Backpacking: Plan it or Wing it?

The age-old question for travellers. Should I create an itinerary and know each step of the journey ahead? Or should I hop on a plane without booking a single hostel? Time for some honesty: I’ve never winged it. I often wish I could. Travelling with that much spontaneity and adventure means that there’s never a dull moment. But I have the type of brain that tends to jump to the absolute worst-case scenario. What if I arrive and can’t find a bed for the night? What if I lose all my luggage and I end up with no one to turn to and nowhere to go? Yes, the likelihood of this happening is slim (touch wood). But if it’s a possibility, my brain will still latch onto it and panic. That being said, there are a number of positive aspects to each approach. 

Planning It: You Can Save Money 

If there’s one thing that all backpackers can agree on, it’s the satisfaction of saving money. Whether it’s from haggling that little bit further for a souvenir, or managing to split the price of a taxi, we’re always trying to find ways to cut the cost of travelling. One of the ways you can do this is by booking things in advance. Pre-booking your accommodation will give you so many more options to choose from than waiting until you arrive. This is especially important if you’re travelling in peak season. Although cheap accommodation may still be available on the day you arrive, the quality of it will likely be questionable. And it’s not just accommodation that you can save money on. You can get a great deal when booking in advance for transport too. Trains and planes can be pretty pricey, and by booking ahead you can save up to 50%. This will give you more money to spend on the fun things, like souvenirs and activities, so it’s definitely not to be sniffed at. 

Planning It: You’ll Have More Time

Planning a trip takes serious time and dedication. You have to plan your route, figure out transport, and find accommodation that is cheap, in a good location and doesn’t make you want to disinfect your entire body after spending the night there. It’s hard enough to plan a trip in the comfort of your own home, where you can be fuelled by an endless supply of tea and biscuits. But planning it as you go along? It’s tough, and it can take up a good chunk of your time too. You want to spend your trip exploring, trying new foods, having the experience of a lifetime. You don’t want to spend it holed up in your hostel, trying to figure out the logistics of how to get to your next stop. By planning it in advance, you’ll get the most out of both your time away and the money you’ve spent to get there. 

Planning It: Your Journey Isn’t Set in Stone

When we talk about planning our trip in advance, it makes it seem so final. Having an itinerary to follow can make backpacking feel less spontaneous, and more like a regimented school trip. But it doesn’t have to be like this. You can still plan ahead and allow yourself room for flexibility. When booking accommodation in advance, you should always try to make sure that it’s refundable. That way if your plans change, the only thing that you’ve lost is the time you spent booking it in the first place. When it comes to transport and accommodation, it can be a bit trickier. Whilst some transport can be refundable or partly refundable, you may struggle to get any money back. If your chosen accommodation or transport is non-refundable and you still want to go ahead and book it in advance, don’t worry too much. I’ve done this a few times, and it’s always worked out for me. If you want to have a plan but you also want the flexibility, you can still make a note of the transport you’re planning to take and then just book it at a later date. This will make it easier and quicker to book if you decide to do so.  And although you might not get the same discount as you would booking in advance, you’ll still end up saving money if you change your plans. 

So far, planning your trip seems like the perfect way to go, right? Well even though it’s my chosen method of travelling, there are plenty of benefits to winging it too. 

Winging It: You Can Save Money 

Experiencing some déjà vu here? We already know that planning in advance makes us big savings. But you can still get a pretty good deal when booking last minute, if you go about it the right way. You may be able to find cheap accommodation on the day if a hostel has had a cancellation and they’re keen to fill the bed. You can look online, but offers will be snapped up quickly so don’t hesitate. If you’re able to, visit the accommodation in person. You can often get an even cheaper rate than booking with a third party. If the price still isn’t cheap enough for you, you can try haggling for a better price if you’re brave enough. You may also be able to bag yourself some cheap transport when booking last minute. Closer to the departure date, demand becomes lower, which means that prices often do too. But bear in mind that this is usually just for short haul trips. Make sure to book long-haul journeys well in advance to get the best price. 

Winging It: You Can Leave Whenever You Want   

No matter how much you’ve loved your trip, you’ll always look back and wish you spent a little less time in that one place. Maybe you loved it but you hung around just that little bit too long. Or maybe you just didn’t gel with the place – that’s fine, it happens to all of us. Whatever your reason for wanting to leave, it can be hard to do so when plans are already in place. If you decide to wing it, it’s far easier to move on and do some more exploring. When planning in advance, you’re likely to book multiple nights in one. So if you decide to leave early, you have to pay for the remainder. But by winging it and booking on a nightly basis instead, you get to stay as long as you want to. This goes for transport too. Maybe you’ve decided that you want to take a different route. If you’ve paid for your transport in advance, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to make the change. And if you do, that’s a big chunk of your travel budget gone in the blink of an eye. But when you wing it, you have the flexibility to go wherever you want. You can even travel halfway across the globe if you heart desires. The world is your oyster. 

Winging It: You Can Travel With Your New Friends

When travelling, a lot of your best experiences come from the friends you make. There’s something so life-affirming about being in a room full of people from different walks of life, who all share one true passion: travelling. And these aren’t slow-burning friendships that blossom over time. After hearing them snoring and letting them see your morning hair, you bond fast. It’s inevitable that you’ll have to part with your new bestie at some point. But to extend that holiday friendship a little while longer, why not travel with them for a while? Well if you decide to wing your trip, this is something you can do with ease. Now you’ll have someone to share your travel experiences with, as well as help you with the practical things like splitting taxi fares and watching your valuables when you can’t. And who knows, after travelling the world together you may have even made a friend for life

Which Approach Do You Prefer? 

There are clearly positives and negatives to each approach, so my only advice is for you to do what’s comfortable for you. When we’re able to travel safely again, I’d like to think that I’ll push myself out of my comfort zone and do a wing it trip. But the truth is, I’m always going to be a planner. And that’s fine with me.

Featured image: Photo by Vojta Kovařík from Pexels

Published by siobhank96

Hi! I'm Siobhan, thanks for stopping by! My blog, Live To Be Lost, is all about travel and exploration. I believe that you don't have to be on the other side of the world to have an adventure - there's an amazing world waiting for you at your own front door.

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