The best vacations are those without a plan. Fixed plans with strict timelines can be stressful, so go relax! Discover someplace new. You may be surprised to find experiences that are not listed in the official tour guides to be the most rewarding. That doesn’t mean there isn’t some sort of structure or strategy to a vacation without a plan. Here are a few tips to get the most out of your trip without a detailed itinerary.
1. Keep an open mind.
The most important thing to do is not to stress over the lack of control. We are taught the “normal” structure of a vacation requires official guides and sanctioned stops. Truth be told, you can do a lot of it on your own. You just need to be a little adventurous.
2. Have a general plan of where you want to be.
Obviously, wandering around aimlessly may not be the best use of your time. There are two approaches to this. One, you could plan to stay in or near a city as a base and explore outward. For example, when I visited Taiwan, I stayed in Taipei but rode the train out to nearby cities and hiked between coastal towns. Each night I stayed in the same location, so I knew I would always have a place to rest. Or, you could have a list of cities you want to visit with dates for moving between them. That is how my wife and I planned our honeymoon. We knew what cities in Europe we were going to be in on what dates, but before we left, we couldn’t say what we were doing on specific dates.
3. Intermix with the locals.
If you are on vacation, you are most likely in a place that is at least somewhat friendly to tourist (and their dollars). The best way to intermix is to find a local bar or restaurant that caters to locals. Making a local friend is a great way to learn local secrets – where is the best place to eat, the cheapest shopping, or off-the-beaten path sightseeing (ever have a tropical beach just to yourself?).
4. Do the right research before departing.
What I mean by “right” research is to gather information that is not sponsored. My favorite source is Lonely Planet. They put together materials from people on the ground. These individuals are often ex-pats who live in the area, so they provide a foreign, yet knowledgeable perspective on the area. Before I travel, I typically buy the Lonely Planet guide for the region. This way, while I am there I can make a game-time decision on where I want to go, depending on my mood or interests. The big advantage of having a “non-sponsored” reference guide is that it includes many cheap but unique suggestions. Other tour guides may suggest places such as a restaurant that is giving a kick back to the guide. While on a cruise, I once discovered the most beautiful state park I ever visited with waterfalls every few yards on the path. This park was never mentioned by the cruise line.
5. Don’t stay at traditional hotels.
A great alternative is Airbnb. There are several reasons for this. One, it will give you more flexibility in traveling. Two, it is often cheaper than hotels. Three, it will give you access to a full apartment/house that has amenities such as a full kitchen. And four, it will allow you to live like a local. This last point is probably the most important. It will help you immerse yourself in local culture. You can also make friends with your host, who will give you great advice on those special hidden gems.
6. Have access to a car.
Either drive to your destination or rent a car. This will make you more mobile and free you from being tied to a schedule. A car will also let you make day trips or detours. You may discover from your newfound local friends that there is a lovely town just an hour away. A car will let you explore any opportunity your trip provides you.
Have you ever traveled without a plan? If so, you probably had a great experience. Feel free to tell us about it in the comments!