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.

downside of traveling without a set plan

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.

downside of traveling without a set plan

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.

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