Imagine this. You’ve just checked yourself in to a neat friendly hostel, and you come to know about this intriguing town that’s a mere 3-hour drive away from a fellow backpacker. Nice scenery, authentic local delicacies, a hidden gem you would totally want to teleport to the very next day.
But you can’t.
You’ve got to visit that famous museum followed by that particular ice cream parlor the following day. Things aren’t any better when your train leaves at 3pm sharp to another town, where you have already booked your transfer bus to the hostel. Not forgetting all the paid tours you’ve signed up for; as well the 1001 activities that you have jam packed the rest of the day with, down to the very last minute.
You murmur to yourself every now and then. Sheer attempts to convince your wavering heart. You stare intensely at the extensive itinerary you took 2 whole weeks to prepare. Two whole weeks? That’s too much effort to forgo.
Well, that’s me. Unfortunately. So I went on ahead with my crazily planned itinerary, constantly thinking about what I’ve missed. Obviously, I didn’t enjoy my trip that much.
No room for new recommendations
The inflexibility of a sardine-packed itinerary with every possible advance booking is almost impossible to break off from. That is, without significant monetary consequence. Travelling should be a blend of enjoyment, excitement and relaxation.
On an impromptu trip to Morocco, I had the chance to mingle and meet nomads living in the desert. Through the interactions, I learnt about how carefree it is to wake up in the morning, having nowhere to rush to, having no time constraints to worry about.
When travelling and interacting with new people, we tend to share our experiences and places we visited. These will inevitably direct us to new locations or hidden gems that’s not found on Google – be it local experiences or less touristy areas.
It was only through my 1 month of backpacking around Europe where I understood the importance of including buffer timings into plans, or just not plan at all.
The disappointment when things go wrong
Envisioning the perfect trip, I’d decided to visit the circus for the very first time. My over-planned itinerary had blocked out the entire noon for the show and I even arrived earlier just to get better seats (online booking was not available). Upon arrival, the Circus looked eerily quiet – no sign of animals, or any humans.
Confused, we wandered through the barely opened entrance. After a good 15 minutes of attempting to communicate with the lady behind a glass wall, we finally realised it was closed for the day. Rearrangement of circus shows and the retraining of animals to perform new tricks, they said. (Of all days?!)
Being self-delusional and slightly hopeful there was a miscommunication due to language barriers, I went around checking with the other staff but obviously arriving at the same conclusion. It felt like a slap of disappointment before it finally overwhelmed me.
Despite this simple view in Switzerland, I felt surprisingly contented. Just peaceful and tranquil – free from disappointments.
Losing the excitement of seeing things for the first time
In Prague – Hundreds gathered around the base of the largest operating astronomical clock, waiting expectantly for the minute hand to strike twelve. It was the worst 5 minutes of my entire trip to Prague – I knew exactly how the clock would sound. The clock show begun. It all seemed too familiar, way too familiar; I’d watched it numerous times on YouTube. Every hinge of motion was exactly how I remembered them to be as the people around me held their phones steadily at the hourly musical parade.
My entire trip became nothing but seeing Google images in real life, refreshing the information I’d previously read. There’s so much that over-planning a trip may deprive you of – the excitement and thrill of visiting a new place; the jaw dropping moments of majestic structures; and the mind-boggling stories behind them.
Having researched, read and remembered every single detail of Cathedrals, Squares and every other historical events and monuments, travelling started to become a bore. Exponentially dissipating interests resulted in casual shots of attractions towards the end of my 1 month backpacking. Walking tours became boring and draggy, regurgitating every detail I’d read off. And it just gets worse. There is no excitement in arriving at new places, no expectations or anticipations. No nothing. It felt as though I just confirmed places or buildings to look identical to those on Google images.
I vividly remember this little girl climbing out of her pram and curiously meddling with the camera, attempting to photograph her parents. It got me thinking about how we’ve often extinguished our own excitement and curiosity with our own actions. What about all the talks about stepping out of comfort zones and discovery?
Travelling should be spontaneous
The best parts about traveling should probably be the spontaneity, stories as well as living in the moment. That excitement of getting a little lost, asking for directions and of course, making new friends along the way. After a hectic rush from one place to another for an entire month, realisation hit me hard: What is the point of travelling if you’re constantly rushing from one point to another, one attraction to the next?
Our trip to Morocco was rather abrupt and random, we had barely any attractions in mind or food to eat. Thankfully, our Moroccan guide introduced us to their local delicacy of sheep heads, going on and on about how tasty and tender the dish was… which was exactly what we had for dinner that very night!
Refraining from over-planning your trip does not suggest visiting a place entirely unprepared – no area researching or accommodation bookings at all. It will be extremely disappointing if you’re denied entrance to various major monuments because of your dress code. It is common for places of worship like the Vatican City in Italy to require sleeved tops and bottoms that are over knee length. Guards will mercilessly pick you out of the queue if you are exposing your shoulders, mid riff or thighs, regardless of how long you’ve stood in the scorching sun waiting for your turn.
Just in case you’re a little lost,
A typical trip of mine starts off with a quick google search of major attractions in the area from sites like Lonely Planet. Alternatively, you can start off with searching the web activities you can do. Most travel blogs will recommend an extensive list of activities that can be done, such as 48 Hours in Hangzhou. After shortlisting a handful of your favourite activities, you may want to mark the location down for easier planning later! From these marked locations, you will be able to design a rough route to take. Believe it or not, you are ready to go!
It may be a little intimidating at first to venture out without a comprehensive plan, but fret not, the travel community as well as receptionists at your hostels will be more than happy to recommend places for you! You are on your way to a whole new experience!