Vacations: To Plan or Not to Plan, That is the Question
Do you love planning your trips almost as much as taking them?
Have you ever been teased for your obsessive vacation planning?
We were watching YouTube travel vlogs one night, and it occurred to me that first, it’s ridiculous to be arrogant about travel style.
And second, planning IS better.
One vlogging couple typifies what I mean – they are walking travel disasters.
Their videos consist of watching them run around the city getting lost, missing tours, and showing up at closing time.
They claim that if you plan your trips, you will not have an “authentic” experience.
Generally, their travel experience is chasing lost opportunities.
Watching them, planning not to plan, seemed to result in no experience at all.
At Jaunty we love planning.
Researching, reading guidebooks, and travel blogs is half the fun.
We Google every detail.
We make elaborate maps of everything we want to see.
We even make spreadsheets of our itinerary.
Is planning better?
Maybe, maybe not.
It’s a free country; you get to take any type of vacation you want.
But, if you keep your meticulous travel planning habits a secret – fearing you are a travel fake – fear no more.
Embrace your inner control freak.
Why travel planning matters
Planners enjoy it twice.
Psychologists theorize that anticipation is a key component to a happy life.
Reading about travel, laying out a plan, and researching all the details can be a hobby in itself.
That’s why they call it armchair travel. It’s a thing.
Watch videos, documentaries, and travel shows.
Find travel YouTubers you relate to, bloggers you love, and social media accounts that share cool places to go.
Check out guidebooks, histories, and novels about your target location.
Embrace all the excitement and joy in the planning process.
You win before you even leave the house.
One study found* that travelers experience a very short after-glow from a vacation experience. In other words, a day or two after we reenter “real life” all the happiness benefits of vacation start to dwindle.
But, there’s an upside in the research – it turns out planning, researching, thinking about, and anticipating a trip boosts overall happiness. This mood-boosting benefit can be tapped into weeks, even months ahead of your travel date.
The disconnect between planners and non-planners often stems from a lifestyle difference.
Many travel bloggers/vloggers are full-time nomads.
Somehow, someway they managed to leave a “normal” life and travel around the world every day of the year.
There is a big – no HUGE – difference between living in Chang Mai for three months and spending your precious two-week vacation.
With a limited window, it doesn’t make sense to spend your time on the ground reading brochures and figuring out what there is to do.
Consider how much a typical vacation costs.
Are you getting good value from those dollars sitting in a nondescript internet cafe trying to find information that was easily accessible at home?
One thing I notice about our non-planning vlogger friends is that they spend a lot of time running around – literally.
I avoid this like the plague because it’s tiring.
On our PNW road trip, I remembered why I don’t enjoy chasing down my poor management.
We wanted to take the Shakespeare Festival Backstage Tour, but I failed to order tickets ahead of time.
The box office told us to arrive at 10 a.m. before the tour started and we might be able to score tickets.
We spent an hour waiting in front of the theater, holding a sign, waiting for (legal) ticket scalpers.
This wild goose chase wasted most of the morning.
Good management starts at home – nailing down passports, tickets, gear, clothing, and vaccinations take pre-planning.
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Crankiness sets in
There is a fine line between a walking tour and a slog around town.
Do you want to see two people start bickering?
Have them weave their way through a crowded city at lunchtime, only to find their target restaurant is out-of-business.
Friends tell us picking restaurants on the fly is one of the most stressful parts of travel.
You are already dealing with fatigue, culture shock and being out of routine.
Having to make a decision after decision results in travelers’ rebellion.
Traveler rebellion is you, wanting to sit in your hotel room watching Netflix because you are Just Done.
Planning a loose itinerary will combat this problem.
We deal with restaurant choice by vetting a handful of places ahead of time.
We plot these on our map so wherever we end up at mealtime, a few options are ready to go.
Yes, if we discover a better choice, like a recommendation from a local, we jump on it.
Need restaurant inspiration – see our restaurant profiles here.
Another thing I noticed watching our non-planning vloggers, is that they had no clue what they were looking at – zero background knowledge of the history or culture of the country.
Not only is this a shame, missing out on enriching experiences, but dare I say, it’s irresponsible.
Ignorance is why travelers get a bad reputation.
You don’t need to get a graduate-level education on the country before you go, but knowing a little about the high points will allow you to experience things at a deeper level.
It can also prevent you from making embarrassing and insulting guffaws.
Pointing to a statue of Vasco de Gama in a Portuguese square and saying, “What did this dude do?” is not OK.
Do you want to have a rewarding vacation? Learn about the art, architecture, history, food, and customs.
Planning saves time and money.
You will see more, and do more, for less.
There are ways to avoid lines, get off the beaten path, and skirt tourist traps; it takes some curiosity to find out how.
If time is money, your travel time is worth gold, and it’s worth strategizing to get the most from it.
World class experiences
Do you enjoy watching from the sidelines?
That’s what happens when you just show up.
Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico is out of the way. It will be a long time before we get back there.
Which is why I’m doubling bummed that we missed the tour.
And who knew the Monet exhibit in St. Louis would sell out? The only way to ensure entry was to buy online tickets.
I may have cried real tears over that one.
Planning gets you into these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Save serendipity for sunsets.
If you love to land and figure things out, great.
If you know you want to sit on the beach outside your resort, it’s your trip.
But, if that’s you, I doubt you read our website in the first place!
For the rest of us, plan to your heart’s content.
Enjoy every step of the process.
Take the trip twice, once in your mind and once in real-life.
You will know how “authentic” your experience is.
Why do you plan, or not plan, your vacations?
*Nawijn J, Marchand MA, Veenhoven R, Vingerhoets AJ. Vacationers Happier, but Most not Happier After a Holiday. Appl Res Qual Life. 2010;5(1):35-47. doi:10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9