What’s Best – Spontaneous or Planned Travel?

Two articles caught my eye this week.

The Guardian wrote about The Art of Not Planning, focusing on the joys of spontaneous travel. It’s a collection of suggestions, complete with personal examples, of how to indulge in spontaneous travel.

Their suggestions include: stop organizing, let the city (not the book) be your guide, put your trust in others, don’t book (wing it), and slow down. Sounds like a great way to travel but few people actually travel so freely.

Part of the reason we don’t is because we get so much pleasure from the travel planning or what Australian writer Kim Wildman calls The Anticipation of Travel. We like to research, read guidebooks, look at maps, make plans, and create detailed itineraries. It’s fun. It’s exhilierating. And it allows us to start travelling even before we leave the house.

When I went to Spain last year, the planning started a good six months before I left home. I read every book I could find on Spain (especially Madrid). I read about the geology, the geography, the history, the culture, the food, and the language. I didn’t want to miss anything. I guess you could say I immersed myself in all things Spain.

I created itineraries that planned my time in Madrid day by day and hour by hour. Nothing was left to chance. I knew which museum and art gallery opened when. I knew how long it would take by foot, bus, and train to get from the Palacio Real to the Parque del Buen Retiro Gardens.

But when I got on the plane, my detailed itineraries were not with me. I left them on the kitchen bench. Deliberately. I had done my planning. I knew what there was to see. But I didn’t want the itinerary to control me.

If I had, I would have missed out of doing ‘figure of eights’ around the Plaza Mayor on a Segway. I would have missed the gypsy street performers in the smaller plazas I found by chance. And I would never have caught the train to Segovia and discovered the Ancient Museum of Witchcraft (bizarre but intriguing).

So if you want to put some spontaneity into your planned travel, try these ideas…

* do make a itinerary but don’t treat it like it was carved in stone.

* carry a map but leave it in your bag. It’s there to get you back to your accommodation at the end of the day, not to guide you through the day.

* do pack the guidebook – not to plan where you are going but to see where you have been at the end of the day.

 * stay open to opportunities and the unexpected.

 * spend time just sitting (in a cafe, a plaza, a train station) and watching the world go by. Travel, after all, is not just about seeing everything. It’s about immersing yourself in the atmosphere of a place.

So what’s your travel style – planned, spontaneous, or maybe a little of both?


  1. Scribetrotter April 13, 2008
  2. Pete April 14, 2008
  3. Liz April 14, 2008
  4. shakester April 15, 2008
  5. Antonia Malchik April 15, 2008
  6. Marilyn Terrell April 18, 2008
  7. Liz April 18, 2008
  8. Will February 16, 2010

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