It takes a certain amount of planning to have a fun vacation, but you can have just as much fun, and discover much more, by not doing much planning beyond arranging transportation to get there. Lately, I’ve been doing very little in the way of reserving transportation or a place to stay. I decide – often last-minute – where I want to go and just get up and go. When I get there, I walk around the city or town, do a bit of consultation with locals on the street, and decide from there where to stay. It doesn’t always work out in my favor, but more often than not it does, either in the way of meeting new people right off the street or finding a great bargain recommended by a local.
When I travel this way, I take into account the city, the season and the time of day I will arrive. I would not suggest you go to Paris or New York in spring, for instance, without a place to stay already pre-arranged. You just might end up sleeping at the bus terminal or overpaying for a hotel walking in cold. If you are not an experienced and resourceful traveler, book everything in advance. You have been warned. 🙂
I’ve come close to sleeping on a park bench, but it so far has not happened. I am pretty resourceful and not shy about approaching strangers. I love talking to strangers, in fact. Usually, in case of emergency, I travel with a tent. Twice I used it – pitched it out in the woods in Argentina right next to a lake and it was amazing waking up alone in the woods, with just the sound of birds chirping and fish jumping. And rustlings by curious wildlife in the middle of the night. Sleeping out in the woods alone is not for the cowardly. 🙂
I also used it once in Colombia. There I slept on a sandy beach. But I was not alone. Other “campers” were nearby. But it was beautiful waking up with a view of the Atlantic Ocean, waves lapping and ships in the distance. Took a morning swim. It was nice.
A few days ago, I made one of those last-minute decisions to travel from Poland to some other place in Europe. I wasn’t sure where to go, but I intended to hitchhike, meaning no need to book flights, trains or buses to get there. I would simply decide in which direction I wished to travel, find a good spot to hitchhike and go. I love and I loathe hitchhiking. I have to be in the mood to do it, because sometimes it can take hours before someone offers a ride. On a good day, it’s a matter of minutes. When it happens quickly, it’s great. You often meet interesting people along the way all while traveling free. A word about hitchhiking: Do as much research about the dos and don’ts before you try it, especially if you are traveling alone and especially if you are woman. It is no accident women get ride offers almost instantly from men. They are just being men interested in the opposite sex. There are many things you can do to stay safe, but again, you have to do your own research.
When I decided to go, my roommate stepped up and said he, too, wanted to take a trip and that he would drive his car. That took care of the need to hitchhike. After changing our plans a few times, we decided to head south to Krakow, Poland, then to Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Vienna, Austria; Prague, Czech Republic; and finally back to Poland.
Doing minimal planning can produce some amount of stress if you are easily rattled by your circumstances. We decided to couch surf but oftentimes we did not land a couch until the very last minute. If you are the type of person who freaks out when every little thing seems to be going wrong, this sort of travel is not for you. And if you are traveling with someone who gets a panic attack because you don’t have a place to stay come nightfall, well, at the next stop ditch them and travel alone. Or don’t travel with them again – ever! 🙂
The cool thing about deciding last-minute, we encountered some cool events in some of the cities we visited. In Krakow, there was the Krakow Marathon. In Budapest, the Red Bull airshow and opening night of a very cool bar. And all along the way, meeting new and interesting people who took us to some cool places.
The idea behind this type of travel is not to be stressed over schedules, check-ins and check-outs. Just to relax and enjoy the time. And if you don’t see everything there is to see, so what?