Every time I wander over to the departures board in an airport, I play the same game. What if I just ditched my meticulously planned holiday, bought a ticket to the first place that appeals, and sodded off? I could go anywhere. Do anything. Wing the whole thing.
Then I check my perfect itinerary, look at my perfectly packed bag and walk my control freak self on to the plane I booked 9 months in advance.
Your average dorm room is generally divided into two separate groups of people – the ones who booked months in advance, and the ones who dragged their world weary selves from door-to-door looking for a room, any room. The latter may not know how long they are staying for, where they might go next or even when they will finally return home, if ever. The former might be more restricted by money, time or various obligations. They might want to cram everything in, rather than leave things to chance. The question is, which group has got it right? When it comes to travel, as with life, should we be flexible, or rigid? Should we be spontaneous, or prepared?
I am a self-admitted control freak, with slight OCD tendencies (the tidy “I like my cushions at right angles” kind, not the Howard-Hughes-locked-in-an attic kind). I create meal plans and cook my lunches for the week every Sunday. I share a meticulous calendar with Mark, which details our seemingly endless daily tasks. I bought and wrapped my family’s Christmas presents in June, because I knew I would be away over Autumn and I didn’t want to manic buy the day before Christmas. I have spreadsheets, many, many spreadsheets.
I could blame our horrendously busy lives on the above list of craziness, but I won’t. As much as being organised is imperative to our lives, the truth is, it is in my nature. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, having a brain that thinks so far in advance, but other times I am perfectly happy writing my to-do-lists, thank you very much.
It comes as no surprise then, that when it comes to travel, I really struggle to find a balance between when to plan, and when to let go.
I’ve read countless travel bloggers who are quick to advise people of the dangers of “long-term, travel burnout” – the feeling you get when you’ve been on the road for a while, packed in too much, tied yourself down and become *gasp* a bit bored of being on the road. The main solution it seems, is to be as flexible as possible with your trip. Give yourself the chance to stay still, regroup and regain your love of travel.
They lament the importance of leaving yourself open to opportunity, whether it is meeting new people, staying somewhere you love a bit longer, or even jetting off to an entirely different destination. It’s great advice. The problem is, when you’re on that big, once-in-a-lifetime trip, with a limited budget and a list of places you want to visit, how flexible should you be? Is it better to spend that extra week on the beautiful Caribbean island, but spend a fortune on last minute, high-season accommodation? Is it a more fruitful experience to spend months getting to know one country, or catch glimpses of an entire continent?
I think the answer, predictably, is that it has to be up to the individual. There are definite advantages to planning in advance – you can choose better, often cheaper accommodation, go to the best restaurants and avoid countless hours spent trying to find transport, or wasting money on crappy tour companies. But maybe you also lose something valuable, too. Why do we travel, if not to break away from our usual routine, in favour of something entirely different?
For me, I guess that means being open to the fact that at some point, I’m going to have to throw my perfect itinerary away…