3 Travel Tips And Tools For Non-Planners

Despite her spontaneous nature, Associate Editor Leah Pellegrini has had no choice but to learn to love logistics (or, at least, to bear them) while spending several months traveling around the United States. Below, she shares a few tips for fellow globetrotters who are wary of schedules and plans.
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Image Credit: Stella Blackmon

Image Credit: Stella Blackmon

My catch-all motto is a simple four-word phrase: "I'll figure it out." I'm a choose-as-you-go sort of person — not one for planning so much as fine-tuning in the middle of any process, steering and shaping my days depending how I feel at a given time. The "I'll figure it out" philosophy affords both a lighthearted looseness and a sense of personal agency — whatever "it" is, whatever happens or doesn't happen, I'll assess, adjust accordingly and carry on my way. 

In most cases, this flexibility serves as an advantage. It means I tend to make the most of uncontrollable conditions, without losing energy to crushed expectations or careful schemes gone awry. Without a strict blueprint, I'm able to adapt as needed to serve myself best. But there's a particular sort of scenario that's not so well-suited to the plan-averse: travel. Though it certainly helps to go with the flow once any major trip begins, the trip never happens in the first place without the willingness to buckle down on mapping, scheduling and coordinating a good bit before ultimately buckling up to hit the road.

Since I'm spending this year as a nomad, visiting parts of the United States that I know little to nothing about, I've had to learn the hard way that reasonably pre-laid logistics are nettlesome, but necessary. Plane tickets must be purchased; accommodations must be booked; and, yes, I must decide now if I'm going to hit Death Valley in February or March, despite the fact that it's too soon to know for sure when the wildflowers will bloom at their brightest. That doesn't mean I won’t be able to follow my whims and embrace the unexpected once I actually arrive — in fact, I'm learning that there's often more space and time for surprising conversations with strangers, impulsive backroad wanderings and sweetly spontaneous snacks when the basic groundwork is already laid, providing a secure structure within which all the whimsy unfolds. Hours ought to be left to the capricious imagination, but the outline warrants a prudent sketch in advance. 

After hours spent scouring online discussion boards, agonizing over flight options and rejiggering my calendar to try to wrangle my more impulsive streak into submission, I've discovered at least a few smart tools and strategies to help me decide on the crucial outlines for my consecutive trips. Here are just a few tips that fellow commitment-phobes might want to keep in mind.  

1. Consider all of your options from a practical perspective, then commit. 

Once you plug in your starting point and your final destination, rome2rio aggregates all possible methods of transportation to get there — flights, taxis, trains, ferries and more, including multi-modal routes you probably wouldn't come up with on your own. Each one includes a price and time estimate. Seeing plausible pathways side by side makes it easier to hit "purchase" on that plane fare, feeling more confident that it's the best bet. It also satisfies the otherwise procrastination-inducing urge to investigate a broad realm of possibilities. Instead, look at your options logically, and set a short deadline (say, 24 hours) to commit to the one that makes the most sense. 

2. Build your own modifiable route, step by step.

A car is the ultimate vehicle for the plan-wary traveller who prefers to shift directions at every turn (assuming you're not crossing continents). The Roadtrippers site and app allows you to create interactive maps from Place A to B, pinpointing hotels and cultural hotspots along the way. You can even search for restaurants for en-route pitstops, browsing with particular price points in mind. Be as dreamy and indecisive as you want — you can save your potential trip for future editing and even share it with your travel buddies before you go.   

3. Choose "just one thing" to choose now. 

Wherever you're headed, pick your ultimate "must-see" in advance, be it the local cult-favorite donut shop or the particular hiking trail. Once you've set your top priority (or perhaps two or three), your hazy plans will have a bit of grounding, and the rest of the details will be easier to grasp. When in doubt, ask for advice via email to a friend or even a public Facebook post: "If you had one day in so-and-so city, what would you do?" You might be surprised by how far someone else's passionate suggestion might take you, perhaps guiding you somewhere you couldn't have "figured out" without a special recommendation. 

p.s. Have you ever tried globetrotting solo