On one end of the spectrum are the planners, the ones that assemble detailed itineraries, and, perhaps not so surprisingly, are typically able to stick to them.
A well planned trip comes with several advantages. Flights, hotels, and many travel related big-ticket items are typically cheaper when booked several months ahead of time. Putting in the time and effort to plan ahead of time also reduces the chances that some unforeseen complication or circumstance will negatively impact the trip, causing travelers not to get the experience they were hoping for.
On the other end of the spectrum are the spontaneous, the last minute, the drop everything and go type of experiences. This has its advantages too. Psychological studies have indicated that the satisfaction people have with their experiences is often dependent on how the experience compares with their expectations. The spontaneous trip, the one that comes together last minute can have a strong upside, as there were no expectations. Finding oneself unexpectedly in a new place, trying something new; experiences like these can make people truly feel alive!
Missing out on this feeling is probably the main drawback to planning travel too intensely. When every activity is regimented, down to the hour (given the fact that there is traffic, weather, etc. regimenting to the minute is a fool’s errand), it is harder to make adjustments for what may occur, or take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. See an interesting billboard for a museum, theme park, or natural bridge? Sorry, there is no unplanned time. Run into an old friend, or make new friends? We can reconnect only if you’re going in this direction as me at this time.
As is the case with most things in today’s world, there is an optimal “middle ground” that can be reached, and it is not necessarily a compromise between the two extremes. The best “middle ground” solutions often try to achieve the objectives of those on both sides of the issue. The planners want some kind of guarantee that the most important experiences, the original objective of the trip, are actually obtained. The spontaneous want flexibility and the element of surprise.
While I have taken part in experiences that were planned many months in advance and completely regimented.
As well as ones that were super of the moment.
My general tactic is in the middle.
The trip I took to Death Valley six weeks ago was actually originally planned for Zion National Park. Unexpectedly cool and rainy weather prompted us to change the venue to Death Valley, where it would be more pleasant. In this case, it wasn’t necessarily the exact intended experience, but the overall experience of camping, hiking, and being outside in a group of people still came to pass.
When visiting Copenhagen and Stockholm last fall, we set aside a few “must sees”…
While leaving a lot of time open for other experiences
There are a lot of other ways to achieve this optimal combination of guaranteeing experiences while also remaining spontaneous. They are not all as simple as the Southwest Airlines no change fee policy. Some things, like planning alternative activities if the weather is bad, having meals ready on fishing trips in case no fish are caught, or planning for a busted stove on a backpacking trip, take research.
And, well, in our attention deprived world, doing research can often be a deterrent. It can be a deterrent to being well prepared, but also, perhaps most unfortunately, can be a deterrent to traveling at all. The phenomenon of “analysis paralysis”, where a combination of too many choices, too much information and too many factors to consider leads to no choice being made at all, has become quite the large scale issue this decade.
Luckily, in an age where the internet appears to do nothing but create “analysis paralysis” there are still resources designed to help people sort through the clutter of information available to them.
One option is to hire a travel agent, who knows the ins-and-outs of various destinations, and can help travelers find the best deals and the best experiences. There are some who believe that travel agents are no longer needed in the age of the internet. However, as the Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown has pointed out in many occasions (including the 2017 Travel and Adventure show which I was at), travel agents do help people sift through all of this information.
The other is to find resources online that actually help people consume information rather than find more of it. A great example of this is the side by side comparison of travel insurance options on reviews.com. More generally, reviews.com is one of the few sites that actually aims to reduce the amount of time people spend on the internet (as opposed to many other sites whose goal is to suck you in). The site has reviews that help people make decisions regarding plenty of other products, including others important to travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, like water bottles, vitamins and booking sites.
There is certainly a time to be completely regimented.
There is also a time it feels great to do something completely spontaneous.
In most experiences, it is wonderful to try to find a way to make our travel plans both guarantee the experiences that prompted us to make the trip, while also being flexible enough to adjust for the conditions and take advantage of opportunities. This is, in my humble opinion, the proper balance between being planned and being spontaneous.