The idea of a spontaneous holiday is so attractive. No planning. Turning every corner to magically find the best food, the most charismatic local, stunning sights.
A completely spontaneous holiday has all the ingredients to make the best holiday ever. But if your not a seasoned traveler, don’t have a lot of time, have a budget to keep or want to achieve specific goals, than there is a high chance you might get your spontaneous holiday out of the oven and it’s a flop. Or maybe not a flop, but maybe it could have been that little bit better if you actually read the recipe (aka done some pre-planning). A completely spontaneous holiday doesn’t always live up to expectations.
But… it doesn’t have to be this way. You can have your spontaneous holiday and eat it to. All you have to do is bake it first.
Now I know, Planning gets a bad wrap. But is it really such a dirty word?
Funnily enough, one of the other most favoured ways to travel, is to experience it like a local. But who is a local? Someone who really knows their city, the best things to do, places to go, places to eat. A local is someone who has the most knowledge of their city. And one way we can learn some of what they know, is by researching and planning ahead. With all the information that is available these days, it can be easier than you think to find out even the “non-touristy” things to do.
The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Spontaneous Holiday is best used for first holidays, or the first time you are visiting a particular place. It’s also a good approach if you have limited time or you’re on a budget. Lets see what’s involved…
Identify Your Goals
We are all different. We all travel for different reasons. Enjoy different things. Have different travel styles. And are at different points in our life. Figure out what it is you want from the holiday. Good times, meet people, explore? Stressed at work and just want to get away and relax? Travelling as a family and need to find something that works for everyone? History buff? Whatever it is, figure out what you want and what the people you are travelling with want too.
Pick A Destination
Usually the easy part! Some things to consider:
- Time Available
- Who you are travelling with
- Time of Year
Get Inspired! I love looking at photo’s on pinterest or even google images, read blogs/websites, youtube, watch travel movies, and one of my faves is watching cooking shows. Think Anthony Bourdain. Luke Nguyen. I sometimes go to restaurants that serve the cuisine of the country I’m going too. If you are going to see some historical sights, watch a documentary on them before you go. Even if you’re not a huge history buff, the sights will be much more fascinating if you understand them.
Research – sounds serious but it doesn’t have to be, and sometimes it makes you feel like you have started your holiday earlier. A huge chunk of you “work” is already done just getting inspired! You should already have a good idea of where you want to go, things to do, things to see and places you want to eat.
You might even think you have nothing else to research. But the more planning you do now, the less planning you do on your holiday. It’s good to know your transport options too.
Some places you can do your research are:
- Guide books
- Ask Friends/Family/Colleagues
Make a List of Things You Want to See and Do – Then Cut it in Half
Ok, so now you should well and truly know enough about your destination. Make a list of things you want to see and do – then cut it in half. You shouldn’t have more than an A4 page on each destination and I think 3 items in each category is more than enough (e.g. 3 restaurants, 3 things to do, 3 sights). Save it to your dropbox or email, then you can access it if you need to on holidays. This is all you should need – leave the guidebooks at home. This way, you will discover things as you go, but have a couple of good recommendations too.
The longer you stay in one place, the more time you have to figure it out as you go. Try and spend a minimum of 2 nights in one place (more is better), than the less structured your plans need to be.
Plan your Itinerary
By Itinerary, I don’t mean “from 8am – 10am we will go here, then 12noon we will have lunch”. NO. There is never a need to be this specific. You are not a tour company. But simply figure out the time you have and how you want to split it up. If you are staying in the one place, then you’re done. But if you are going to Italy and want to see Rome, Bologna and the Cinque Terre, and you have 2 weeks, figure out how long you want to spend in each destination. This makes booking easy. “How is booking spontaneous?” you must be thinking. Just wait… we’ll get to that.
