Pre-planning vs. Just winging it

So this afternoon I’ve spent the last two hours researching things to do on my next trip to Tromso, Norway and it has been exciting and frustating all at the same time. Personally, I think one of the best parts of travel is planning for a trip. I get so excited planning where to go, which flights to book, Googling activities to do and sights to see. In all honesty, sometimes I get more excited about the prospect of going to a new place than actually being there.

Which leads me to ask, is it better to pre-plan your trip or just rock up and go with the flow? Being the eternal worrier – I always feel better when I know where I am going and where I am staying etc. Also, as I mentioned above, nothing gets me more pumped for a trip than researching about the destination. However, there is something liberating about turning up in a new town or city with absolutely no idea what you are going to do. I have travelled using both methods and I can’t decide which is better.

When I backpacked through South-East Asia with my sister a few years ago we learnt many valuable lessons on the way. We learnt how to squash as much stuff into our backpacks as possible, how to haggle like a pro and how to spot a scam from a mile away. Though the most important lesson we learnt was not to book ahead. Too many times in that two months travelling did we cancel accommodation and pre-booked tours simply because something else popped up. I remember when we were planning the trip we had envisioned squeezing in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Bali all into two months, however once we began travelling and spending time in different places we re-thought our decision to whisk through heaps of countries and only see two or three countries really well. This gave us an excuse to return in the future! Also, it is extremely easy to find accommodation and transportation in Asia. If you need to go somewhere, just ask a local and guaranteed they will have a friend or relative that can hook you up. It actually worked out cheaper for us because we could suss out hostels before we booked in, instead of paying too much for a hostel that quite frankly, sucks.

My last holiday to Vietnam over Christmas was a big ‘should, woulda, coulda’ on the pre-planning part. My mother has a serious trip planning addiction (in which I have obviously inherited) and like myself, she gets kicks from planning holidays meticulously. Unfortunately this time, due to our lack of research on the weather front we wasted a fair chunk of money from cancelling accommodation and flights because of crap weather and us falling sick. By the end of the holiday we were swearing to never pre-book a holiday again.

In saying this, having also been on an organised tour twice in my life, it is somewhat reassuring and calming to see a new country without any dramas of deciding where to stay and where to go next. My tour through Europe was an absolute breeze and I don’t think I worried about a single detail the entire time. Of course, the spontaneity was lost because our itinerary was quite rigid but  it was always nice to know exactly when and where we will be. I’ve also noticed throughout my trips through Europe it was easier and cheaper to at least organise accommodation beforehand. Unlike Asia where a photo on a website can be incredibly deceiving, the majority of places I have stayed at in Europe have lived up to their website description.

So which is better, pre-booking or going with the flow? Or a combination of both? I think as a general rule of thumb, regardless of where you are going always book at least the first two nights accommodation, that way you can suss out the place, make some plans and go from there. Of course having a rough itinerary is a good idea but its always fun tossing that out the window and changing your path totally. I guess its up to you, how much of an adventure do you want? For me, I’m still undecided – I want to be the ‘just winging it’ crew but my lust for trip planning is far too strong for me to hold back.

From the serial Googler who just wants to go with the flow.


J. x

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