"Winging it" is
a foreign an obscene concept to an over-planner. Showing up to a place you've never set foot in when you've scraped together that precious time off work and saved all your pennies with zero plans in place? Insert anxiety here. I should know, on account of the fact that I am one. As a regular traveller and over-planner, I can often be found creating more stress for myself than necessary. Like most humans, I have a major case of FOMO that shines through even more when it comes to travel. I don't want to miss out on anything in the epic locations I'm exploring. In fact, I'd like to know each option, every nook and cranny, and plot out as much as possible to maximise my time in seeing ALL. THE. THINGS; please and thank you.
What if I couldn't find a place to sleep? What if I whizzed right past a rare gem of a place and was none the wiser? What if I had walked just a touch further and found an even tastier restaurant? What if, what if! These are just a sampling of the lovely thoughts constantly darting around my noggin. I mean, we all agree that it's great to have a back-up plan, obviously. And learning the ins and outs of a destination to maximise your experience sounds reasonably reasonable, in theory. But, as smart as it feels to plan your trip to the Nth degree, it can actually hinder your overall travel takeaway.
Over-planning closes you off to opportunities that spontaneous travel will potentially give you.
Making a conscious change happens differently for everyone, and for me, it happened because I was exhausted. Nearing the end of a five-month jaunt to 17 countries, I was tired, tired of over-planning and researching. So, I showed up to New Zealand, my last big stop, for a two-week road trip around the South Island with only the first night in a hotel and a car rental booked. I did everything else on a whim and it was a whole new way of absorbing a place that I hadn't truly allowed myself to do yet. It was a bit like skinny-dipping. Hesitant at first, but then liberating and enjoyable once you dive in.
Go on a trip with zero plans? Sounds like a cruel joke to us over-planners, one that is enough to fuel our nightmares for the next month. But it could actually be a good thing, if we let it. Life-changing, even. Although it's a constant work in progress, these smattering of two cents tips on relinquishing control in a manageable way are a good jumping-off point. If all else fails, we can start an over-planners anonymous group.
1. Let go.
This is likely the most difficult aspect. Control feels like a luxurious security blanket, but with travel things can still go wrong, and they will. We should take a page from Frozen's book and just "let it go." Easier said than done, Elsa. In all seriousness, giving up that need to control will loosen up some tension in the long run. Keeping an open mind will open you up to experiences you can't read about on review sites and will ultimately end up being your most meaningful memories.
We can't just quit our over-planning ways cold turkey. Make a list. Prioritise what you absolutely must do/see/eat on your trip, and then leave the rest up to the travel gods and spontaneity. Limiting yourself is the key here. Top 583,295 priorities sounds reasonable, right?
Although there's a time and place for everything, it's all about balance. I mean, you don't want to show up to Santorini, Greece in August with no place to stay booked in advance. It's the high season and a popular destination. But you could show up and not have done hours of research or planned an itinerary and get recommendations from the locals, which is a more authentic way to travel anyhow.
4. Break the cycle.
You have to take the first steps in breaking the habit of over-planning by, well, not over-planning. So the next time you find yourself elbow deep on TripAdvisor, walk away. Then come back and rip up that second-by-second itinerary that you've photocopied for all parties in your group into a million pieces. And highlighted. And laminated. Then burn it.
Timing does not always, if rarely, line up perfectly, in travel and in life. No matter what Google Maps says for driving distances, it certainly didn't factor in the herd of sheep blocking the main road in Norway. Or the Italian train taking a midday siesta for no apparent reason other than it's Summer. Or that the restaurant you had your heart set on for the perfect dinner actually closed on Mondays.
It doesn't exist. Besides an over-planner, I'm also a self-proclaimed perfectionist. Adorable, right? We tend to obsess over making everything "just so" and pore over review sites researching the best of the best for our ventures. We have too many choices at our disposal in general, and as over-planners, we have a fear of making the wrong decision. Researching, the little unassuming demon that it is, becomes addicting. We think if we just look into it a little more, read a few thousand more sites, there has to be something better. Stop trying to constantly find the unequivocal best, and just pull the trigger already. Be savage and decide in the moment even.
7. Test it out.
Take your newly minimal-planner bad self out for a test drive on a smaller trip. Working your way up to it will be less of a shock to your system. Swallow your panic that the trip will be a disaster, leaving you sitting in your hotel room without a clue as to what to do, so you might as well do nothing, and push yourself and you'll see how freeing it feels. You may not ever want to go back to your previous ways.
8. Be present.
I am 100 percent guilty of this and something I struggle to focus on when I travel. I find myself getting so caught up in the next thing and planning for my next move that I'm not actually taking in the moment I'm living in real time. This might be the most golden of benefits from not over-planning. If you want to stay longer somewhere, you can, or if a location is a bust, you can leave. You won't be tied to your pre-trip planning decisions you made before arriving, and you'll thank yourself after for being so smart. You want to remember the essence of a place, not the essence of your stress figuring it all out.
9. Roll with the punches.
With travel things will, undeniably at some point, not be smooth sailing. Take a risk. It's all well and good to say "just go with the flow!" but the reality is, that's not super easy to do when you're in an unfamiliar place and things go wonky. You've just missed the last bus, you don't have access to a WiFi connection, and it just started raining . . . hard. Oh, and this morning's breakfast burrito is staging an all-out revolt in your stomach with no bathroom in sight. I may or may not be speaking from experience, but these things really happen, and it's easy to get overwhelmed. The trick is to tackle each issue at a time, and although I'm not telling you how to live your life, I highly suggest attending to the most latter problem first. Just sayin'.