Planning vs Preparing

I used to be a planning-freak, I had to prepare all the details, plan A, B and even a “When everything fails” plan. A friend of mine changed my mind when I did my inter-rail (PT), and almost everything failed! After that I became the opposite, the guy that never prepares nor plans anything! Like everything in life, extremes are not way to go… So I have to readjust (yes, I am using the present tense here).

Planning a trip

One thing you should know about plans, they often fail!

Nothing happens like planned, there are always details that we forget to think about, there are always new things we discover on the way that we want to try that will bend our plans. So, from my perspective, planning is a bit pointless and it spoils a lot the adventure that it is traveling.

Planning a trip also can lead to frustration, mostly if you are traveling with more people. You want your plans to be as perfect as possible, but it is quite hard to handle with different opinions and different moods. Even if you plan your trip together with your friends, there is always that person that wants to try something out of the blue, or that person that wakes up late, or that forgets something important. And these small details, that could make an adventure, often result in unnecessary argues and even more time wasted with pointless stresses.

Planning can also mean tight schedules, and again, hard to bend if we are relaxing at some place but we have to take that bus to point B. One thing I learned with my trips, is that it is impossible to see all I want to see, so it’s better to enjoy the moment and keep the memories of good moments than returning totally exhausted with the feeling that it was just a dream.

Milan Train Station
Milan Train Station

Preparing a trip

Preparing however, it is almost crucial for me. I don’t mean to be a freak, and read all the guide books and blogs, and spend hours researching, but you should have an idea of what it is around where you want to go.

My last trip, to Japan, I missed a place that I really would love to see and I just didn’t because I didn’t prepare my trip. When I came back to Ireland and I saw that that place was so close to where I was, I kind of felt sad, but then I also had a lot of fun.

It is important to know what you can see, not in an obsessive way that might even spoil the surprise element, but due several factors you might want to know about those other places.

So, these are my tips to prepare a trip:

  • In my opinion it is important to get at least two guide books, and read through them. Using these guides you can get an idea of where you wanna go, which part of the country you want to explore and what you can see there;
  • Having that as a starting point, it is important to know what’s around those places, some times you get to know about less touristic things that you would totally do, like some hiking trail, or night-photo walks, etc;
  • Some safety tips are always welcome. You should research a bit about that, some countries are less safe than others, and there are some small details that can make a huge difference;
  • Health precautions and vaccination. Some countries require some vaccination prior the arrival, contact your doctor or look for a tropical medical bureau, they’ll know how to advise you;
  • Visa requirements, this might seem obvious, but a lot of people assume that for tourism they don’t need a visa. That depends on your nationality and the country you want to visit;
  • Just in case, get some money of the local currency. It happened to me in Peru that all the ATM at the airport were out of money, and sometimes that might not be the ideal. Usually taxi drivers are quite ok with that and they drop you next to an ATM, but if you can avoid that, even better;

Trying to summarize a bit, almost all what I’ve written is common sense, but for me what can improve the experience by knowing what’s around to visit. In Japan even with almost nonexistent plans, I had to change them anyway because of the weather, I still had a lot of fun, but instead of trying to figure out what to do, the decision to go to place X would be easier.

Also, talk with locals! Touristic guides usually are really helpful, but they are for tourists. If you want to experience the culture, no one’s better than the locals to give you tips. Interact with them, ask them what can you do for the day, tell them who you are and they’ll tell you what you can do.

And as a conclusion, my last tip is to be spontaneous! Do things out of the blue, and be open for surprises 🙂

A trip without surprises is worthless to share.

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Planning vs Preparing

Gil Sousa

Portuguese expat in Cork, traveler and food enthusiastic.

3 thoughts on “Planning vs Preparing

  • January 13, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Very useful article. It’s true, it’s a big dilemma of where to sit between a perfectly plan vacation and an adventure guided by chance. We need to be well balanced and that depends also on the place we’re about to visit. One thing I would add to your list is also to make sure about the connections between places you want to visits, sometimes you have a choice of few buses/trains/boats a day, if not even a week 🙂

  • January 14, 2014 at 2:32 am

    Great post. And great miss: arashyama is really worth it.
    I think guide books are great specially for out of europe… dont know why.
    I think while planning you should mostly get information about history and culture, check some must do and let yourself be ssurprised.transportation planning just for the last days to that flight that you don’t want to miss.(or…)

  • January 8, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    Totally agree with having the right kind of cash. We’ve been caught off guard just enough times to have learned this the hard way.

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