Planning vs. Improvisation : 5 things to consider for your next trip

Posted by in Travel tips

The great thing about travelling is that you get to do exactly what you want. It’s up to you to decide at what time you wake up, where you go, what you eat, who you talk to, when you relax, when you sleep, etc. It’s something that we don’t get to do very often in our busy lives. We all have responsibilities, whether it’s a job, family, or any specific commitment, we always have to follow a schedule. When we travel, we don’t. That’s the beauty of it.

And because travelling is so personal, there are as many travel styles as there are travellers. But the aspect I want to discuss here is planning. How much planning should we be doing when we travel?

I have met all types of travellers. From the overly organized, planning every minute of their day, to the laid back ‘’go with the flow’’ type of character. I think both styles have their pros and cons.

Improvisation is great. It takes the freedom of travelling to the maximum. But there are a number of criteria to consider before hopping on a plane and leave it all to improvisation.

Planning is great too because it removes a lot of the stress that can come up when you visit a foreign place for the first time.

At the end of the day, what’s important is to plan your vacation according to the way you like to travel and the characteristics of your trip. I think that the appropriate amount of planning that should be done prior to the trip depends on five essential criteria:

#1 – Length of your trip

When you leave for a one week adventure, I think that planning is key. With a short amount of time, you will probably be able to visit only two to five places. Which does not leave much room for improvisation and you’d better be sure of your transportation options. You don’t want to be stuck somewhere the day your return flight is scheduled because you didn’t know that this specific boat or bus line does not operate on Saturdays for example.

Same thing with accommodation and advance bookings. When you have only 48 hours in one city, you don’t want to waste any minute of it looking around for a hotel room. When you get unlucky, this could take hours. Hours taken away from your precious ‘’visiting time’’. Plus you save the burden of walking around with your luggage, possibly on a hot sunny day, trying to figure out where you will sleep the next night.

→ If you don’t have time, you’d better plan

 #2 – Local transportation infrastructures

When you visit a ‘’developed’’ country with a reliable transportation system, you can leave the planning for the last minute. You know that trains will run on time, the chance of getting stuck somewhere on the road is actually minimal, the frequency and number of options available are high, etc. In this case, you know that if you decide at the last minute to go from city A to B, you will find a way, easily. So you can give yourself the option to, and refrain from planning every part of your trip.

But there are some countries where you better know a bit about the transportation in advance to make sure that you don’t lose too much time finding an alternative. Or worse, get stuck somewhere. In those cases, doing your homework, researching the transportation alternatives, and if necessary, booking them in advance can be a crucial part of the planning of your trip.

If transportation infrastructures are good, it’s ok to improvise

#3 – Time of the year

Knowing whether you’re visiting during a peak period is essential. It will change how far in advance you need to plan your trip and book your accommodation. When you visit a destination during a festival or a national holiday, you can face a fully booked hotel scene. Leaving you no options at all except a couple of very expensive hotel rooms.

→ Plan extensively if you are visiting during high peak periods

#4 – Budget

Another thing to consider is your budget. Most of the time, you save money when you plan in advance.

It means that you took the time to research all the options, compare the costs, and select the best match for your budget. When you don’t plan, you often end up with the first or second option you check out, and it may not be the cheapest one.

Same thing for the transportation costs which represent a big chunk of your travel budget. In Europe for example, train tickets can cost two or three times the initial price if you book them at the last minute. Same thing for domestic flights in some countries. Knowing where you want to go and when is very important if you want to save on the transportation costs.

→ Planning helps to control your costs

#5 – Number of travellers

Typically, the larger your group the hardest it is to move and find rooms. When you travel as a group of 6 or 8 friends, it might be hard to find a place that has enough rooms to accommodate all of you if you don’t book ahead. Especially if you like to stay in guest houses or local family run establishments. Those options are often the best price-quality ratio you can find. Plus, your money has a real impact on the local communities as it goes directly to hard-working families instead of foreign companies like major hotel chains.

For a couple or two friends it is usually not something that has a lot of importance, but on the contrary, if you are a solo traveller, it might be a good idea to leave more room for last minute projects. You never know when and where you will meet people that you actually like enough to keep travelling together. If all your plans are already set in stone, chances are that you will not have a chance to join your new friends for the next destination. It is all up to you, but this is something to consider when going on a solo vacation.

→ When travelling in group, consider planning and booking in advance

Now go back to travel planning

Planning does not mean planning out every hour of every day. For instance, it can be planning the transportation and booking all the hotel rooms. It can be as simple as that and you can leave the planning of each day completely open for local discoveries.

On the other hand, you can go further in your planning by sorting out a list of sites you want to visit and organize them in order per day. By doing this, chances are that you will optimize your time in the destination but make sure that this does not stress you and that it’s ok if you don’t complete everything on your list. After all, everywhere you go, you can go back some day if you liked the place.

And remember that it should always stay fun and enjoyable!