How to Travel Spontaneously

Traveling can be a pleasant, carefree experience, but the large amounts of planning and preparation which usually precede actually traveling can make the process seem like more trouble than it’s worth. If you’d like to travel without putting in so much work beforehand, try to travel more spontaneously. Making spontaneous travel plans can open doors to new experiences that you wouldn’t have taken part in otherwise. However, you’ll need to leave yourself open to occasional misadventures, getting lost or wandering, and relying on local advice and assistance.

Part1Arriving in Your Destination

1
Decide where you’d like to travel. While the idea of showing up at an airport and buying a ticket on the spot may sound fun, it’s unrealistic and likely quite expensive. Decide if you want to travel domestically or abroad, and then pick a city, series of cities, or region that you’d like to visit. At this point, you should also consider your financial situation: how long can you afford to travel for? International travel generally costs more than domestic, although frugal decisions while abroad can save substantial money.[1]
For example, if you’re interested in touring the American northwest, you could spend a full week in a large city like Seattle, or you could divide your time between several cities, like Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland.
If you’re traveling abroad, you may need to obtain a travel visa for the country you’re visiting. These can take some time to obtain. Contact the State Department of the country you’re planning to visit to find out if you need a travel visa and how to apply for this document.

2
Decide if you’re traveling alone or with others. Spontaneous travel can be successful and fun whether or not you’re part of a group (or a pair), but solo travelers typically need to be more mindful of their own safety. If you’re traveling alone, make sure to book a hotel with a 24-hour front desk so you can check in late, and stay in open, public places at night. It’s also smart to regularly keep in touch with a friend or family member at home, who knows your travel itinerary.[2]
Whether you’re traveling with a group or alone, avoid wearing flashy jewelry or clothing, and each member of your party should carry more than one form of official identification (e.g. a passport and a driver’s license).

3
Choose lodging in a central location. Staying in the middle of a city or region will give you access to plenty of cultural and local events and places like theaters, concert venues, restaurants and bars, museums, and other places to visit. Once you’ve unpacked your bags in a town, plan to stay a few days; you can leave your schedule open and spontaneously visit areas of interest. If you decide to move between several cities or regions on your trip, try to set yourself up in a central location in each successive destination.[3]
If you were to stay on the outskirts of a city, in a rural area, or in a small town, for example, it would be much harder to find locations to spontaneously travel to and visit.

4
Travel light. Nothing will slow down a spontaneous trip like copious amounts of luggage. Unless you have specific reasons for needing to bring many bags—for example, you’re traveling to a very cold climate or need to bring technological equipment with you—try to travel with only one bag. Make sure it’s a bag that fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane, so you don’t have to check bags for a spontaneous last-minute flight. Bring the essential clothing, footwear, and nothing extraneous.[4]
Having only a single bag will enable you to move quickly from one city or region to another, and you’ll be able to use any type of transportation that you please: plane, train, renting a car or Uber, hitchhiking, bicycle, or just walking.



Part2Limiting Planning on the Ground

1
Plan only one event per day. The idea of being in an unfamiliar location and planning nothing may be daunting, so approach your spontaneous trip by planning one daily excursion ahead of time, and then making two more, unplanned things. This will allow you to structure the days of your trip without making your schedule feel over-planned.[5]
For example, plan on one significant cultural experience per day: if you’re in Rome, you may wish to visit the Colosseum; if you’re in Paris, plan a trip to the Louvre.
After that, do something spontaneous that appeals to you: sit in a café and watch people passing by, visit a local market, wander into a nearby museum, or take a hike or rafting trip through nature.

2
Ask a local for their advice. If you’re having trouble finding an activity in a certain city or region, or are simply looking for a travel experience that you wouldn’t come by in your native city, ask a local for a recommendation. Locals can let you in on which neighborhoods are worth visiting, if a city or region has any hidden gems that won’t be known to foreigners, or if any popular tourist destinations are not worth the hype.[6] For example, ask something like,
“I’m spending a few days here without a travel itinerary. What are some places you’d recommend I visit, other than big tourist attractions?”
If you’re open to any type of spontaneous experience in the region you’re traveling, ask locals about their favorite outdoors activity (weather permitting): you’ll likely receive recommendations for hiking location, but perhaps also fishing, swimming, bird-watching, or mountain biking.

