by a certain date or earn x amount. But even if you’re only traveling for a few weeks, I’d be remiss in my duty as your friend if I allowed you to over-schedule and over-plan your trip.  Book accommodation for your first few nights, choose three or four things that you absolutely must do, but resist the urge to pack every minute of every day full with Activities and Sights.

If you stuff your days too tightly, you’re going to miss out on all the amazing, weird things that pop up as you go.  The traditional banana leaf dinner at your guide’s house!  The one-week editing gig in Lima!  The elephant festival deep in the mountains of Laos!  You might feel like you’re putting yourself at the mercy of the universe, but I promise you – if you leap, the net will appear.

And sometimes that net comes in the form of Thai Sex Worker English classes.

How much do you leave to chance when you travel?  How often do you open yourself up to unknown opportunities?

13 Comments

Emilie

I'm on such a trip right now. I thought I was going home in December, but right now on Bulgaria helping organize an NGO for women's rights. What?!

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craft

I'm planning on going to France this summer and while I want to visit a few places (especially some places where they are voted as having the best baguettes) I really want just to enjoy the time I'll be there. I'm working hard to save money (I'm a student so I'm broke all the time) but I know it'll be worth it.
So yeah I'm organizing it, obsessing about the little things but not overplanning where should I go just how I'll go 🙂

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Meghan

I'm sorry to burst your bubble but Bret will not be declaring his love for you (even though you're awesome) because he is madly in love with me. Yes, I have big plans for the rhymnocerous and I to live happily ever after.

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Jenny

I agree so much! I have never done completely open-ended or solo travel, but after my first trip (really tight schedule) I learned to loosen up. I am a planner by nature and I'm not big on surprises, but travel is so much different, and things are really so much more fun when you don't have to leave somewhere you didn't expect to like so much (or if you hate where you are, you can leave earlier than planned). It's actually less stressful to just see what happens!

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Kelsi

My net appeared in the form of a cross country road trip along Route 66, going back up through Vegas to Yellowstone, past the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore, before finally ending back in my home city of Milwaukee.

You're right: the idea of taking weeks off of work would have some of my friends grasping for an oxygen mask. I will likely be criticized or misunderstood for it, but in the end they'll all be saying to me, "I wish I could do something like that." Um, you CAN! I can! And I will! Yay for things!

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Birdie

I wish I could afford to travel out of the country. 🙁 But, I guess I will just live vicariously through your posts for now. XD

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Kristie

I love this philosophy. When I went to the Dominican Republic, I picked like 5 things that my friends and I should do and the rest was improv. We ended up getting rides on the motorcycles of a bunch of random guys, making a trip to the most amazing beach ever, and heading to the Mormon church there. Some of my favorite memories were unplanned.

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Vanessa Kennedy

This is so great! I am super impressed that you can be such a type-A virgo lady (in the BEST way, of course!) and still have so much travel flexibility. Some of the opportunities you've come across (teaching third graders? teaching sex workers? so. cool.) are really amazing- I'd love to hear more about how you've come across such exciting opportunities (future post, maybe?)

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Vanessa Kennedy

This is so great! I am super impressed that you can be such a type-A virgo lady (in the BEST way, of course!) and still have so much travel flexibility. Some of the opportunities you've come across (teaching third graders? teaching sex workers? so. cool.) are really amazing- I'd love to hear more about how you've come across such exciting opportunities (future post, maybe?)

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Anna

I couch surfed on my solo trip to Scotland in January. My friends think I'm crazy for going alone but I LOVED.EVERY.MINUTE!

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DaniellaBella

I totally agree. I like to have an idea of something that I'd like to see during the day and the wander my way over to that, seeing what I see along the way. Magic happens when you allow room for it.

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nova

Such good advice! I always find that something better than you could have planned comes along once you're there.

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Meghan

Talk to people (both locals and other travelers) when you travel. If you stay in your bubble, you won't be invited to see the local football match, or to hear music at the hole-in-the-wall bar. A couple years ago my husband and I stayed at a B&B where the owner really pushed us to interact with the other guests. At first I was annoyed and thought, "We came here to be alone!" but the people we met were fascinating, and led to experiences we'd never have had alone.

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