How to include spontaneity in vacation plans

You are planning a trip, but you also do not want to be tied down to certain plans or schedules; after all half of the fun is exploring the unknown. So how do you plan for spontaneity? I know it’s an oxymoron, but it can be done. There is a way to fly by the seat of your pants and have vacation plans.

Spontaneous vacation plans can be very rewarding.

Reasons to include spontaneity with vacation plans

First, vacation plans rarely go as … well, planned. Once you get to your destination, you always seem to find something you’d like to do that you did not see in your research, or something a local or a returning tourist told you that you just had to make room for.

Spontaneous vacation plans can be very rewarding.
Lagena and I hiking in Glacier National Park in the snow in July. Something we did not plan for, but loved.

Second, not having a strict schedule lets you spend more time at the places you fall in love with and less time at the places that don’t live up to your expectations.

Third, vacations are about relaxing and letting go. So let go of the constraints of a schedule and the “supposed to be” and just relax.

I guess I should tell you that I am a spontaneous person in general and do not easily work well the barriers of guidelines. My best friend, Crystal, who is a CPA, prefers the guidelines. When the two of us travel together, I work harder to make plans and she works harder to be more flexible.

Some of the best vacations are completely spontaneous, but having vacation plans is also beneficial. I once went on vacation with my then-boyfriend. Our only plan was to drive west. And although it was one of my favorite vacations, I had no idea what to pack. We could have been in the snow, hot desert, or rain, and a girl likes her clothing options. I brought three times more clothes than as I used.

So even though I say, chuck the guidelines, here are suggestions I give when making vacations plans and including spontaneity.

1. Flexibility is key

When you go places you have never gone before, it is hard to know exactly what it is going to be like. The weather can also cause you to change your plans last minute too. Lagena and I planned a trip to Glacier National Park in mid-July one year. Although we thought mid-July would be safe from snow, it was not. The backpacking trail we had picked out in our pre-trip research, was closed because it was snowed in, so we had to chose another trail. Most national parks recommend you pick two to three backcountry trips in the event a trail is closed or a backcountry site is full and you cannot obtain permits.

Spontaneous vacation plans can be very rewarding.
Hiking in the backcountry in Glacier National Park. The trail we had originally chosen, we could not hike, but if we had, we would have missed this awesome view.

However there are usually places that you want to see no matter what. Generally it’s the main reason you are traveling to that destination in the first place. When I traveled to Yellowstone National Park, the geysers was something we really wanted to see, which we did first and then went on to explore.

Make a list of sites that are a must see, and be flexible with the rest.

2. Promise yourself to not be disappointed

A perfect trip is one where you laugh about the pitfalls instead of letting them ruin a trip, because pitfalls are going to happen. On one trip, Crystal and I spent four hours, stopped on I-40 in Tennessee on our way to North Carolina. We never found out way, but we heard rumor of a wreck. We just took it in stride and of course took pictures.

Spontaneous vacation plans can be very rewarding.
Crystal and I stuck on the interstate in Tennessee on our way to North Carolina.

When researching our trip to Big Bend National Park, Crystal and I read that there was no legal border crossing between the United States and Mexico near the park. We did not bring passports, only to discover that there is an open border crossing inside the park. It would have been fun and interesting to tour a small Mexican town, but we couldn’t. However, Big Bend offered so much that we focused our energy on the things we could see and do.

During a trip to Olympic National Park in Washington State, Lagena and I spend two days, 35 miles, and 5,500 feet elevation gain backpacking to see a glacier. When we finally got to the top, we got a great view of fog! The mountain tops were so socked in with fog, we only got a faint view of the glacier as the fog moved in and out. But instead of letting this ruin our hike, we took in the beauty of the fog and mountain top, and the accomplishment of our epic hike.

3. Do research your trip

When vacation planing, I read as much as possible about the area I am traveling to. It’s mostly because I’m so excited about the upcoming trip.

Spontaneous vacation plans can be very rewarding.

I read travel guidebooks and mark the pages of sites I want to see. I peruse the Internet on my destination and read blogs (like this one!) from people who have been there. And although no two trips are alike, you can get an idea what to expect. I also talk to people I know who have been there and find out what they liked and did.

4. But be prepared to continue to research when you get there

Probably the best source in vacation planning is talking to the people who actually live at the destination where you are traveling. This is key when you are looking for the of-the-beaten-path places or smaller places that give you local flavor. Also most touristy places, like national park or state park visitor centers, have pamphlets and brochures from area attractions you might like.

When planning a backpacking trip on vacation, another way I research after I get to my destination is asking park rangers what trails they recommend. I like to do this because I can tell them my physical ability and what I’m hoping to see, and they use their expertise to help me pick a trail.

5. Don’t be afraid to throw out your research and do something else

On my trip to New Mexico with my former boyfriend, we had originally planned to hike in the Big Horn Mountains in northern Wyoming. The week we had available to go was lake October. When you’re vacation plans involve northern Wyoming, high mountains, and late October you can plan on snow. Which we did, but as we got closer to the time for the trip, we realized it might be more snow than we wanted. So we opted to hike and camp the lower latitudes, of northern New Mexico, Arizona or California. We left Arkansas with only plans to go west. We ended up in New Mexico, and I fell in love with the area.

We headed into the Carson National Forest and hiked and camped. From the top of a high mountain, Matt looked north and said there were bigger mountains that way, so we headed north.

Spontaneous vacation plans can be very rewarding.
Hiking in northern New Mexico, a trip I took with absolutely no vacation plans before hand.

The last two days of the trip we decided to drive into Colorado and ended up hiking in the snow, what we originally wanted to avoid. We loved every minute of the trip.

6. Go see what you want to see, not what people tell you to see

If you are like me, and talk and talk about where you are going and your vacation plans, you are going to have people tell you what you “must see.” It’s always good to listen to people’s advise, but keep in mind it might not be something that interest you as much as it does them. For example, if they are history buffs and tell you to go see a museum or historic site, you might not fall in love with it as much as they did.

Spend your time doing things you want to do. If you travel across the country and simply feel like sitting on the beach or in a cabin with a mountain view, there is nothing wrong with that, if it is what you wanted. Just remember it is your trip, so do what you want to do.

7. If you overestimated your energy level, don’t stress about the budget-busting hotel bill

This one falls in line with number two, promise yourself to not be disappointed. Sometimes vacations plans do not work out, and you have to make changes. I am not wealthy, and try to travel as cheep as possible. Last summer when Lagena and I traveled to Olympic National Park in Washington, I had plans to fly into Seattle, rent a car, and make a three-hour drive to the park to camp. A $20 camp fee is much better than a $150 hotel bill. However, after an extra hour on our plane, an extra hour finding our luggage, and no food all day, we were beyond exhausted. I told Lagena I did not care that we had reservations for our campsite, and wanted a hotel for the night.

Spontaneous vacation plans can be very rewarding
Lagena playing ping-pong on the Seattle waterfront while we explored the city.

On the same trip, we accidentally got the wrong days for our backcountry permits. Instead of changing the day, we decided to get a hotel in Seattle for two nights and explore the city. I absolutely loved exploring Seattle, but by the time the trip was over I had spent about $400 in hotel costs that I had not budgeted for. It was absolutely worth it, and I’m so happy we did it.

Being flexible with your budget as well as you vacation plans can be very rewarding.

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