Make a Budget
If money isn’t a concern, woo hoo! But if it is, then making a simple budget is best. First have an overall idea of how much you want to spend. Then figure out which places you think you will spend more money in, pick a figure you think will be sufficient (after all you should know this, you have already done your research), and see if the total is close to your overall figure. Then tweak. Make sacrifices in some places or on some days to have more flexibility on others. For example: in a about a month, we are going to Europe. And I think I will spend more in Italy than Turkey, so my daily Turkey budget is less than my daily Italy budget, because I know this will allow me to do things I want to do on a whim.
This might help you make decisions on other things too, like where you can afford to stay and transport options.
To Book or Not to Book
Book things which will save you time and money. As long as you leave yourself enough time in each place, you can still be spontaneous whilst there, you just know when your moving on. And if you save enough by booking ahead, you will probably still be saving even if you decide to cancel something or change your plans once there. And some bookings are flexible.
Pro’s of booking: Allows you more time to wander and less time looking for accommodation. A good chance you will save money.
Con’s of booking: Less flexibility in overall plans, but if you don’ t book, it might be more expensive which may lead to less of a budget and less flexibility in seeing/doing things.
Get Organised (take electronic copies). Take all the details you need (but that’s less than you think).
Don’t weigh your bag down with all your documents. Take electronic copies where possible. Use Dropbox or an email folder, or an app like Tripit (email your documents to tripit and get an organised itinerary). Leave the guidebooks at home.
The less stuff you have the more flexibility and options you have. And its much easier to move from A to B. You only really need to pack for a week, two max, no matter how long you are going for. In the last month you have been home, have you really changed outfits every single day and never worn the same thing twice? Don’t think you can pack light? Take a look at how we packed carry-on bags only for 9 weeks in Europe.
Talk to the locals
Take the opportunity to talk to the locals. Make Friends, get the locals viewpoint. If you feel uncomfortable, try talking to the staff at your hotel or doing a local tour.
Half/Full Day Tours
What?! A Tour… spontaneous? Well, not all tours are created equal. Short tours can be great as you still have lots of time on the holiday to explore and get lost. And if the Tour allows you to do something you wouldn’t normally or allows you access to something, then this can be a spontaneous thing for you that you may not have experienced otherwise.
When I went to Vietnam, hands down one of my favourite, most exiliarating things I did was a 4 hr tour. It was a foodie tour in Saigon… riding on the back of scooters. After seeing the traffic there, I wouldn’t have felt safe just hiring a scooter myself. And I would have never discovered the delicious street food or seen the other neighbourhoods, if it wasn’t for a tour. And the experience of riding through Saigon streets was one I will never forget. And it felt like one of the most spontaneous things of the holiday (and hey, we only booked it two days before we got there).
Leave Enough Time To Just Walk and Explore
So now you know all about the place you’re going. The point of that was so you don’t get there and waste time figuring out what to do or researching. So if you have a few things you want to do, great. But make sure at least half of your time is free for you to just walk and explore and get lost. Take a train an hour out of the city. See where all the locals live. Go in any direction without a plan.
Use the Information you Know off the Top of your Head and Forget the Rest.
When I was about 14 years old, I really wanted to go to Melbourne. I rang up all the travel companies and got them to send out all their free brochures (we didn’t have the internet at home back then). I was mesmerized and by the time we went, I knew so much about Melbourne. We drove down, with absolutely no plan. No where to stay. Not one thing booked.
But this funny thing happened. We didn’t waste any time figuring out what to do (except for the accommodation). I knew everything there was to do and see. I knew the areas. So we just picked what we felt like that day, and it was so easy. And we had such a memorable holiday.
So use the information you know, and forget everything else. See where the holiday takes you and I’m sure you will have a fascinating time.
Obviously, its great in theory to buy a plane ticket and get off in a different country and see what happens. It sounds exciting. And I think that is close to what I would do if I had an infinite amount of time and money to explore. If I had a one way ticket, or knew I had months to spend in the one destination. But that doesn’t often happen. Next best thing?
Make planning your friend BEFORE your Holiday, then ditch him at the airport (tweet me)
Have you planned a spontaneous holiday?
We would love to hear how it worked out in the comments below…