While it is important to make plans before you set off on your next big adventure, it is just as important not to plan so much that you feel tied down and limited by a strict schedule. Rather, create unscheduled time in your trip for exploring and for spontaneous excursions. By planning less you will likely end up experiencing more.
Below you will find five reasons, which hopefully shine some insight into what can be gained by being an explorer rather than a follower.
1. Stumble Upon Hidden Gems Off of the Tourist Treadmill
Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, throwing a coin in the Trevi Fountain, or taking that epic selfie in front of Big Ben are some examples of must-see tourist attractions when traveling during your study abroad program. Experiencing and seeing famous sites is an important aspect of any trip abroad but it should not be the only plans you make.
By taking a step back from the tourist sites you might happen to stumble upon a local cafe or a quaint open air market. These kind of unexpected and spontaneous discoveries are ones you can’t find in your research and are the types of discoveries that make for a memorable and unique experience studying abroad.
Before you study abroad it is important to do your research and plan what you want to see, but don’t let those plans consume your entire trip. Take time to walk through a nearby garden or to sit on a bench in the park and watch the locals play chess. If you travel with a more open itinerary you will likely discover the local hangouts, the underground pubs, or the nearby neighborhoods that are tourist free.
Plan for plenty of downtime and use it to immerse yourself in the culture and experience what lies beyond the tourist traps.
2. Plan Less and De-stress
Often times, plans go awry; planes are missed, trains are delayed, and bad weather can put a damper on the hike you were so looking forward to. It does not matter how much you plan or research - at some point plans will go amiss. When an over-stuffed itinerary is thrown into the mix, a ripple effect can occur to other plans and before long you are bound to get stressed out. This stress can distract you from the whole reason you decided to study abroad and travel in the first place. That’s why it’s important to expect the unexpected.
With a more open itinerary, along with more downtime planned, you won’t be under as much pressure when a traveling mishap occurs, because you will have the ability to absorb that mishap effortlessly. Furthermore, since your mind set will be open to spontaneous opportunities, you will be free to go with the flow and turn adversity into adventure. So when the weather puts a damper on that hike you planned, the mishap becomes an excuse to join some new found friends on a river cruise for the day.
3. Gain New Coping Skills
Since you have freed yourself from a fixed travel itinerary, by literally stepping off the tour bus for example, you are placing trust in your abilities to figure out how to get around a new city and find places on your own to eat and be entertained. Studying abroad may be pushing you way outside your comfort zone and it may be the first time that you have truly been on your own. But Don’t worry, you can do it!
While it may be stressful and scary at first, you may be pleasantly surprised in your ability to figure things out on your own. As you travel from place to place and overcome the inevitable mishaps, you will gain problem solving skills you never expected and your confidence will increase. This ability to be self-reliant along with new found confidence will benefit you later in life.
4. Spontaneity Flourishes
When you are not tied to your itinerary and have no set plans, you are open to expecting the unexpected and are bound to make spontaneous decisions. For instance, you will meet many travelers on the road or students on your campus who are heading off to intriguing destinations on the weekends that you had never considered before. Why not change your weekend plans and tag along? Live in the moment and do not over think - just go with the flow and relax!
Of course, please have your wits about you and use your gut instinct deciding it maybe isn’t a good idea to hop on the back of a Vespa and travel to Rimini, Italy for the weekend with a guy you just met. Or then again maybe that is just the sort of exciting adventure to create a lifetime memory. The point is, with a little common sense, you can still make fun, smart, and spontaneous decisions while keeping yourself safe.
5. Freedom to Explore
Without a fixed and full itinerary you are free to go where you want to go and see what you want to see, all when you want to. For instance, if a nearby village is going to have a festival over the upcoming weekend, GO! Instead of following set plans (such as being always tethered to a tour bus with fixed and predictable tourist stops in your free time) create the freedom to follow the sun, local music festivals, and cultural events.
While you are studying abroad you will meet countless travelers while exploring and interesting locals in and outside the classroom. The majority of the time these people will be happy to provide you with advice on the best restaurants, clubs, or what hostel in the nation’s capital has the cheapest deal. Without set plans you will have the freedom to follow their advice and strike out on your own to explore and discover.
Free yourself from any apprehension or shyness, strike up conversations with those you meet, and discover valuable tips on what to see and do.
Oftentimes some of the most memorable experiences come from the good times you share with those you meet on the road or in your classes. You will find that most travelers you meet abroad have been in your shoes before, and are happy to pass along advice to a fellow adventurer.