I’m now on week eight of backpacking through South East Asia. I have no set itinerary or set plan, just a basic idea of what kind of experiences I'm looking for, and every so often I get caught by surprise when opportunities show up that I least expect.
We’re always taught to have plans, plans for dinner, plans for the weekend, plans for the year, even plans for a holiday if you've recently compiled a collection of coins in the jar on the fridge titled 'much needed vacation'. As a traveller however, there's not really an essential need to make any kind of set-in-stone plan other than 'where do I start?'
When I use the term traveller, I mean someone who has sacrificed the concept of time and routine and decided to dedicate a big chunk of it to travelling, which might I add, is something we all should try to do at least once in our lives - A good three to twelve month chunk of your life dedicated to just travelling. Immersing yourself into a new culture, learning the language, tasting every cuisine (and the street food too), and all the other local activities that you would otherwise miss if you just spent time at the main tourist attractions and moved on.
Holidays just don't allow for those sorts of things, they are, unfortunately, way too short and never seem like they are long enough. Holidays also come with the restriction of a nicely scheduled itinerary right down to the minute. As if there weren’t already enough schedules in our lives.
So this is why, as a traveller, you've got to give in to the plan and embrace the no-plan. There aren't many places in the past eight weeks where I haven't extended my stay. I may find hidden gems, I may want to have a lazy day, I may meet travellers in the common area of the hostel and chat with them for half the day about where we’ve been and where we want to be, constantly igniting new ideas and places to visit. I may meet people who give me leads to places that the lonely planet guide doesn’t feature. You just never know what you can find, and if I had plans I couldn't let all these opportunities in.
It’s fair that some may say having no plan can be quite foolish. What happens if you can't get accommodation? What happens if you get stuck sleeping in some dingy bus station? These situations are possible, but there are ways to avoid them. Unless you've arrived in New Delhi the day before Holi Festival, or Beijing the day before Chinese New Year, I'm sure there will be somewhere to stay. And if not, there's always Couch Surfing, Air B’n’B, HostelWorld, and all the other platforms for booking accommodation. Aside from the special occasions the world is full of places to stay, and most of the time one day’s notice is all they need.
I've spent some days waking up thinking ‘I don't want to leave today’, walked sleepy-eyed in my pyjamas downstairs to reception, asked 'Can I stay another night please?' and barely had any issues. I may have had to change rooms, but most of the time I just walk myself back upstairs with another day to explore wherever I am - This can happen consecutively for many days.
It also goes the same for transportation. You can generally get from anywhere to anywhere if you're on a backpacking route. Again, watch out for special occasions, but otherwise all it takes is a quick chat with the friendly hostel staff and they can organise your next journey, whether it be by bus, taxi, train, plane (you'd probably need to do that yourself but they can assist) or even tuk-tuk. There are always travellers heading in every direction who've walked the road before you, so chances are you'll find your way.
Not having a plan on this journey has really opened up so much opportunity for me, and I've also witnessed many other plan-free backpackers, travelling through the continent, making friends, even changing their plans because they've made friends and joined them on whatever route they're taking. It's a limitless, restriction-less culture that gives us the freedom to do what we want, when we want. It’s time to embrace the no-plan and see where it can take you.