Choosing Your Travel Style: Spontaneous vs. Planned

May 14, 2015
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Travel styles manifest themselves in various ways. Sometimes, you have a purpose or a mission, while other times you leave your details up to chance. Living in Southern California, it’s easy to set off on a spontaneous jaunt to the mountains, desert, or beach. However, arriving at your destination via public transport can complicate matters. Recently, on a Friday off from work, I spontaneously rode the Metrolink train to Union Station in Los Angeles.

I changed to the Orange County line and eventually was deposited at the beach in San Clemente. I could have hopped in my car to navigate the freeways, saving well over an hour of commuting time, but the aimless adventure was part of the fun.

Choosing Your Travel Style: Spontaneous vs. Planned

Spontaneous Travel

When I was younger, travel lacked a mature level of organization, other than joining a brief city tour to locate the main points of interest upon arrival in an unfamiliar destination. In my early 20s, a college friend and I travelled back to Salzburg, Austria, where we had both studied abroad. I usually fly KLM to Europe, necessitating a stop in Amsterdam. Upon locating a room after several hostel enquiries and recovering from our flight from Los Angeles, we set out in search of dinner and some nightlife.

If we had planned out every detail of our short Amsterdam stay, the experience would have been drastically different.

Resembling a scene from Euro Trip, we stumbled upon a nightclub and were immediately welcomed by the locals. Rather upscale with a glowing blue backlit bar, we ordered drinks and entertained our new friends with tales of American post-collegiate life, at their request. Obviously, they were enthralled with whatever we had to say, because several hours seemed to pass in a flash. We noticed the club’s crowd was thinning out, thought we should probably return to the hostel for a few winks of sleep, and bid our new friends farewell.

Exiting the front door, we stopped in our tracks and were blinded by the brilliant sunlight. Sunlight! It was 6 A.M.! We navigated our way through the canals back to our hostel. Luckily, we had booked a private room and didn’t wake our fellow adventurers. Sleeping through our alarm and finally woken up by a call from the front desk asking if we had plans to check out, we haphazardly packed up and barely caught our train to Salzburg. If we had planned out every detail of our short Amsterdam stay, the experience would have been drastically different.

Choosing Your Travel Style: Spontaneous vs. Planned

Pros of Spontaneous Travel: more unoccupied time to meet other travellers, anticipated bedtimes can be ignored, arrivals and departures can be modified, suggestions from fellow travellers can be realized

Cons of Spontaneous Travel: accommodations may be unavailable, you may not discover all of the destination’s charms or features, “lazy traveller syndrome.” (These “cons” sound like opportunities for more adventure, but can unsettle the novice traveller.)

Spontaneous Travel vs. Planned Travel

Planned Travel

By the time I entered my 30s, cultural connections and historical details were more meaningful to me. I’d had an interest in Thailand ever since my grandmother regaled me with stories about her brass fingernail extensions that accompanied the traditional Thai Fawn Lep dance, purchased during her solo travels in Thailand. Except for a short trip to China, I’d never travelled in Asia, so I booked a tour with Overseas Adventure Travel.

Because of my confidence gained during the tour, I extended my visit by three weeks to experience the country solo.

One morning’s activity was gathering ingredients for Pad Thai and papaya salad at an outdoor market. Each person’s ingredient was written on a slip of paper, in both Thai script and a phonetic translation, and we were given Thai baht to pay for it. I asked a merchant where my ingredient might be located in the labyrinth of market stalls, and he led me to a young boy selling chili peppers. The boy regarded me quizzically, while dutifully selling me the peppers. I found my guide wandering around the market, and soon we gathered to travel to a local home for our cooking lesson.

Mixing our ingredients in a mortar and smashing them with a pestle, I was proud to create my favorite dishes in Thailand thus far. During our lesson, I added an extra chili for good measure, noting that I probably wouldn’t have experienced the shopping and cooking lesson had I navigated my own tour of Thailand. Because of my confidence gained during the tour, I extended my visit by three weeks to experience the country solo. Though tours are tiring and at times stifling, this worthwhile tour provided a comprehensive introduction to Thailand.

Pros of Planned Travel: comprehensive touring, possible local’s perspective, cheaper all-inclusive price, possible native language translation

Cons of Planned Travel: spontaneous excursions cannot be accommodated, tiring schedule, early wakeup times, sometimes too comfortable.

Both styles of travel enhance your repertoire and are dependent upon your companion(s), energy level, finances, and familiarity with your destination. For me, the perfectly balanced trip combines a bit of spontaneous and planned travel.


Photo credits for Choosing Your Travel Style: Spontaneous vs. Planned by Anne Castagnaro and Unsplash.

About Anne Castagnaro

Motivated by the “go big or go home” adage, Anne V. Castagnaro, PhD is a lifelong traveler who prefers to mark her life in travel milestones. A Southern California native, she makes her base camp there while pondering new adventures. While saving up funds for the next journey, she enjoys reading, scrapbooking, nature, and educational issues. Travel and other musings can be found on her blog and on Instagram @victoriatravels9

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