I don’t like plans and reservations. They mean I am committed to an committed to being at a certain place at a certain time. My travel style is free flowing and a desire to follow the whim of the moment. Travelling without hostels and activities pre-arranged is scary and has some risk. I generally plan as I go. I will book hostels and tours the night before. It’s a good day when have stuff booked two days in advance. Sometimes places are full and things can go wrong but I have never been completely in over my head. I have never been left to sleep without a roof over my head. Here are my tips and tricks to prevent complete disaster while travelling with no plan.
Decided on your group size.
The smaller the group the better. It is much easier to find a bed in a hostel for one person than four. Sometimes you get a nice hostel owner who will let you crash in the common room when the hostel is full.
Choose your travel dates carefully
One of the keys of travelling without a plan is to travel during the off seasons / low season. The low season means less tourists. Less tourist means smaller crowds and the more room you have to work on housing options and activities.
Know the holidays
Check for local holidays. These can affect the availability of housing and activities. On my last trip to London, I hadn’t realized that it was a bank holiday and every hostel room in the city was book. I need a place to crash for the night and nowhere to stay. I put out a help message to all the people I knew in London seeing who was in town and had a couch I could crash on for the night.
Check for special events.
Goes back to holidays. Unless you are there for the special event, I would avoid visiting at that tie. During my trip to Colombia, I wasn’t aware of that it was I was visiting the Deserto Tataco during the annual desert marathon. The small desert which usually has a couple dozen visitors sees over 1000 people come for this event. This makes housing options very limited for the solo tourist who arrived expecting to be able to find a room for the night. Thankfully one of the hacienda owners had a hammock and let me rent it for the night.
Be prepared for weather
One should always do this, but it is more important during low seasons. Low season are low for a reason and it’s usually that the weather isn’t as good during that time. While visiting Iceland, the weather had a huge effect on my plans. It was February and the middle of winter. I was doing a road trip around the Ring Road. I would check the reports for storms and wind conditions. I would plan my trips accordingly.
Make an outline
Travelling without a plan doesn’t mean being a blind idiot with no idea what they want to do. I usually have a rough outline of the number of days I have and fill in what activities I want to do. It is a rough draft and helps give me a sense of timing to make sure I can do everything I want to do.
Know your options
Make sure you research before you arrive. Don’t just show up blind (it does sound like an interesting challenge). I generally have a list of hostels for each location I plan on visiting. I know that odds are one of these will have space for a single traveler.
Book your first night
It is stressful enough to arrive in a new location find a hostel or hotel when you arrive doesn’t help. No matter what, I have the first nights hostel before I arrived. It is nice to get off the plan and immediately know where you are going for a nap before you explore the city.
The more willing you are to work with someone the better odds you have of things working out. Being flexible allows you to change plans as you find things booked, gain new information or the weather changes. While in northern Iceland, I wanted to do a volcano flyover tour. Despite being winter it was fully booked for a couple of days. I had to rearrange my plan to fit the flight it. Too bad, the snow storm canceled the flight.
Above all else. Don’t panic. If you panic, it will get worse. Whatever has gone wrong isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is. Take a deep breath and relax a little. Find the root of the problem and work through it until you find a solution. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your contacts. You never know who is where or where they have contacts.