1. The Freedom of Choice
Planner types may feel overwhelmed by the seemingly never-ending myriad of options, while a detailed agenda can leave a free spirit feeling restricted. The trick here is to find the right balance for your personality. Any good travel blog will tell you that traveling is all about pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, and this is a perfect place to start if you typically plan your vacations minute to minute. Arrive to a new destination with nothing but your hotel reservation and return flight and you will quickly realize all the lesser known sights you have at your disposal.
Of course you will still be able to get around to the major monuments, but afterwards you will be forced to wander. This will be terrifying at first. You will probably feel like this was exactly the thing your worried friends and family warned you about before you left for this trip. But, inevitably you will stumble upon places and things you never would have if you had come bogged down with a pre-planned, day-to-day agenda of museums, bus tours, and restaurant reservations. Make enough plans to ensure you have a place to sleep and a way back home again, but don’t over book yourself and risk the chance of missing out on those hidden diamonds in the rough in your new temporary destination.
2. The Adrenaline of Spontaneity
Deep breath. No, you’re not having a heart attack. Yes, it does feel like you’re going to un-swallow that ridiculously disgusting and expensive airport food. Have no fear - this is just adrenaline kicking in! Don’t know where you’re going? Don’t know what you’re doing? Didn’t you know these situations are what fight-or-flight was made for!? Everyone should take a spontaneous vacation at least once in their life. That scary, excited feeling of not knowing where you’ll be headed or what you’ll be doing next makes the experience 100 times richer. Your heightened senses will solidify this trip into the deepest parts of your memory. The sound of the ocean will undoubtedly take you flying back to that last second road trip from Bilbao (Spain) to the beaches of Biarritz (France) and San Sebastian (Spain). You never thought that you could experience such distinct places (and two different countries!) in the same day. The spontaneity of such adventures will make certain you never forget.
3. The Secrets Strangers Keep
As kids we’re drilled with that warning “Don’t talk to strangers!” by our caretakers. But then what we forget as adults is that talking to strangers can be full of happy surprises! The best way to get to know the culture of your destination is by talking to the people who actually live there! For some people this is a lot easier said than done, but it doesn’t have to be as terrifying as that nightmarish daydream you’re concocting in your mind (please, everyone, stop watching Taken). All it takes is a simple “Can you take a picture for me?” and next thing you know you’ve gotten recommendations for the best local eateries and cafés not found in the guidebook.
Don’t let language barriers hold you back either. A little body language and few enough words to get your point across can go a long way. Who knows? You could end up leaving the quirky atmosphere of El Jardín Secreto (Madrid, Spain) with a marriage proposal from the adorable barista, or be allowed to stay after bar close at the Raheny Inn in Dublin’s outskirts because you’ve chummed right up with the bartenders over several pints of Guinness. When you return home again your friends will be so impressed with your knowledge of the local culture which you will never experience in tourist traps.
4. The Growth That Comes Through Failure
To quote James Joyce, “A man’s mistakes are his portals of discovery”, and though this part is probably cause for a lot of eye-rolling, this couldn’t be more true when it comes to traveling. Each mistake you make will build you into a better world traveler. Whether it’s learning a more efficient way to pack your suitcase or hiking backpack each time you head off, figuring out how to track down just the right host to avoid awkward Couchsurfing stays, or realizing that February is probably not the most ideal time of year to visit the Balearic Islands no matter how warm the idea of an “island” makes you feel, these mistakes will all lead to the next trip turning out a little better than the last. However, even if you never quite figure out how to make it all work, you have reason number 5…
5. The Stories
In the end, this is the best part about the people, places, and things encountered during time spent abroad. Pictures and souvenirs are great too, but what do they mean if there are no words to go along with them? With the world becoming more and more connected, it’s almost not enough anymore to say “Hey, want to see a picture of me at The Colosseum?”. There’s a desensitization to photos and run-of-the-mill typical tourist spots now that anyone can type “Taj Mahal” into google and see it for themselves. Or if they are particularly skilled, photoshop themselves into said Google images. It’s basically the same as being there, right?
So what’s the moral of this story? The trips that you plan will pale in comparison to the ones you make on the fly. Running around a city with your nose in a guidebook or map guarantees you will miss out on 95% of the experience these incredible places have to offer and the stories that are waiting there to happen to you. Why not strive to surprise people, and more importantly yourself, with a little unplanned adventure and see where it could take you?