Travel doesn’t have to be as complicated as many people make it out to be. In particular, I get kind of annoyed when I hear people book prescriptive or inflexible tours just because they think organising something themselves is too complicated. That’s usually not going to help you enjoy your trip.
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I love to travel, I love to do it the way I want to do it, and I don’t want planning and traveling to be complicated. If you feel the same way but are not quite sure how to go about it, here are a few tips to help simplify your travel planning.
#1: Focus on Key Parts
When you’re planning your travels, keep the big picture in mind — in other words, the key, essential parts of your trip, which will mostly be things like arrival and departure dates and locations. There might be a few others — the date and location of a friend’s wedding, if that’s what prompted your trip, for example — but nearly everything in the middle of your trip can be flexible and may not need to be planned too much ahead of time.
#2: Make Reservations When You Absolutely Need To
A lot of travelers make accommodation and activity booking way too complicated by feeling like absolutely everything needs to be booked in advance. It doesn’t have to be! It is pretty rare that there’s “no room at the inn”, but do think through your plans and book accommodation when it’s necessary — for example, for late night arrivals, heavily booked festival times or school holiday peaks, and so on.
If you’re traveling to more than a couple destinations during your trip, booking all your accommodation ahead of time can make your trip inflexible or very complicated when you inevitably want to change things up.
#3: Don’t Plan Sightseeing
You do not need to fill up your trip with pre-booked tours or day trips. In fact, sightseeing ideas can wait until you get there. Nearly all destinations will have brochures galore at your arrival point and at your accommodation, so you can pick what’s interesting, as well as ask locals for their recommendations.
Also, bear in mind that “missing” a big sight is no tragedy. Some travelers need to get over their hangups about having to see every last famous sight just because they’re famous. If you don’t want to visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris (it’s really not that exciting) then you don’t have to!
#4: A Little Help From Your Friends
If you’re able to hang out with friends at your destination then they can make a lot of things easier for you. If you don’t know anyone, consider CouchSurfing or homestaying for your accommodation. Your hosts will likely be keen to help you see the best of their city and provide you with help and tips which will be far superior to any advance planning you could do on your own.
#5: Research What Interests You
Before your trip, read and research what interests you and what you have time for. In other words, explore the art gallery’s website if you’re an art lover, or find out what extreme sports you can try if you’re a daredevil. But just stick to what you enjoy, without making it complicated and essential. And if you don’t have time to do that, don’t worry about it.
#6: Simplify Your Packing
The first rule of packing — which everyone knows but almost nobody applies — is to not pack too much. Keep it simple and remember that in most destinations you can always buy something you haven’t included if the need arises.
Another important thing to remember is not to pack complicated equipment that you may not need. Photographers should especially take note here — how many times have you lugged multiple lenses around that you have never used? The same goes for all gadget lovers, and it’s getting harder as we become more reliant on smartphones and computers (and their chargers, cables, accessories and other extras).
#7: Ignore the Expectations of Others
This is one way I’ve seen people add unnecessary complications to their travel plans. Don’t do something on your travels just because someone else said you “should” or because “that’s what everybody does”. Do what you want! (This applies to life in general, not just traveling!)
Especially when you’re heading for a tourist hotspot like France or Italy, or for us Australians, an island like Bali, every man and his dog will be advise you about places that you “must” see. Take their suggestions graciously, then decide for yourself if it’s something you’re interested in. If they tell you later that you were crazy to miss some special place, just smile politely and think about all the time you spent on your trip doing and seeing exactly what you wanted.
#8: Don’t Let Complications Be Complicated
You can’t expect perfection on your trip — and this is true whether you start with complicated planning or just a simple up-and-go attitude — but you should expect the unexpected. Delays, getting lost, discovering a museum is closed on Mondays or a cathedral is being renovated and is closed to visitors, are all part of the excitement of traveling.
Don’t let the unexpected become a complicated drama. It is what it is. Be happy about what you do get to see and do — after all, it beats sitting at a computer in a cubical, right? — and philosophical about what you miss out on. Go with the flow and remember that even some of the worst situations often become funny stories once you return home again.