There’s always this debate within the travel community about travel planning and to which extent this impacts on your enjoyment of the journey. Some claim that planning a journey too tightly constrains your freedom and locks you into experiences that when on the ground in a particular place, you may not actually want to do. Others claim that not planning a journey means you miss out on experiences because you simply haven’t put enough effort into research the things to see and do in a particular place. They sometimes also claim that if you don’t plan your journey, your time is not going to be used efficiently.
When we travel, we usually don’t plan too much. We usually have some idea of the destination and we may even book a night of accommodation in advance, but we generally like to explore things as we go. And this travel style is borne out of our experiences travelling extensively through southeast Asia where any sort of planning when it comes to local buses is nigh on impossible anyway. As well, small guesthouses rarely are listed on booking websites such as hostel world meaning you usually can stay in the best value places by NOT planning.
Our experience here in Europe has been a learning experience to say the least. We hardly planned a thing. We did book our first few nights in Paris, but after that we really only had a rough itinerary through Europe with absolutely no transport connections booked. Little did we know that this is a difficult approach to take in Europe for a few reasons.
Firstly, sometimes accommodation is scarce, particularly in summer, particularly on weekends and particular for special events. One such event that we encountered was the Gay Pride Festival in Amsterdam which meant that every single dorm bed in town was booked — except one we found for 45 euro. We arrived without any accommodation booking, so we were just standing on the side of the road with nowhere to stay and not knowing what to do. In the end, we booked a hotel for 60 euro out at the airport for one night. The next night that hotel was fully booked so we had to book a different airport hotel for night 2. Because the hotels are actually located a long way from the airport, you have to use buses from the airport to get to your hotel meaning a trip into Amsterdam for us took over an hour when factoring waiting times for buses and trains. Our lack of planning really hurt.
Secondly, transport in Europe is EXPENSIVE. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend until you are faced with a 14 Euro fee for a journey of less than 1 hour. To get a better price, you need to book in advance and get a promo ticket. In this case, you absolutely must book in advance so that you can save some money.
Thirdly, transport connections can be fairly poor and require some research in advance to figure out. An example is Budapest to Venezia. We had expected to catch a bus between the two cities and there are buses going between them. But the problem is that they were booked out by the time we wanted to travel meaning we had to try and figure out a different route. In the end we had to travel by bus to Wien and then try and figure out how to get to Venice from there. Luckily there was a bus to Venice about 2 hours after we arrived, but it was fully booked. In the end we were wait listed on the bus and fortunately were able to board when the passengers didn’t arrive. It was extremely stressful and ended up costing us quite a bit of money compared to if we had planned in advance.
So which is better? Planned or unplanned travel? Well, despite some people considering you to be a better traveller if you don’t plan your journey, the fact is that planning your trip in some countries is necessary unless you want to end up paying a lot of money. In the future, we’ll stick to planning for Europe and not planning for Asia.