What I’ve learned about planning vs. overplanning
I’ve done all of my international traveling as an adult and have never traveled with my family which means all of my international adventures have been self planned. One thing I have learned after trotting the globe is that overplanning is a rather fruitless effort. Don’t get me wrong: planning, research and general preparation is a great thing, but a stringent itinerary of things to do and places to see doesn’t provide the outcome that you really want. If you’re a planner, I’m sure you’re thinking exactly what I was: if I have reservations made and days outlined, I’ll get the most out of my trip, right? Well, only kind of right because the reality is that life doesn’t always work out as planned, and that’s not a bad thing. There are elements that create a great trip that are sometimes unplanned: a leisurely afternoon grabbing cocktails with new friends you’ve met, chatting up locals at a restaurant, discovering new activities that you hadn’t read about online. Are you really going to leave and miss out on a unique opportunity because your ‘itinerary’ dictates something different? It certainly depends on what kind of traveler you are, but I’ve found that those unplanned moments are sometimes the best. After all, you created an itinerary to help you craft the best experience possible. The best experience possible may not be exactly what you anticipated beforehand.
From my experience, the key to a really incredible trip is to plan a loose itinerary with room for flexibility. Have the research and the knowledge you’ve derived in your back pocket so you have reference points during your trip, but allow room for the unexpected. Don’t discount local knowledge. We’ve visited destinations with a solid idea of where we’ll be dining only to have our itinerary switched up by locals who’ve provided us insight and better recommendations. I don’t know about you, but a local gem almost always wins out for me and I’m more inclined to listen to the advice of someone who lives there vs. a one-off experience by a tourist.
The joy of planning
Current status: Planning for Israel and the Palestinian Territories with Lonely Planet
I’ve said this before many times, but I am a major planner (my hubby is the same way), and I derive a great deal of my traveling pleasure from the planning process. I’m innately an overplanner because I get so enthralled with the process. I love researching new locales, reading about others’ experiences through their blog posts, cross referencing information with TripAdvisor, watching documentaries on the destination, etc. The lead-up — the anticipation — infuses my daily life with extra sparkle. If a day is long and I’m brain dead by 9PM, there’s an inexplicable joy that comes from flipping through the pages of a Lonely Planet guide; from perusing or poking around TripAdvisor to dream up experiences. I research to plan, to come up with a mental — or perhaps physical — list of priorities in terms of places I want to see and things I want to do during a particular getaway, but I also research purely to learn and discover new details about a place I’m about to explore. As it turns out, they’ve done a study on this topic (happiness associated with planning a trip) and found that vacationers overwhelmingly feel happiest when planning a trip. It’s that excitement and anticipation about what is to come (without thinking about the long flights and potential obstacles that you may encounter) that get us really amped.
As is mentioned in that article linked above, the major issue is the chasm between expectations and reality, something I think we can all attest to. High expectations for a locale can leave us underwhelmed (I experienced this in Greece). On the flip side, low or nonexistent expectations for a getaway can leave us utterly impressed with a place (this was my experience in Ireland).
So here’s the rub: planning in and of itself is a great thing. For me, and apparently for many others, the planning piece of the travel experience actually provides an incredible amount of joy. I think the key is to enjoy the planning process for what it is, make mental notes and always build flexibility into your itinerary. There are things that you simply can’t plan for, and in my experiences, those unplanned outings and adventures sometimes create the most indelible memories.
What are your thoughts? Are you a planner or do you like to wing it when you arrive at a destination?