Planning vs spontaneity



David Whitley tries to work out when to plot ahead and when to go with the flow whilst travelling 

Being on towards the OCD end of the anal scale, I tend to like to know what I’m doing before it happens. I’ll usually have all my flights and hotels booked before I leave, and most tours and activities too. I write up itineraries that are generally readable only to me, so full they are with booking reference numbers and airport codes. This is partly because I’m travelling for work, of course, but it also tends to happen when I’m travelling for pleasure as well. I do like a good plan. Give me a couple of days that have nothing pencilled in, and I’ll try and fill them with something.

This, to some (OK, many) people, makes me an absolute nightmare to travel with. Strange concepts such as ‘relaxing’ or ‘milling about’ or ‘making it up as we go along’ scare me. In my experience, making it up as you go along tends to lead to doing absolutely nothing and then regretting it later. This sort of travel also seems ideally suited to people whose idea of a good holiday is sleeping in until one or two in the afternoon as if they’re half man, half lion.

However, I do have to concede that many of the best memories and experiences come from going with the flow and tackling what the world throws in your way. There’s a hell of a lot to be said for “why not?” – it’s an excellent principle to live by. If you can’t think of one compelling argument not to do something, then go do it and see what happens.

I also concede that some of the most enjoyable days I’ve had are ones where I’ve essentially put the guide book down and just wandered aimlessly, poking my nose into whatever I encounter.



But advocates of such laissez-faire approaches tend to forget one thing – for every time you strike gold this way, you’ll probably strike mediocrity another five. It works rather like the idea of going out to a bar on your own, talking to strangers and getting some rent-a-friends for a thoroughly excellent night out. Occasionally it works, and when it does, it’s brilliant. More often than not, however, you’ll just look like a loser.

But it is in the evenings that I feel the spontaneous approach does work best. This is when you’re not as hampered by museum opening hours and tour departure times. Going to see or do something specific during the day requires at least a bit of research and working out of logistics. In the evening, it’s a lot easier to roll with it. There will only be one Museum of Magic Beans; there are scores of bars and restaurants. It’s actually rather enjoyable to not aim for any in particular, but wander around until you find one you like the look of or one where something interesting is happening.

It’s very much horses for courses, but I’d suggest that the big switch over from careful planning to spontaneous exploration should come with the first beer of the day. Because, as we all know, beer doesn’t half endow people with excellent, previously unconsidered ideas...