3
Avoid relying on review sites. Sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp can be useful, but when you’re traveling spontaneously, it’s best to go without consulting review sites. Over-reliance on these sites will make your trip feel planned and bland, and you’ll likely find yourself in touristy locations that do not offer much local interest or color.[7]
Avoiding review sites will leave you open to enjoyable surprises as you use your own intuition and the advice of locals to find interesting travel destinations.
Sometimes tourist destinations plant reviews in order to drum up business. A high rating may not be entirely legitimate.
Go to touristy sites to scout out more hidden local treasures. One benefit of going to a "tourist trap" is that locals (bartenders, tour guides, waiters, hotel staff, shopkeepers, cab drivers etc.) expect outsiders--and these people are often are great informers to local favorite places.

4
Look for last-minute deals. Another benefit of spontaneous travel is that your plans can be revised with relatively little notice to accommodate good deals or cheap attractions. Once or twice a day, provided that you have an internet connection, you can check websites like Groupon or TravelZoo to see if there are any attractions in your area. This approach can save you money and also present opportunities to attend events you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
You can also look for last-minute bookings at hotels and through travel apps like Priceline, HotelTonight, Blink (for travel in Europe), and Booking Now.[8]





Part3Making Spontaneous Travel Decisions

1
Be open to the unexpected and to changing plans. When traveling spontaneously, a few minor mishaps are bound to happen: you won’t find lodging until late at night, a restaurant praised by a local will end up being disappointing, or a trail you’ve decided to hike may be closed seasonally. View these frustrating situations as opportunities rather than disappointments.[9]
For example, if a restaurant isn’t enjoyable, leave and wander through a food-heavy district of town until you find a better place to dine. If you can’t spend the day hiking, rent a car and drive through the countryside instead.
One of the major benefits of spontaneous traveling is that unexpected changes of plans become part of the norm. Leave yourself open to this, and enjoy where the trip takes you.
Being open and flexible also allows for optimizing vacation time. A rigid schedule may not allow for spending less time at places that are not of high interest, and more time at another.

2
Enjoy wandering or getting lost. Plan to spend some of your travel time simply wandering through new regions of a city or rural district. This will lead you to interesting local markets, shops, restaurants, and scenic vistas that you likely would not have found if you hadn’t wandered spontaneously. Opening your travel plans to the unexpected will yield unanticipated discoveries and bring a sense of independence.[10]
If you do end up seriously lost, don’t panic. Avoid areas that seem unsafe or feel uncomfortable, and use your phone or map to find your way back to your hotel or hostel. If you’re lost in a town or city, you can call a cab (or find someone to call a cab for you), or book an Uber on your phone.
It’s important to consider safety issues when wandering through a foreign city or region. If a part of a city makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your instinct and leave. Always have an idea of how far from your hotel or hostel you are by car, and avoid getting lost in areas without a phone or internet signal.

3
Take advantage of local events and festivals. You can find out about many of these in local “weeklies” or weekly newspapers, which will contain listings for upcoming concerts, shows, film screenings or theater performances, and other types of local entertainment that you wouldn’t find out about otherwise. These events will be largely devoid of tourists, and so will give your spontaneous travel a more authentic, local feel.[11]
These local events could include large concerts or musical festivals, cultural holidays (e.g. Day of the Dead), religious holidays, food festivals, sporting events, or any other number of local events.
On the other hand, large holidays, festivals, or holiday weekends may increase your travel costs or increase congestion on highways. An increase in a city’s population—say, due to a large ongoing music festival—will also make hotel and hostel rooms both more scarce and more expensive.[12]

4
Ask about group travel deals. If you’re traveling with a group, many places, including hotels, theaters, sports stadiums, day-tours, and concert venues, may be inclined to offer you a discounted rate, since you’ll be bringing several paying customers. Once you’re on the ground in a city or region, ask around (or check the weekly newspaper) to see if you can negotiate a group rate for an activity.
If you plan ahead before you travel, you can take advantage of a group hotel discount through a site like HotelPlanner or even directly through a hotel website itself.

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