Planning a backpacking trip, whether solo or with others, is an excellent experience. The trouble most people have is when they first realize that the shackles from their regimented life are removed. Backpacking is a very liberating experience. While everyone has a different definition of “backpacking”, you can learned about my definition here (link).
Everyone has a different method for planning a trip and that’s also the case for backpacking. However, if your goal is flexibility during your travels, you have come to the right place. I love traveling, love having a lot planned but I also love maintaining a maximum sense of freedom in the event that I want to change routes or travel with a friend that I met during my travels.
#1. Book Hostel/Hotel Reservations As Little As Possible.
When I book hostels, I only book them for my initial arrival city. For example, if I’m flying into Panama, I’ll book 2 nights in Panama City. That way I have enough time to learn the area, meet other travelers and decide what my next move is. If I like it, maybe I’ll stay at the hostel for a couple more nights. If not, maybe I’ll go to another hostel. Or, if I make cool friends, I’ll travel to the next town or city with them.
#2. Get acquainted with the area before you get there.
Having an idea of what to expect before you visit a country is priceless. But that’s the easy part, right? Yes and no. Because if you’re backpacking like I do, you won’t know how long to stay in a particular area. However, if you know you are into partying and there are only 2 bars in town, you can bet that you’ll probably want to move on. Knowing these little details will help you plan and make better decisions while being spontaneous.
#3. Be spontaneous.
People love the idea of being spontaneous. However, rarely are people truly spontaneous. That’s because of fear of the unknown. People plan their lives carefully because the “what if” factor causes them to wake up in a light sweat in the middle of the night.
Being spontaneous isn’t about making bad decisions. It isn’t about choosing randomly. And it certainly isn’t about danger. It’s about impulse. It’s about situating yourself so that you can quickly choose to do something if a good opportunity presents itself. When I was traveling through Panama, I met a friend that changed my life. Within 48 hours of meeting her, I was in a rental car with her driving across Panama for 12 hours to Bocas Del Toro. I had the time of my life because I situated myself so that I could be spontaneous. I met a great person and got to know her so I could trust her, I had my money budgeted carefully so I knew what I could spend and I had researched potential places to travel. It was organized chaos.
#4. Don’t be afraid to keep your plans open.
Keeping your schedule open is scary. “What if I miss some fun?” …well, then you’re doing it wrong. Not having a schedule is not the same to having a Saturday afternoon at home where you just watch Netflix. For me, boredom is the enemy. If I have nothing planned, it’s because 1. I wanted to keep my options open, and 2. I knew there was cool stuff around the area to do if nothing great came up.
Having backup plans to an open schedule is key. If you’re in a boring area…then relocate your adventure to a better place! Once you’ve relocated…that is when you can keep your schedule open because people will be doing fun stuff and want to invite you out.
#5. Meet other travelers that know what’s worthwhile.
Some people are social and some people are not. However, even if you’re not social, it’s beneficial to communicate with other travelers to learn about the area. Talking, socializing and having beers with other travelers is one of my favorite things to do. I stay in hostels largely for this reason. I love socializing, meeting interesting people and having fun with them. Every time I’ve met other travelers, I make it a point to contribute back to the conversation, take from the conversation, be positive and crack some jokes along the way.
Don’t be afraid to keep your travels flexible by not planning something every step of the way. It can feel uncomfortable, but once you realize the freedom of having no plans, no obligations and no responsibilities for a brief time, you’ll realize that life can be different than previously though.