When you are planning your backpacking trip, you might find it hard to decide whether to plan your route, or to freeball it and go where the wind takes you. Both are great methods of travel, and you won’t really know which you prefer until you do it! Here are some pros and cons to each decision, and some questions to help you make your decision:
I’M A PLANNER!
+Go and stay everywhere you want to go
+You can focus on where you are, instead of planning where you are going next
+Cheap flights, rooms, deals and discounts
-You might meet people you want to travel with, but can’t
-You might learn about different things to do and places to see you didn’t know about, but may have to miss out because of your schedule
I WANNA FREEBALL IT!
+Serendipitous events happen more frequently
+You can join whoever you want traveling anywhere
+You can shift your priorities and do what you want to do!
+You can plan the rest of your trip with information you gather on location with possibly local people, rather than from a limited scope of a computer screen.
-Might be forced to miss out on a hostel or opportunity you wanted or discovered because its too busy, maybe pay more for flights you may have to take.
-In busy season and depending where you are, you may not even be able to get a place to stay for how much you have! Don’t let it get to this point, but it is possible.
-Having to worry about planning while visiting a city, which may be only for a few days
*Note: when looking at this list, the number of pros and cons don’t really matter, it’s about how much weight you put to each one, or whatever weight you put on your own reasons!
WHAT DO I NEED TO CONSIDER, MUGGLE STUDENT???
Q: Who the hell am I????
A: We don’t need to get too existential, but if you know you are someone who can’t deal with too much uncertainty, if you’re someone who needs to know, if you’re someone who changes your mind often…all things that you know about yourself that would rule out one option.
Q: What do I want from this trip?
A: Do you want to see specific things? Do you want to go through an experience of being a “traveler” and seeing where the wind takes you? What is your main objective? And which option will help you get there or stifle you?
Q: Am I traveling with someone or yourself?
A: If you are traveling with someone, you might have to make some concessions. If they are more comfortable with a plan, you may have to go along with it–not all the time, but more than you might want to. Likewise, you may have to bend more and be more flexible if your partner wants some unpredictability.
Q: How much money do I have?
A: Sometimes you can get discounts and deals last minute, but not all the time. Sometimes you can get really cheap deals if you buy tickets in advance through Ryanair etc., usually this is the case.
Q: Do I have a strong back?
A: Haha silly question to a real concern–if you don’t plan in advance, you will probably be walking around with your backpack a lot, sometimes for hours, not knowing where you are going, in the middle of the night. If you are a heavy packer or can honestly say that you are weak, planning to get from place to place with the lease amount of effort and time is probably the best bet for you.
Q: Do I have access to wifi or a data plan?
A: Having a data plan is extremely helpful in finding your way around, booking hostels, booking flights, booking busses, etc. If you are going somewhere with limited wifi, or even if you just don’t have a data plan and are not sure of when you will have access to the internet, of course it is better to plan in advance, because you may not even be able to make plans on the fly.
Q: Where are you going?
A: Although it is technically possible for you to just freeball wherever since I guess people do it, but let’s be real–some places are not the safest and you may not want to put yourself in a situation where you have even less control than you already do. Does this place have the resources for you to make plans on the go, or will you be stuck out in the street in the middle of the night? You may not want to chance that.
Q: Do you have a Eurail (Euro Pass, Eurorail Pass) or an equivalent?
A: If you do, it will probably make it a bit easier to go wherever (pretty much) you want to go on a whim.
Q: Is this the first time you are going backpacking, are alone backpacking, or the first time for both you and your partner?
A: Going alone or without experience may mean that you may be more comfortable planning things out in advance. Having a good planned out experience this time may encourage you to go out and do an unplanned trip in the future.
Q: Are you flexible?
A: You need to be for both. When going unplanned, you definitely need to be flexible. But even if you plan your trip, you need to be flexible enough to say that I may have to put that ticket and room booking to waste because I found something better to pursue–because that will be what makes your trip.
In the end, what is most important is that you do what you are most comfortable with. Both are great methods to try out. And let’s be real, if you are out and about traveling the world, can it really be ruined by what method of preparation you choose? No.
For me, planning weeks or even months in advance was not my thing, and I change my mind pretty often, so I set off on my backpacking trip not knowing where I would be in between landing in Edinburgh and getting reading to return home from London. Sometimes, it was exhausting to have to plan where I was going to go next at the end of a long day and scrounge around for a ticket or a room and sometimes ending up in places I didn’t really want to be, but it was all worth it for me because the best parts of my trip were things that I could never have planned!
Good luck on your journey!