Traveling with no plan
As I've become more accustomed to traveling, I've found that some of the best experiences are the unplanned ones. Ironic right? I plan awesome retreats! While I totally understand the need to see some of the big landmarks: trading off authenticity and reality to finally experience what we've only read or seen in books and and photos, the ease of an itinerary, it can also leave a lackluster feeling inside. The crowds, the tacky souvenirs made in China, and restaurants that exchange authentic cuisine to meet the needs of other cultures visiting. The last time I traveled to Rome, it felt like Disney World in the middle of the summer: hot, crowded, overpriced, and irritating. In this post, I'll review reasons why sometimes its good to travel with no plan, courtesy of pictures with my play it by ear trips.
Appeal to different senses
Often when we travel, we're appealing to sight and taste and that's typically what most people will write on review sites. I once we received a luxury cruise as a gift (I know, I really lucked out). We did some excursions but honestly our financial situation couldn't afford to do them each port. So after docking, we'd just grab a map and see what's around. Just a half mile away from the dock was beautiful state park which was free from most of the cruise crowd. After hiking up a small mountain, we came across this lake. While stunning, what we distinctly remember was the sound or the complete lack of sound. Maybe it was the cold and all the animals were hiding but outside the sound of our own breath or footsteps there was absolutely no sound. It was strangely exhilarating and peaceful and not planned.
Nothing compares to the locals
This awesome view was taken from our finca in Mendoza, Argentina. The vineyards you see surrounded our 6 room hotel for about half a mile each way. We originally had no plans to come here. On this trip, we made plans for two nights our trip and played it by ear the rest of the trip. We organized a cooking class and bike tour. Without our guides pushing recommendations, we simply asked them where are the best places to go that weren't over the top touristy. By asking guides who don't have an agenda, you can get responses from people in the industry who likely know which spots are awesome and which to stay away from. We've done this in other countries as well and the guides are more than accommodating. I will say be careful to make sure they're not pushing an agenda just so they get paid from the business they're referring to. We've only experienced this once or twice but it was painstakingly obvious.
There's stuff you can't plan for
My friend Julie took this photo when we went to Italy. Our driver Lello told us we needed to stop at this town on the way to a vineyard. Okay guy sure, whatever you think is best. We ended up coming to a charming local town, not a tourist stop, with great food during a local festival they were having. It also turned out to be the Mille Miglia where a bunch of old foreign cars are driven all over Italia. How awesome is that? Look how happy this guy is..."Looking driving with no hands....right next to people eating on the road!" Looking back, there's no way I could have planned for this. Local non tourist town with a race I didn't know about going through...I honestly wouldn't have gone if I did read something about it.
Everyone's writing reviews on Trip Advisor
I never would have looked for San Galgano in Italy. It's in the middle of nowhere with a limited amount of tourists. Its blown out roof and simplicity in a country with overly ornate churches makes it a gem. There's something distinctly different about travelers who go on one big trip to Italy in their lifetime while others make travel a part of their lifestyle. Nothing wrong with being a homebody but there's a distinct difference in appreciation. The more I travel, the smaller the world gets, the more things look the same, and the more connected I feel. However, that also means I begin to notice the difference between tourist traps which once amazed me versus the authentic hidden gems that represent a culture. Everyone'e writing reviews on Trip Advisor, happily traveling, typically only bringing attention to what's frequented the most. When you travel without a plan and have to rely on recommendations from the local waiter or bar mate, you get more realistic opinions of what a culture is proud of in the heritage.
It's easier to understand a culture
When traveling with no plan, it forces me to ask questions, talk to strangers, and experience a culture. The last time I went to Spain, we asked someone where an open restaurant was which evolved him having dinner with us, having conversation in broken English and Spanish, and him wanting to play the flute at our wedding two days later (we unfortunately lost his number on the way home). Once I get chatting with someone, usually a local, I begin to understand people more outside of my own culture. In Italy, I've come to appreciate what I used to consider laziness for enjoying life. In Spain, I learned more about the joy in being more open to the friendliness of strangers. In the Philippines, I learned that working hard doesn't have to be viewed as being miserable. Having a planned itinerary is great but it also decreases the chances of interacting leisurely and organically with the locals.
Do you have some good experiences with traveling with no plan? Please leave some feedback in the comments below.