I’m a fairly frequent traveler, and I get a lot of comments from acquaintances about how they would love to travel too, but it costs too much money or depletes too many vacation days or takes too long to plan a great trip. The problem, I’ve found, is that some people store up all their travel dreams in one bottle, and envision for themselves a trip that is so absolutely perfect that they will never find the time or resources to make it into reality.
To me, the best trip is the trip you actually take.
The best destination is the one you can make it to now. Going on holiday does not require an hourly itinerary or a maxed-out credit card. If you’re craving a dreamy trip that feels more Aubrey-Hepburn-leisurely-strolling-past-Tiffany’s than racing-through-museum-to-catch-tour-bus-back-to-dinner, you’re in the right place. While tightly scheduled getaways have their place, today’s focus is on planning the kind of trip that lets you breathe, allowing your wishes and whims to dictate your schedule.
First, pick your destination.
Focusing on travel that leaves you free to be spontaneous doesn’t mean you’re completely off the hook for planning, ladies. If you’ve got a long weekend on the horizon, don’t wait until Friday night to decide where to go. Are you packing your weekend bag and heading into the city? Heading into a national park for a week to fill your lungs with fresh air?
Which kind of place leaves your heart happy or makes your mind wander with ideas? What kinds of destinations feed your imagination? Go there. Bonus points if it’s somewhere you’ve never stepped foot before!
Then, schedule only the basics.
Here’s my top tip for a trip brimming with spontaneous adventures: Stay with a local. Whether lodging via Airbnb, a traditional bed and breakfast, a family-owned inn, or VRBO.com, I have found some of the most enchanting cafes, chic neighborhoods, or perfect backcountry trails by talking to locals.
Bonus: You don’t need to do all your research in advance because you can get insider recommendations over your morning cup of coffee. Perfect, right?
Aside from accommodations, the only thing you really need to plan ahead is your method of transportation. Should you rent a car, or are you staying somewhere with ample efficient public transportation? Make sure you have a way to get where you’re staying — and a way to easily follow your heart to various points of interest during the entirety of the trip.
Make a wish list of things to do and places to see.
When my boyfriend and I decided to take a trip to Mexico City in January, we booked our plane tickets and Airbnb and… that’s it. But you can bet that we’ve had fun reading travel blogs and making a list of interesting places and activities in our shared Google Doc (this is the best when you’re dreaming up a trip with someone else). While I wholeheartedly recommend following locals’ leads once you’ve arrived at your destination, it’s still smart to show up with a general list in hand. The goal is to never run out of options, but also to know that you might not check off all the items. Don’t schedule the items into specific days, because it’s all about going with the flow. Sometimes spontaneous activities are also the most magical.
You never know — if you’re hanging with the locals, you might find yourself spending the afternoon cooling off in an off-the-beaten-path freshwater pool.
Or you might land on the patio of a mountain tea house, drinking hot chocolate next to a glittering emerald lake that you’d never heard of until that very day.
Maybe you’ll end your evening sipping local vino in a tiny family-owned restaurant that you would have never found in your pre-trip online research.
These are the kinds of attractions that pop up in between the lines of your wish list. Arrive with great expectations, but set few plans.
Dream up a plan for each day as it arrives.
One of my favorite ways to travel is to plan one day at a time. There’s no jam-packed schedule, no stressing over rushed meals, or missed opportunities. I wake up each morning, glance over my destination wishlist of landmarks, activities, cafes, and restaurants (I’m not alone in dreaming about vacation meals, right?), and then plot a loosely scheduled day for myself. A perfect time to do this is over your morning cup of coffee, or during breakfast alongside your host or innkeeper. If this feels a bit too last-minute for you, there’s always the option of planning each day the night before. Chat with your dinner server about their favorite local haunts. Those in the hospitality industry know where to find the best food!
The key to planning a day at a time is embracing a “less is more attitude.” Because less really is more. Fewer items on the agenda means more time to savor, to linger, to soak in the beauty or adventure of each moment.
You will get the most out of your travels if you can slow down enough to appreciate where you are. Practice presence by taking mental snapshots of each day, or by simply stepping out of the fray for a moment to look around — up at the sky, down at the cobblestone street below, to the sides at the forest or skyscrapers or quaint shops around you. I love loosely planned trips because they allow me to breathe. I’m not following anyone’s set agenda. Instead, I’m enjoying a new place simply for myself — to learn, to grow, to appreciate — and isn’t that why we travel anyway?