Updated: Dec 16, 2019
November 2011, Hoi An Ancient Town, Vietnam. It was supposed to be a free & easy trip for 4 days. But it rained heavily on my first day in Hoi An Town and continues through the night. Next day, half the town was submerged in muddy water as high as 2 metres. The water took 3 days to subside completely but I was already on the way to the airport.
Before embarking on any journeys, most travellers will usually do some planning or at least read up materials about the destinations. The only exception — to skip planning prior to trip commencement — is when they do not have a travel timeline, no reservations, no return flight and expecting to spend more money when needed. And most possibly, they are not in paid employments.
While on the road, unplanned travellers will need good interpersonal skills (especially when there are language barriers), great patience, adaptability to different living environment, and flexibility in handling situations that may crop up, to ensure a smooth and adventurous journey.
I did my longest unplanned trip 4 years ago — flew to Hainan Island, China, with a one-way ticket. Technically, the trip was not planned prior to its commencement except for one goal — to reach Shangri-la. So, it was just go and dealt with things along the way. Short-term plans for few days were worked out at each stop by interacting with locals, accommodation staff and fellow travellers. The same process was then repeated at the next stop several days later. Yes, planning was actually done on the trip, which added extra rest days to the journey. Most of the unplanned travellers I met were in the same shoes as me — quit their jobs and see the world. The others? They came to see what they planned to see and went back before their annual leaves ended.
In short, plan your trip if you have limited time and not to miss a return flight home. Even if you are going for a free-&-easy getaway in a place that you had been to several times, you will still need to find out when is the best time to go and whether there are any new developments that may interest you on the next visit.
Planning for a trip usually involves finding information on
where to go,
when to go,
what to see there,
how to get around,
when to come back,
how much will the budget be, etc.
If you are travelling with some partners, the planning process gets complicated when each partner throws in their travelling preferences. A travel plan can never satisfy people with diverse travel styles. If you happen to be in such a group, appoint someone to be the master planner (preferably you, since you are reading this post), work out a plan that the majority of the group can agree on. Those who do not agree with the master plan or cannot really fit in, leave them out of the trip if compromise cannot be achieved. This will reduce most, if not all, disagreements on the trip and spoil the fun. This is a major plus point for planning, you know each person's travel style during the planning stage instead of on the trip. So, choose your travel companions wisely.
Most planners tend not to go more in-depth for information that may affect the trip negatively. For example:
Is it during a festive or peak season where it gets overcrowded everywhere?
Is it during an off-peak season when things are cheap yet it rains all day or during a typhoon season?
Have travel alerts been issued for the destination? etc.
Keeping fingers crossed is often the go-lucky attitude — i.e. planners often assume nothing bad can happen on a joyous trip to a decided destination. Few planners make contingency plans in case of undesirable circumstances. And travel disappointments are usually due to inadequate planning, aside from unforeseeable circumstances and natural disasters.