The Downside of Traveling Without a Set Plan
Last year when Andy and I traveled through Europe for two months, one of our big regrets was planning out the whole trip. We had each destination plotted, nearly every hotel or apartment booked, and almost every single train ticket purchased ahead of time. We had our reasons, but by the end of the trip we were itching for flexibility and spontaneity. So this time around,we decided to do things differently. We knew our first few destinations but after that we didn’t have a set plan. The majority of the trip was left open for us to figure out along the way.
We booked a round trip flight from Zurich to Singapore since it was the cheapest nonstop flight we could find to Southeast Asia. We also booked a flight from Singapore to Phnom Penh, and hotels in Singapore, Phnom Penh and the first five nights in Siem Reap. Our destinations were set for about a week and a half.
Not getting to a destination
It was fun to be able to decide to go to Thailand when all along we were pretty sure we would end up in Malaysia immediately after Cambodia. As soon as we knew we’d be in the islands, I started asking around for recommendations. Our blogger friend Lauren recommended the island Koh Yao Noi because she had been there several times and absolutely loved it. It was quiet and less touristy which sounded just perfect.
Unfortunately the guesthouse she suggested was completely booked up the week we wanted to go, and we couldn’t find anything else remotely close to our budget. We didn’t find out until about two days before we were planning on arriving, so we had to scramble to figure out where to go instead. We looked at a few other islands, but in the end we went back to Ao Nang, the next town over from Krabi Town, because there were some nearby islands we wanted to see.
Not being able to take the trains
There are trains that run from Bangkok all the way to Singapore, and since Andy loves trains, we always planned on doing at least one leg of the trip on the train. We tried to book tickets online to get from Hat Yai, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia but both the Thai and Malaysian rail sites were uncooperative, even though they were in English. So we went to a travel agency for help.
Unfortunately she wasn’t able to book train tickets outside of Thailand. It seemed unlikely a different agency would be able to do anything different, so we looked at bus options instead. Since the bus journey to Kuala Lumpur was really long, we quickly decided to stop at Penang instead for a few days.
We never tried the train from Penang to Kuala Lumpur, but we did go to the train station in Kuala Lumpur to see about booking tickets to Singapore. We were there four days ahead of when we needed to leave, but the trains were all booked on the day we were leaving. Despite all the options for trains in that region, we weren’t able to get one of them.
Would I change anything?
Most likely, no. There were some stressful moments when we had to scramble at the last minute to revise our plans when something fell through, and booking a flight to Thailand a week ahead of time was probably more expensive than if we had booked it further out. But overall it was nice to just figure things out along the way.
It was great to book just two nights on Koh Phangan so we could decide once we got there if we wanted to stay. We ended up finding another guesthouse on the same beach for less money, and we stayed for another week. It was fun to have the flexibility to book a bus ticket to Penang when 20 minutes earlier we thought we’d be booking a train to Kuala Lumpur.
So while there certainly is a downside to traveling without a set plan, usually it works out just fine. Traveling without a plan can lead to experiences we wouldn’t have had if we booked everything in advance. Giving ourselves this flexibility was definitely something we did right on this trip to Southeast Asia, even if we missed an island and didn’t get to take the trains.
You might also enjoy:
- How Much We Spent Traveling in Thailand
- How Much We Spent Traveling in Southeast Asia for Two Months
- Discovering Delicious Food in Ao Nang, Thailand
- Hong Islands Tour From Ao Nang
March 27, 2014 @ 8:46 AM
Interesting! I’m a big planner, almost to a fault. I definitely need to be a bit more spontaneous. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
March 27, 2014 @ 2:52 PM
I’ve found I can’t quite break myself of the planning stuff because I do enjoy it, but I’m trying to leave it at the research phase and hold back from booking too far ahead. It is fun to be able to just decide on the spur of the moment to go somewhere or do something we hadn’t planned on doing.
March 27, 2014 @ 2:06 PM
I’m starting to get into this way of travel more and more!
March 27, 2014 @ 2:52 PM
It’s a nice way to go sometimes!
March 29, 2014 @ 10:34 AM
We don’t generally plan our destinations ahead too far in advance, but we have more so with this latest stop in Singapore and Malaysia, mostly because we have such a limited amount of time. But generally, we leave each next destination up to whatever we fancy and it all falls into place. I know a lot of people prefer to just show up and find accommodations, which works at times, but pretty much every time we’ve done that, it’s bitten us in the butt. Either it’s a holiday and everything decent is booked up or we end up paying the same we would have paid online…so we generally end up booking online and it’s honestly been really good for us. I think each traveler ends up finding the flexibility that he or she is comfortable with at some point.
March 30, 2014 @ 1:48 PM
I’m not a big fan of showing up and wandering around looking for a place to stay either. What we did a few times on this trip was book a couple of nights knowing we’d probably want to stay longer, and then once we were there we either booked more nights at the guesthouse we already had, or we went looking for something else nearby. It took some of the stress out of the process. I know what you mean about the holidays too, we ended up in Siem Reap during Chinese New Year, which apparently is a very busy time. All around it was not so much fun.
March 30, 2014 @ 2:37 PM
I prefer in most cases to at least have the first few days to a week of accommodation booked for a destination before I get there. But aside from that I like to leave everything open so that if I feel that I am up for any particular activity, I can do so freely without the straight jacket of having absolutely everything planned in advance – not that this was the case here. I think the take away here is that things should be loosely planned with enough freedom to be able to do activities or switch destinations with little notice. Easier said than done though when it comes to staying within a budget and a set time frame. It’s a balancing act between too much and too little planning and personality must come into it somewhere too.
March 31, 2014 @ 10:59 AM
Exactly Matthew, finding that balance is key, and not so easy. I like to research my options ahead of time and book the first few days, but beyond that it’s nice to leave room for flexibility. We often ended up booking the first 2 nights at a location, and then deciding once we arrived if we wanted to stay longer. I think that worked pretty well. In most cases, booking a hotel ahead of time online would’ve cost us a lot more money since we were able to find better prices on the ground. That said, if there’s some special event or holiday, prices will be high no matter what and it’s usually better to book ahead.