The Case for Traveling Without an Itinerary
Travel has a lot going for it. Gaining new experiences, visiting historic sites and trying interesting foods all create a nearly irresistible pull to plan a trip. But the thing that always stops me in my tracks is the daunting task of planning.
Traveling is supposed to be an exciting chance to try something new, to escape from the everyday — unfortunately, those experiences don't come free and they often require a lot of planning and errand running and organizing.
When I went to Europe for the first time, I took my mom’s approach to traveling. I planned every detail I could foresee. I packed everything I could possibly need while away. I researched every tiny detail.
But, when I traveled to Ireland for a summer with a group of my friends between college courses, somehow, we just forgot to plan it all out. We spent so much time trying to decide where to go, we hardly thought about what we’d do when we got there. By the time we touched down in Dublin, we had just started to realize that aside from a hotel reservation we were too early to check in for, we had no idea what to do for the next month.
It turned out to be the best trip of my life. We did whatever we wanted, not what we felt obligated to do. I didn’t spend hours pouring over TripAdvisor to see which attractions had the best ratings. We found activities and experiences that we never could have found from researching in advance.
Now, beyond buying plane tickets and booking some type of lodging, I don’t plan anything that happens on my trips. Here’s why.
Leave the Stress of Planning Behind
First and foremost, planning every tiny detail is stressful. But when you leave your itinerary open-ended, you don’t have to stay up late after work scrolling through reviews and recommendations online. You don’t have to make endless lists or spreadsheets. You don’t have to worry about creating the perfect trip. It’s going to feel weird at first, but it will seriously cut your regular pre-departure research in half. You’ll feel lighter once you get where you’re going and realize it’s astonishingly simple to fill your days in incredible ways.
Get to Know a New Destination
Once you arrive in a new destination without a schedule or designated place to be, you’ll get to actually experience what the place is like, instead of what you’ve engineered it to be. Ask a local where you should hang out. Pick up a local newspaper or a magazine and see where it recommends you eat. And if all else fails, just go for a walk or drive and look around. It’s so hard to know a destination by reading their tourism website. Aside from making sure you hit your must-sees (like the Louvre in Paris or the Trevi Fountain in Rome), let fate take the reins on your trip and discover more than the obvious tourist attractions.
Take Time to Slow Down
One of the best byproducts of this no-planning thing is that without an agenda, time feels like it moves slower. If you have somewhere to be every second, time goes by much faster and then your vacation is over. That’s not really the point of relaxing and having time off to detox from stress. When you give yourself room to breathe, you’ll feel better and remember your trip more fondly.
Actually Feel Free
The biggest appeal of traveling without an itinerary is the feeling of freedom it gives you. You don't have anyone to answer to, let alone a pre-approved, typed up schedule. You only have yourself to please. Do you feel like sleeping in or walking to a coffee shop? Do you want to sit in a park for a while or find another museum? By letting go, you'll find a newfound freedom. No schedule, no problems. I promise.
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