Your itinerary – not needed

Before we leave, it sometimes makes us feel better if we have a plan for which countries we are planning to visit, what to see, and how long we are going to stay. That way we know we can see everything we want to see, and have the security of knowing what we are going to do the next day. We can make sure all of our rooms are booked ahead of time and a cab waiting for us at our arrival point. Keeping to a schedule ensures we don’t miss anything that we want to see.

That’s great.

Don’t do it.

For some people, not knowing where they are going to sleep the next night or which city they are going to be in the next day is a frightening step into the unknown. Some cannot even fathom the idea of not creating a day to day plan of a trip. It takes a little courage and some experience before you realize that you do not need to plan everything in advance. If you must plan, make it rough, on paper, and in pencil. That way you can easily make changes or throw it out.

Over the course of my travels, I met up with hundreds of other backpackers and found a general commonality on how they all planned their trip.

They don’t!

Everyone has a general idea of the direction where they are going and how long they are going to be travelling. Beyond that, most of the planning happens the day before when they feel its time to leave their current spot.

The reason for this is that you do not know what a place has to offer until you get there. Travel guides, the Internet, and word of mouth are great ways of finding out if the city could be of interest to you before you arrive. But the accuracy and coverage of these places is sometimes quite limited and potentially out of date. Also, the amount of work required to research this is cumbersome and not usually worth your while. The best laid plans are those made up when you arrive in the city and walk into the local tourist agency or hostel. When you first start backpacking, it takes a week or two of “on the road” time travelling to different areas before you lose your need to ‘have a room reserved for you, and a taxi waiting for you at the train station’. You realize how easy it is to travel on the spur of the moment and how limiting an itinerary really is.

I do not usually plan for more than a day or two in advance. However, I do have a plan of a general route that I follow around the world, and which countries I want to visit. This is mainly to avoid back-tracking. Beyond that, I have no clue what is going to happen or what I am going to do. Keep in mind your route and plan are not set in stone. It will change and evolve as you go to different places, talk to locals, and find out from other backpackers what is “cool” to see and do. This is the making for numerous side-trips. You have a choice to make: should you throw away your precious schedule or do something that interests you? Basically, when you come to a new place, if you like it, stay a little longer, if you hate it, just leave the following day and go somewhere else. No worries!

Note: Some of my greatest times have been when I found something new and changed my timetable or when I met someone who would take me to an interesting place. There may be a concert or an event that you discover which may require a ‘detour’ of a couple days.