Traveling with no pre-planned travel arrangements, other than an airline ticket to a country you have not traversed, is one of the great adventures and fascinating ways to explore the world. Many people ask me “How do you do that? I don’t know if I would be so brave.”
It’s quite easy. Choose a country, do your research (types of transportation, language, money, safety, types of places to stay, vaccinations, specific precautions, weather, recommendations regarding cities or towns to visit or stay) and purchase an airline ticket (this confirms your departure date). No turning back now.
My fundamental advice is to use common sense and don’t do anything stupid during your journey. Safety is important. However, I have found that in most countries, especially Central and South America and all of Europe, the American warnings regarding crime are overrated.
OK, I admit I do reserve a room the first night I fly in if I am getting in late afternoon or at night, which does not leave you much time to find accommodations in daylight. My flight into Guayaquil, Ecuador, a city of three million, arrived at 11:54pm. It would have been stupid and unsafe for a single woman to go bumbling around at that time of night looking for a place to stay. Rather I reserved a room in a small hostel I found on airbnb that arranged for a pick up from the airport to the hostel for $10. Read the reviews of the potential accommodation and communicate with the host before making a reservation.
I have three steps to adventure with a one-way-plane ticket – Get rid of the baggage, do what you want and don’t look back (thanks Neil for your insight on these).
Get rid of the baggage
First, pack light, one carry on roller bag and a day backpack. You will still find that you brought too much. I have sometimes sent a box home with items I really did not need. Anything you urgently require can be purchased locally and it’s fun to shop and explore the small vendors in a new country.
Second, leave the emotional stuff at home – worries about family, work, house chores, obligations, and the dog – all the baggage that you constantly engage with and that creates mind chatter throughout the day. Release your mind space and sensations to capture all that resides in your new adventure. Be open to whatever presents.
Do what you want
This is exactly why there is no advance planning in terms of knowing each day what city you will be in, where your accommodations will be, what tours you will be taking, the time of breakfast, etc., etc.
What if you decide you want to stay in the city you are in for a few more days or a month? Or if you get a recommendation for a place that you must see and it’s not on your itinerary? Or if you want to skip a city that is on your itinerary? Or if you want to stay in bed, skip the designated breakfast and have a leisure morning?
Once you arrive and have accommodations for the first night request a map from your host and create your plans for the following days to do exactly what you want to do and experience your new location in the way that best suits you. You can wander and explore, take a guided bus or walking tour, hire a private guide, or ask for recommendations from your host, other guests or the local tourist information office.
Have fun and enjoy the pleasure of your new–found liberation.
Don’t look back
Once you get in the flow of not making advance reservations and locking yourself into a tight, non-flexible schedule you will find it difficult to commit to the confines of pre-planned, dictated travel itineraries. Many of the accommodations, routes taken, private guides or tutors, restaurants, markets, hikes, bike routes or swimming holes I have found through word of mouth or local investigation and inquiry. Exploring the world in this manner opens the opportunity to experience places, people, activities, sensations, conversations and experience that you may otherwise overlook. So, get moving and don’t look back.
Cuenca Ecuador, Hostel Colonial balcon