Call it lazy, call it adventurous, but I stopped doing extensive travel research ever since I started my world trip and journey of becoming a travel blogger nearly three years ago. At first, it was an experiment. I used to be the obsessive type A kinda traveller, starting my research of ALL the possible sights months in advance, mapping out routes that maximised the sightseeing potential and timed every hour of my trip accordingly.
Why do we stress over travel research
It was exhausting. I sure saw a lot, but it wasn’t fulfilling. After all, travel is not a competition (even though it sometimes feels like that on social media). Nor does ticking off bucketlists from the internet mean that you rock at life and will find eternal happiness (or at least social validation). And so I came back from my “holiday” more drained than before and totally overstimulated. Also, my friends hated me for a while whenever they came along.
So why did I cause myself all this stress and anxiety over travel planning? For one, I thought I had to make the most of the limited time I had available. When I was in school, I never really got to travel except with family. And then, when I was at university, I never had the time. Even during semester break, I was swamped with course work and exams. A week off was pure bliss. (Also, I studied economics as one subject and to this day, the mini-max principle is deeply ingrained within me. And my cheap ways get me into trouble quite a lot.)
Add to that the onslaught of social feedback. Tell me you don’t get a serious dread of FOMO whenever you are on facebook? Isn’t everyone having the time of their lives? And then there’s instagram. Here are beautiful people chilling out on tropical beaches. Over there, confident girls with long tresses poking out underneath giant floppy hats, all the while standing on daring cliffs. I can’t say as a travel blogger, I am not feeding into this curated narrative. But it’s the dream, right? And you gotta work hard for your dreams. And so I did.
And then I quit travel research cold turkey
When I decided to travel all the way to Australia, I was at a very low point in my life. I needed a fresh start. Travel was the only thing that I was certain about. I knew how to do it. I had done it before. It might not sound like a skill, but it is. I can travel to countries where I don’t speak the language and form new friendships. I can get utterly lost with and without a map, but still find my way back at the end of the day somehow. I know how to cut costs and save tremendously on flights. I love learning about new cultures (and hopefully preventing culture shocks) and pick up languages quite easily.
So I went to the farthest point from where I was and I decided I would not plan or think about it until I landed. I didn’t even tell a soul until a month before my flight. The only thing I took care of, was that I had travel insurance, vaccinations, visas and money sorted as well as the first week of accommodation. Beyond that, I didn’t even know the route I wanted to take, if I would find a place to stay wherever I decided to rock up and what the weather was like. (Hint: I should have prepared better for this.)
I packed my bags for all kinds of scenarios, which I regretted later. Packing light is the way to go, no matter where and how long you travel. That is a lesson I learned the hard way. Nowadays, you can get the most things on location. There is no need to bring every possible thing with you. You won’t need it all. Plus, you might not have enough space to bring souvenirs and spontaneous purchases back home with you. And nobody likes extra overweight costs.
So is it good to stop doing travel research altogether?
Of course, generally I do not recommend going entirely unprepared. You need to know basics about the local culture, such as common courtesy phrases, body language, rules and taboos. Also, especially for female solo travellers need to know how to stay safe and whether there are possible safety issues. But I chose Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia to start off my adventure and those are quite safe. (Safely exploring the outback is another topic.)
I also made a big blunder in thinking that I could get a temp job in Australia in August and then travel come December. First, all the jobs were already gone by that time and travelling to the North in the Australian summer is quite stupid. It’s hot, it’s wet and this means crocodiles, mosquitoes, box jellyfish, flies and floods way up North. So I happily changed my plans once I learned about this when I landed in OZ. (By the way, you can read up my Australia travel recommendations for the different states, areas and cities.)
The Benefits of Skipping Travel Research
- It’s the ultimate adventure! – You never know what can happen and when your mind is open to everything, remarkable things happen.
- No disappointed expectations – Sometimes when you do too much research, you start picturing yourself in the glossy pages of the travel brochures and are feeling let down when you actually get there and see that the pool area was shot with a wide angle camera and is actually tiny.
- Utmost flexibility – Once you don’t plan out every step of the way, you can start mapping the journey to how you feel in that moment. Maybe you want to stay a day longer or leave instantly? Maybe you meet fellow travellers who share a special find with you that you can now plant into your itinerary.
- Saving time – Imagine all the time you could be spending on feeling giddy about your travels without the hassle of preparing all the stops in advance! Also, asking for connections and destination recommendations on site and with the locals saves me so much time and yields way better results.
The Downsides of Skipping Travel Research
Not having packed all necessary clothes and equipment – oftentimes you can buy it on site, but in more remote locations, during public holidays or on a time limit, you might have trouble stocking up on necessities. Or they could cost you a lot.
It could be more expensive – When you book everything a day before or even the same day, more often than not, it will show in the prices. But that varies depending on your time of travel (e.g. off season vs high season) and between countries. For instance, the prices increase dramatically with German rail the longer you wait, whereas in Bulgaria, train and bus travel are not dependent on when you book.
Uncertainty – you never quite know where you will be the next week or even day. Though that is very exciting too once you get comfortable with it.
Time – when you only have a limited time available for your travel, it might be best to do your research in advance to not miss out on something you really wanted to see but did not find about about until it was too late. Or until it was closed for renovation or holiday. That would suck. Also, having to do your impromptu research of how to continue your journey while on the road with subpar wifi and a language barrier can be a nightmare. