How one Type-A traveler dialed her stress way back when she allowed fate to take charge
If someone were to have told me to “go with the flow” four years ago, I probably would have looked at them, red-eyed and frizzy-haired, and said something like, “But, but, but… We have reservations,” as though if we didn’t make it to this dinner on time, we would promptly be kicked out of the country and be told to try again next time. As you can imagine, though, there is much to be gained from learning to go with the flow as you travel. Check out all the ways you can ease your Type-A personality into putting down the planner and cranking up the spontaneity.
DO: Make a List of Your Must-Sees // DON’T: Plan Your Trip to a “T” With Your Must-Sees
I know, fellow Type-A folks, this one is the hardest and that’s why I’ve put it first. It’s the most important. Even though we have a strong urge to plan, plan, plan — I am telling you now before it’s too late: travel is so much better when you ease up on the agenda. To placate the planner in me, I simply write out a list of things that I absolutely want to see but, here’s the kicker, I don’t plan which days I’ll do what. Instead, I’ll usually take a walking tour of the city on the first day, get oriented, and let my trip flow from there. When I went to Sydney, I spent my whole first day walking the city from end to end, scouting out my must-sees and making mental notes of what I’d like to see more in depth over the course of my trip there. During my wanderings, I ran into a friendly Aussie who worked at a park I was traipsing through who gave me some local insight into the city’s coolest bars, sights, and beaches. I also don’t book anything until the night before to allow for spontaneity — there were so many times during my early travels when I’d book something months in advance, only to find once I’d arrived in the city and chatted with some locals, there were things I wanted to see more.
DO: Let Curiosity Be Your Guide // DON’T: Let Your Guidebook Overrule Your Instincts
As I said earlier, I like to take a free walking tour first thing when I get to a city so that I can get situated and start making mental notes about what I want to see, eat, and do during my stay.
Pro tip: Plan an overnight flight, arrive in the morning, and walk around the city all day to stave off jetlag + see the city!
DO: Ask the Locals for Recommendations // DON’T: Think the Internet Is the End-All Be-All
While I love the Internet and many of its ways of connecting continents and worlds and travelers (I mean, I’m writing this advice for you via the Internet, so), it can’t be denied that a random local probably knows more about a place than some plucky know-it-all travel writer (hi). Take the time to put down your fave app and ask your hotelier, barista, waiter, or even some random folks in the park about what their favorite thing to do in their own city is. Odds are, you’ll get some advice that you can’t find online. When I was in Dublin, I made friends with my guide through the Leprechaun Museum (I think it’s because I was the only one that got up and danced when she played her flute to awaken the faeries). She ended up telling me where to go to find the best pub in town and gave me her two cents on the sights I wanted to see. Her advice was loads better than anything I could find online — and all I had to do was dance like a fool. I know it’s tempting to want everything all planned out before you even board the plane, but I guess this is why they say patience is a virtue.
DO: Be Flexible With Plans // DON’T: Lock Yourself Into a Straitjacket of Plans
In the first (and most important) point, I mentioned not making plans until the last minute. I can hear you saying, “I’ve followed you this long, Mary, but this is too far. Too. Far.” Just hear me out. The first time I threw my plans to the grace of spontaneity and fate, I booked a flight to Bucharest, Romania a week before, my hostel the day before, and my plans were nowhere to be found. I just didn’t have the time to do much planning. Thank the gods I didn’t because when I got there, I discovered that the guy who ran the hostel I was staying at was a die-hard local. AKA, he gave me the best recommendations of places to see, eat, and read — places that I couldn’t find online when I looked.
DO: Allow Yourself Ample Time in Just One Place // DON’T: Country Hop Just to “See it All”
If you’re not sure that you’ll make it back to certain place, then I totally understand trying to pack it all into one go. You have my blessing to country hop. However, if you’re one of the lucky folks who has caught the travel bug and you’re sure you’ll make it back somehow, I strongly encourage you to resist the adrenaline-pumping urge to country hop and, instead, spend most of your time in one place. This also gives you some incentive to actually be spontaneous, as you won’t have FOMO if you can fit in all your “must-sees” as well as some fateful off-the-beaten-path finds. Plus, you’ll have some time to actually feel at home in a place, instead of flying from one country to the next and never getting a chance to unwind on your vacation. When I studied abroad in London, I took extra care to stay in the UK for the entire 5 months that I was there. I did this to rectify my earlier, country-hopping days of yore — where I spent a whole summer traveling and never staying in one city for longer than 4 days at a time. Not fun, folks. Not. Fun.
Are you a Type-A personality who has also learned the zen of spontaneous travel? Let me know how you find comfort in the uncomfortable in the comments below!