Travel planning is a topic where people usually have strongly held opinions. Many people are either meticulous planners or completely free-spirited travelers that wing everything. The majority of people fall somewhere in the middle.
But irrespective of your own personal views about it, there are several pros and cons for careful trip planning. If you happen to be somewhere in the middle, these are important to take into consideration when deciding how carefully you should plan your trip.
Pro: Planning will save you time.
If you’re going to a popular tourist destination, you are one of thousands on any given day. Researching information about popular tourist attractions may save you time that you would otherwise spend in a line to get into a museum. When you’re on vacation, time is of the essence. Having a good idea of the best times of day to go somewhere or pre-buying tickets can save you hours of wasted time.
Con: Planning too much can restrict your ability to be spontaneous.
Planning your trip down to meal times can severely restrict your ability to do something interesting that may come along. For example, I went to Iceland mainly because I wanted to see the Northern Lights. I went at the perfect time of year, but that’s a phenomenon that is unpredictable. And on the night I had originally planned to take a light-hunting tour, the sky was too cloudy and I couldn’t see them. But because I left my evenings relatively open to activities, I was able to book not one, but two additional Northern Lights tours. And I didn’t get to see them until the third night. If I had come to Iceland with only one night allotted for that, I would have left disappointed. But I was able to adjust my trip to prioritize it while I was there.
Pro: Planning can help ensure that you’ll do exactly what you want.
That being said, sometimes planning is not only preferable, but essential, for certain activities. For instance, if you want to go to Machu Picchu, it’s impossible to do so without careful planning. That’s because only a couple of thousand people are allowed to visit the site per day, and tickets sell out far in advance. So if you go all the way to Peru without doing any research or planning, you would find yourself spending a lot of time in Cuzco and not getting anywhere near Machu Picchu.
So if something is really important to you, it’s crucial to look up some information on how to see it. That alone may dictate how carefully you should plan your trip.
Con: Planning may keep you from discovering the things that aren’t in a guide book.
It’s tempting to make a long list of must-do must-see places and create a schedule to make sure you don’t miss out on any of the most popular activities in a certain city. But most popular doesn’t always mean best. I’ve been to Paris twice, and the first time I went, I spent the entire time furiously going to every single museum and attraction in Frommer’s. And I hated it. When I went to Paris a second time without any itinerary, I spent half a day sitting in a beautiful park eating fresh cheese and fruit with a few bottles of French wine, enjoying the hell out of the real beauty of Paris.
There are many street festivals and events that may not be on your radar that may be much more worthwhile than whatever you had meticulously planned to do with your day. But if you don’t give yourself a little freedom, you would never find out.
Pro: Planning can be fun.
Planning a vacation can be almost as fun as going on a vacation. To be honest, my travel addiction is 60% love of actual travel and 40% a chase of that high I get when I book a flight somewhere. It’s like crack but more expensive. Sitting down with your travel companions and looking at all there is to do wherever you want to go, looking at pictures, and making your own list of essential activities is exhilarating.
Con: Planning can take the fun out of the trip.
You know how you can spend all day poring over a recipe and by the time you’re done, you don’t even want to eat it anymore? It’s a little like that. Sometimes planning feels like a chore, which takes the fun out of something that is supposed to be a break from responsibility and work. It can be time-consuming and daunting, and all the planning in the world can’t save you from delays and mishaps. And is there anything more frustrating than wasting time planning something only to have it totally destroyed by a late train? Sometimes the best way to avoid frustration on vacation is to relax with your planning and go with the flow. And if you’re starting to feel a little overwhelmed with the details, let it go. You’ll survive.
So the question remains: how carefully should you plan a vacation?
Well, after you’ve taken these pros and cons into consideration, that’s entirely up to you to decide.