I find that planning and researching for a trip can be almost as enjoyable as going on the trip itself, and if done properly it can really enhance your experience whilst away.
Unfortunately I have two distinct styles of trip planning, in much the same way that I have two approaches to adult life. A happy medium, or a compromise between the two would probably be far more successful, both for travel planning and for day-to-day adulting.
Let me introduce you to my two approaches:
Approach number 1: Super organised Caroline
Meticulously organised. Every tiny detail is considered and mapped out, with obsessive attention to detail. There will be a to do list and multiple pretty coloured pens from muji. This is usually my work life.
Trips that take approach number 1 usually involve a colour coded spreadsheet, detailed itineraries and plastic wallets full of maps, booking confirmations and articles about cool places I want to visit.
Approach number 2: Super scatty Caroline (picture lipstick on teeth, toilet tissue stuck to shoe and skirt tucked into pants)
Wing it. Just rock up and hope for the best. Or if not the best, that I’ve at least got un-laddered tights on, and that I’ve remembered my purse. This is almost always my personal life.
Trips ‘planned’ using approach number 2 generally involve me throwing some pants into a rucksack and running, sweaty faced, through the airport, with minutes to spare before my flight. Or even missing my flight, and having a big messy cry on a bench in departures.
The Pros and Cons of my two approaches:
The first approach makes me stressed and anxious incase the plan goes wrong and the trip doesn’t go exactly how I planned it in my bedroom in the weeks preceding. On the flip side it does mean I have an address for where I’m staying and I know how to get there, that I’ve got some local currency in my wallet at a reasonable exchange rate and that I have clothing suitable for the climate. And I’ll have remembered to bring toothpaste.
The second approach makes me stressed and anxious because I always ALWAYS bring too few pairs of pants or socks, realise on the tube that I’ve forgotten to book the Stansted Express in advance so get ripped off paying full price at the station, and arrive in my new destination armed with exactly three words of the native language. The positive thing about it is that I don’t feel bad for ditching the plan; because there is no plan. Or earplugs, or a towel, or pyjamas.
How to travel with a plan, but also accept that sometimes it’s okay to go off-plan (I promise, it really is)
The best trips I’ve taken are those where I’ve found a happy medium between the two approaches. I have enough pants and socks, a list of places to get good veggie food from and some handy phrases, but also some spontaneity and the ability to relax and take the occasional break from the rigidity of the master plan. For me the way to do that is to give myself choices, to plan out the basics (accommodation, transport and a list of absolute ‘must sees’) but to have plenty of free time in the plan where I can build my itinerary as I go – maybe with ideas that I arrived with, or maybe with places I stumbled upon and just had to explore. It sounds strange to suggest building spontaneity into a plan, but giving yourself free chunks of time means you won’t stress so much about not following your itinerary to the minute, and means you won’t feel so guilty about not ticking off every single idea on your to-do list, because you’re replaced those ideas with other awesome activities.
Another important point is that self-care is as important whilst travelling as it is at home. I’m you’re feeling down, tired, stressed or homesick it’s totally okay to give yourself some time for a nap, a lie in or a chilled out afternoon where you sit in a park and read a book. You don’t have to curate a perfectly instagrammable itinerary every day of your trip because you’ll probably find you’re not really enjoying yourself if you do. Sometimes on a trip it’s okay to have a cry, eat at McDonald’s and lounge about the hostel watching Netflix. I mean, who doesn’t sometimes need to do those things at home sometimes?
The other thing to remember is that there can always be a ‘next time’. If you made it somewhere once and you really want to go back again you probably will, especially if it’s somewhere within a couple of hours flying distance. When I was in Oslo last year there were so many things I wanted to do and didn’t have time for (such as the floating sauna) but I know one day I’ll go back there. Keeping that in mind means that you’re less likely to feel bad for not doing every single sight and attraction this time around, and gives you reasons to look forward to a return trip.
Thus far with both my trip to Tokyo and my big ‘Croatia to Turkey via 20-something countries adventure’ (that needs a catchier title…) I’ve made complicated spreadsheets with lots of pretty colours and accumulated half of Stanford’s, with a pile of maps and travel guides that probably cost as much as the trip itself. I’m going to try not to let the spreadsheet and the guidebook recommendations dictate the whole trip, though. After all, sometimes the weird and wonderful, obscure and unplanned experiences are the best ones.
Just as long as I have enough clean pants.