28 Feb My First No Planning Travel Experience
I love planning. Or, actually, I love to have planned. While planning I can feel bogged down, frustrated, or just lost. But once I figure everything out, and my trip goes smoother than it would have otherwise, I love that I put in the effort. And while I don’t plan every detail this planning can sometimes feel rigid. Two months in Europe can start to feel like climbing a ladder, just moving up, and up, instead of the wandering backpacker lifestyle usually pictured.
I won’t go into all the reasons I love planning, why it’s less stressful for me, and why it just makes sense, but I will say that not planning has its own benefits. Which I saw that first time in Italy.
I was with two friends in Prague. We were living there for school and the end of the semester was coming up and we hadn’t yet gone to Italy. So we bought some cheap tickets and flew down to Venice, with a return flight from Bergamo, outside of Milan. Before we left we had a few names of hostels in mind, one guest house booked in Bergamo, but no idea how we were getting from one city to another, or really any other plans. Had I been going alone I think I would have planned a lot more. I would have reserved train tickets, hostel beds, written out directions from airport to hotel to train station or at least marked things on a map. But before getting to Venice, I hadn’t even looked at a map to see which direction the airport was from the city, or what the city looked like at all.
When we got to the airport in Venice, actually Treviso, we had no idea how to get to the city and we rushed around, paying for a seat on a bus leaving immediately and took the long ride to Venice. Because I didn’t plan any of this I was shocked to see the busses parked just outside the city. I didn’t even know what it was called. But getting on the Vaporetti was a pleasant surprise. But the further along we got on the Grand Canal, the more anxious I became because I didn’t know where we were. I couldn’t picture it, mapping it out in my head so I knew where we had to get off, or where to walk after. I didn’t even know where the important sites were, St. Mark’s Square, the Rialto Bridge. It was all a mystery to me.
So I did everything I could to let the other two girls tell me where to go, to help out. And Venice was a good city for this anyway because most maps are a tangle of tiny canals with no names and trying to decipher them would have been difficult anyway. I just wandered, getting lost so bad that we found our way on a one-way canal, early walking into someone’s home thinking it was an alley.
When it was time to move on to Verona, where we hoped our next city would be, we went to the train station and spoke in broken Italian, the three of us combined knowing about 5 words. And we figured out our tickets all the way to Bergamo, near Milan. When this was accomplished, tickets in hand, ticket agent rubbing her temples and glad it was over, that felt a lot better, more fulfilling, than it would have had we booked theses from a website. And while it was frustrating to convey exactly where and when we wanted to go, it was an obstacle that should be faced while traveling.
The rest of the trip went like this. We didn’t have plans, found things to do, places to stay, and we saw what is meant to be seen in those cities. Some things worked out better than others. We’re pretty sure we got gipped on some of the busses, because we didn’t know there were other options, but at the hotel in Verona, the owner, I think, was just hoping to sell that room for the night, so gave us a really good price, better than the ones posted.
And while that trip was a mix of excitement, and learning to let go, I do think I remember a lot less about those places than I do the places I planned a lot. It could also be blamed on my letting other people handle things where, traveling alone, I had to do everything. But I don’t like that slight fogginess that comes over my mind when I think of those three cities. When I think of Paris, a city I first went myself, then went with friends and acted like a guide, I can picture the map clearly, pick out the different sites, where they are in relation to other sites. I can mentally walk through the city better than you’d think possible for not having lived there. But those cities in Italy leave very little impression in my mind. I can’t picture the layouts of the streets, I barely remember the general look of the city on the map, and I can’t even recall where the hostels were.
Obviously there are tradeoffs with anything, but I have, and will, continue to plan, even if only the basics, because I feel I know the city better, I learn about it before even getting there so when I do arrive, my mind isn’t overwhelmed with everything. I can focus on how things look and feel and smell, and instead of where everything is, I can relax and let things fall into place. And even if you don’t want to plan everything, and I don’t think you need to, you can really learn about a place before you visit. Read the books, watch movies about the culture, or just that it’s featured in. Anything you can learn about a place with undoubtedly give you a richer experience than going completely new.
Do you plan everything? Or do you let things go until you have to book/ reserve them? Tell me why in the comments below!