Young, naïve, frightened and desperately trying to look brave, I walked out of Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport at midnight, my first time in Asia, my first time backpacking, my first time in such a foreign place. And apart from my flight to Thailand, I had chosen not to do any travel planning at all. So, there I stood, my courage starting to fade, wondering how I was going to find a hotel and why I hadn’t booked a room in advance.
I eventually found the official taxi stand, hopped into a taxi and, because I had no specific hotel or guesthouse address to give to the driver, told him to take me to Khao San Road, an area I had only heard about from a friend of a friend a week before I left home.
Once there, I stepped out into the street, wandered around for a few minutes, found a cheap hotel and paid for a room. Just like that the mystery of where I would sleep came to an end.
And as I started to nod off that night, I remember thinking, “Wow, that was easy.” I had flown around the planet, on my own, without a clue how to travel, and yet I survived. Not only did I survive, I managed to make it into this crazy city and find a hotel without any effort whatsoever. Suddenly, traveling seemed much easier than I had ever imagined, and upon making that realization, I relaxed and the fear disappeared.
To the Beaches of Cambodia
Two weeks later, after having celebrated the Millennium at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, my plan was to spend a few days in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh before heading to Vietnam. But when I arrived in Phnom Penh, a British fellow I met convinced me to take a detour to Sihanoukville, Kampot and Kep, three Cambodian towns I had never heard of. Why not, I figured, and so I joined him and we ended up spending ten days hopping around from beach town to beach town, enjoying what was back then a very local Cambodian experience. We ate fresh fish, hiked through rainforests, rented motorbikes, visited random villages and met so many amazing people.
And while on the beach one day, I thought back to the moment I had arrived in Bangkok when I wished that I had planned my trip more thoroughly. Now I just chuckled to myself, happy as can be on a beach I just learned about and fully aware that such thorough travel planning would have been a major mistake…
From the Middle East to Thailand
When I traveled through the Middle East a year and a half ago, I had a vague idea that I would spend a couple of weeks in Syria, a week in Lebanon, a week in Iraqi Kurdistan and then some time in Turkey. However, I didn’t dare book anything or make any concrete plans. And sure enough, upon arrival in the Syrian city of Aleppo, I found myself wanting to stay for a while. So I decided to stay for three weeks. I then traveled around the rest of Syria, followed by a couple of weeks in Lebanon, and then I returned to Aleppo where I spent another twenty days. From there I finally traveled to Iraqi Kurdistan, where, on my tenth and final day in that region, the snow started falling in the city of Dohuk and I suddenly had the urge to be in a warm climate. I turned on my laptop and immediately booked a one-way ticket to Thailand, deciding to skip out on Turkey this time around.
The next day I was on a flight to Bangkok, a destination on the other side of the world from where I originally thought I would end up. Imagine if I had already organized my trip to Turkey in advance. I’m sure it would have been a rewarding experience but I’m quite happy that I had the flexibility to follow my sudden desire to be elsewhere.
Extending My Stay in Romania
When I first visited Romania last year as part of my Eurail adventure, I found myself not wanting to leave, even though I had originally planned to visit Bulgaria as well. And since I hadn’t actually made any reservations or paid for anything in Bulgaria ahead of time, I was able to stay in Romania for as long as I felt like staying. Once again, nothing was stopping me from doing exactly what I wanted to do at that moment.
Flexibility, Flexibility, Flexibility!
Maybe you see what I’m getting at here. As tempting as it may be, you really don’t need to plan the details of your trip.
Had I already booked accommodation throughout Vietnam or had I booked transportation around Turkey or a flight out of Bulgaria, I would not have had the flexibility to change course and to ultimately end up with the experiences that most appealed to me at the time.
I can’t tell you how often my travels have changed. Actually, I can tell you. Every single time! Yes, every time I’ve gone anywhere my itinerary ends up looking nothing at all like the itinerary I imagined prior to my arrival.
Before we are actually present in a destination, there really is no way at all for us to know what will happen. The possibilities are endless. Sometimes we think we’ll love a place but when we actually show up we want to leave after one day. We might learn about new towns and cities and villages that we never knew about before and now we want to visit those places. We’ll meet new people all along the way, people we’ll want to spend time with, people we might want to tag along with to a region that we never thought about visiting. We might enjoy a particular destination so much that we want to stay for a month or we might discover a super-cheap airfare deal to a neighboring country and suddenly find ourselves wanting to go there straight away.
And when you do find yourself in such situations, you certainly want to be in a position where you can say ‘let’s go!’ and head off in that new direction, without any obstacles preventing you from changing course and enjoying these new experiences.
I know that it can be a bit scary having nothing, or very little, planned ahead of time before you embark on an extended journey. But in all my years of travel, I have never been without a place to sleep, never been without something to eat, never been stuck on the side of the road wishing that I had organized my trip in advance. What I have been is overjoyed time and time again at the fact that I’ve been able to alter my plans on a whim, to go places I never thought about going, to team up with new friends and to allow my travels to unfold on their own.
Do you agree that traveling is much easier than many people think? Do you plan much or do you prefer to go with the flow? If you’re about to travel, how much travel planning are you doing?