Recreational vehicle owners and backpackers do it all the time; they pack up and hit the road or trail, not sure where they will stop for the night. They travel where and when they please, seeing new sights and meeting interesting people along the way. But for the more traditional traveler, who is used to making reservations and planning an itinerary, is spontaneous travel really possible? What are its advantages and drawbacks?
Advantages of Spontaneous Travel
- Flexibility. You will have the freedom to stay longer in a place that truly intrigues you or to leave early if you wish. How many times have you wanted to stay an extra day somewhere but could not do so because of your itinerary? Spontaneous travel offers you the chance to linger and really get to know a particular place.
- Adventure. There's something thrilling about traveling without a fixed itinerary. Something wonderful could be just around the corner. You could meet some fascinating people or enjoy the best meal you've ever eaten.
- Relaxation. You won't have to stick to anyone's schedule but your own, and if you want to change plans, you can. There's nothing more relaxing than knowing you can sleep in, watch the sunrise, eat when you like or sit and watch the world go by; it's all up to you.
- Insight. Traveling without an itinerary gives you the opportunity to visit off-the-beaten-path places and meet people wherever you go. There's no better way to really get to know a place than to travel like a local.
Disadvantages of Spontaneous Travel
- Anxiety. It can be stressful to arrive somewhere without the assurance of a place to stay for the night. For travelers used to plans and itineraries, spontaneous travel could present some challenges.
- Extra Cost. Depending on the season, traveling without pre-booked tickets could be more expensive than reserving flights, train tickets and hotel rooms in advance. However, last-minute travelers can sometimes take advantage of discount travel opportunities.
- Transportation Issues. You may encounter problems if you decide to reserve a rental car in advance and then want to change the dates of your rental. It's always best to call the rental car company and talk to a customer service representative about changes, extensions and early drop-offs, any of which might cost extra.
- Unexpected Problems. When you travel without an itinerary, you may find yourself in situations you had not planned for. Spontaneous travel is not the same thing as clueless travel; it makes sense to research the places you think you might visit, perhaps using your country's official website related to travel safety, so that you know what issues you might encounter. It also makes sense to check travel websites, such as About.com's Travel Channel, to find the latest information on museums, monuments, national and state parks and any other places you know you will visit.
Spontaneous Travel Tips
- If you are traveling at the last minute, particularly if you are on standby or space-available status, be sure you have enough money to cover the cost of meals, hotel rooms and miscellaneous expenses should you have to wait for a later flight or train.
- Register your trip with your State Department or Foreign Office, even if you don't have a pre-planned itinerary.
- Check the visa, international driving permit and passport validity requirements for every country you think you might visit and make sure your travel documents are in compliance.
- Bring guidebooks or a list of possible accommodations in case you have trouble accessing the Internet during your trip. It's much easier to call ahead (or ask the tourist information office to telephone for you) if you have some idea of where you'd like to stay and how much you might spend.
- Pack light; whether you travel by air, rail or automobile, you're likely to be happier carrying a smaller suitcase.
- Take things slowly. Spontaneous travel does not have to take place at tour group speed. Linger where you like, and don't worry if you don't see everything in every place you visit. Savoring the experience is part of the fun of spontaneous travel.