How I Used To Travel vs How I Travel Now
The first time I travelled solo was in 2011. It was during the time that I was studying abroad for four months in Spain. Before deciding where exactly I wanted to go, I painstakingly scoured the internet to compare Greece, Switzerland, and Italy. I decided to do a few days in Switzerland and a few days in Italy. I then spent days (probably weeks) piecing together the entire nine-day trip. “Piecing” is probably not the best adjective here. More like “obsessively obsessing” over the nine-day trip, down to every single train ticket purchase, hostel booking, museum opening, and flight departure times. I distinctly remember hunching over my laptop, huddled in blankets in my bed in Spain, sweating over details and stressing over situations that hadn't even occurred yet. I did not leave a single moment to chance. How could I? I was traveling ALONE. I needed to know exactly where I was going to be at what time on which day!
I was also totally petrified to travel alone, so having an ironclad itinerary gave me a sense of control. Plus, my parents needed to know where I was at all times (or so I thought – I think my mom texted me once while I was on that trip and it was probably to share some celebrity gossip news).
(I also want to take this moment to share that I somehow survived those nine days despite living off of Clif bars (which I still cannot eat to this day); carrying a pink, school backpack (I was too broke to afford an actual travel backpack); wearing the same, ripped pair of Holister jeans everyday; and not having a selfie stick.)
Anyways. I did the same thing with the itinerary when my dad, brother, and I decided to travel for three weeks after I finished my semester in Spain. I planned the whole trip, down to the very minute. It was flawless. I’m still really proud of that itinerary.
After I came back from Spain, I didn’t travel abroad again until three years later. SMC paid me out for my unused vacation time, so I used that money to plan a ten-day trip to Nicaragua before moving to Indy that summer. I picked Nicaragua because it was the cheapest flight abroad at the time. Again, I planned my itinerary very similarly to my Europe itineraries. I had already booked travel and hostel accommodations. I knew which cities I was going to be in, on which day.
And then, on my second day in Granada (in which I complained in my journal that I was bored and dying a slow, painful death due to the 105-degree heat), I met four guys who turned my entire trip upside down. They became like family to me in a matter of hours. I took a chance, threw caution to wind, and travelled with these strangers for the next eight days. It was one of the best travel decisions I’ve ever made. Was it the smartest? Probably not. Did I luck out? Hell yeah.
Suddenly, my itinerary was completely off. I had to pay fees to cancel accommodations that I had already booked. I ended up traveling to four cities instead of three. I blew my budget on higher-priced accommodations, good drinks and food, and excursions that I probably wouldn’t had paid for solo.
And it was okay. I survived. Things didn’t go according to plan, and my itinerary went to shit by day two, and it still all worked out. I had finally managed to let go - kind of - when it came to my type A personality.
I travel a little differently now, for a few reasons. I'm more confident in my travels and ability to overcome any sticky travel situations. I have less time to nitpick over details with a full time job and grad school. I have different interests in what I want to do when I travel than I did ten or five years ago. I also know that I can figure it out along the way, and that thousands of backpackers have done it before me, regardless of where I'm going.
Now when I plan a trip, this is usually how I go about it:
- Think of a few countries I want to go. Run a search on Google flight. Pick a few options with the cheapest available flights. Most likely will go to a country that wasn’t even on my original list.
- Book flight. Always arrive during the day.
- Check out a guidebook from the library. Skim through sections, keep tabs on things I may want to do or places I want to see.
- Check out TripAdvisor. Bookmark things I may want to do or places I want to see.
- Decide on a starting point. A few days in the capital? Or skip it and head straight to a common city or town?
- Go to Hostelworld.com. Search top hostels. Pick a hostel that is in my budget, clean, safe, and has a good atmosphere (from the reviews). Book for the first 2-3 nights.
- That’s it. Leave the rest of the trip open. Figure it out as I go, based on what I actually want to do, how I feel, and the people that I’ve met.
If I had a travel itinerary for Belize, I would share it like I've done with the others. But I don't. I have the flight reservations in my Travel inbox in Gmail and I just remembered I still have to ask my mom if she can drop me off at the Chicago airport that evening. I think she can.
I don't want to get stressed out about travel plans. I get stressed out enough by my to-do list at work and the three projects I haven't even started yet for my grad classes. I want the freedom to just do whatever I want, whether that's scuba diving everyday, going on a jungle trek, or checking out ancient ruins. (Let's be honest, I will probably scuba dive everyday in Belize.) But maybe I'll get bored of it or max out my budget or get stung by a jellyfish. Maybe I'll hear about other awesome towns I should check out. Maybe I'll meet another group of great people and make plans with them. I don't really know. That's okay. All I know is that I'm going and that's good enough for me.
P.S. There are still certain things I do before every trip. (I just re-read this post and realized I haven't done half these things and I really need to, like buying travel insurance and calling my credit card company. So glad I find my own posts helpful.)