Lao Tzu defines a “good traveler” as one who “has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” If Lao Tzu were alive, he would surely condemn us as bad travelers because our meticulous round-the-world itinerary includes four continents and seventeen countries in a little over a year. We have already purchased our flight to and from Sydney, several internal flights in Australia, and booked a hotel in Sydney.
On the other hand, Jason at Two Backpackers, who is leaving in less than a month with his wife, Aracely, describes their lack of an itinerary: “Aracely and I did not purchase a round-the-world flight ticket, we do not have any reservations or tours booked, and we have not decided on the exact countries we plan to visit. This is how we choose to travel.” Daniel at Two Go RTW make a similar point in their post on Timing Your Itinerary: “Ultimately, I would caution against overplanning. Of course, it pays to do your research—have a number of cities chosen, keep in mind some seasons to avoid, but avoid the temptation of overplanning.”
Keeping all of this in mind, can a planner---some may even say an overplanner---still enjoy and succeed as a long-term traveler?
The Practical Reasons to Plan a Round-the-World Itinerary
Plan to save money: I can think of no better way to save money on an airplane ticket than to search for fares early. In CNN’s article on How to Get Lower Airfares, they point to three strategies that require advance planning: use fare-history charts, monitor fares, and run a flexible-date search. Similarly, to get great seats using frequent flier miles, purchase tickets six months (or more) in advance.
Plan to see once-in-a-lifetime attractions: If you want to see the passage tomb in Newgrange illuminated on the winter solstice, you must submit an application ahead of time and then trust your chances to a lottery; in 2008, only 50 out of 35,000 applicants were awarded the chance to participate. Similarly, for the Vatican Scavi tour in Rome, we sent an e-mail request months in advance and were thrilled to be two of the 120 people allowed each day under St. Peter’s Basilica to see the believed grave site of St. Peter. That experience changed many of my conceptions of Christianity (to be discussed in a later post) and was one of our favorite experiences in Rome.
Plan to avoid lines and annoyances: On the day after Christmas, we were appalled by the three-hour long line to get onto the ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. In Florence, the line to enter the Uffizi spread past three blocks. Both times, with just a little planning, we walked directly to the front of the line, feeling and perhaps looking a little smug because we had taken the time to reserve tickets.
See Yourself As Who You Are
The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and
instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are. - Samuel Johnson
|All these practical reasons veil the real reason we plan. We plan because we are planners.|
I cannot change who I am. We have tried traveling with the wind, without thought or idea as to where we would go, and I always, always get irritated and end up planning the rest of our stay anyway. I recently told a friend who has the enviable ability to decide to stay in town on a weekend and wind up in Las Vegas instead, that I wanted to learn how to be spontaneous on this trip. She laughed at me and told me that spontaneity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either.
At the same time, we have traveled enough to know about the ever-lurking unexpected. Sometimes, we find ourselves hating a place we thought we would love, falling ill, or loving a place we thought we would hate. To deal with these “dancing lessons from God,” I build flexibility into our itineraries by scheduling downtime when we can rest, meet new people, or find new places. On our round-the-world itinerary, for example, we are booking tickets for each country one segment at a time, booking internal tickets only if they are at a great price, booking hotels only in the busy cities like Sydney, and have added a large cushion of time to each area within a country so that we can meander about if we want or leave quickly if we need.
Jason explained that their reason for not building an itinerary is because, “The experience is more than just seeing new environments; it’s about meeting people from varying cultures and countries, it’s about full immersion, but most importantly, it’s about being free.” I respond that our method --- though different than theirs --- achieves the same purpose. We plan our trip because we know our own idiosyncracies and hope to be free while still staying sane.