Thursday, July 15, 2010

The No Plan Travel Plan

For me, the best parts of traveling are the serendipitous surprises that happen along the way. I’ve found the best way to ensure you find these travel treasures is to have a solid non-plan in place. Don’t have every minute of the day planned and scheduled. I generally don’t plan my trips too rigidly and never take the pre-packaged guided trip, though I do scout out the places I want to go and things I want to do ahead of time. I rarely make advance plans in case I change my mind. In the early years, before kids, my husband and I would pick a destination, pack and go. Upon arrival we would figure out where to overnight and in which direction to head first.

Our honeymoon was no different, we chose Guadeloupe in the French West Indies mostly because few Americans go there. We arrived in Pointe-A-Pitre in the early evening with nowhere to stay. The car rental places were closed for the day and my luggage had been lost – on my honeymoon no less. It could have been a nightmarish situation. But an inquiry to a fellow passenger who happened to be a local yielded not only a room, but a ride to the hotel. The next morning we rented a car, still no luck with my luggage though. I bought a swimsuit (turns out I only needed the bottom half) and a pareo and we set off to explore the islands: Grand Terre and Bas Terre. We found an elegantly dilapidated little place with ocean views and hammocks that shared the same coastal space as a famous resort where we got to use the sea kayaks and windsurfers for next to nothing. A travel agent would never have had this place on a roster of accommodations. After two weeks, my luggage finally showed up for the final days of our honeymoon. It had gone all the way to France before returning to me!

Now with kids, when we travel we make a few more plans – we like to arrange a place to stay the night of our arrival and departure, and have a rental car ready to be picked up at the airport – but everything in between is by the seat of our pants. And while twice we haven’t found a place to stay (both in Germany) for a reasonable rate, in general we’ve scored stays in memorable apartments, pensions, gasthauses and even in the spare room of an older couple’s house along the river in Cesky Krumlov!

Travelling this way for me is a great way to be really present in the moment, relax and enjoy life unfolding, and it forces me to interact with the locals. Almost all of my experiences have been positive. I know this is a quirky way to travel. Does anyone else have any odd travel habits or tips?

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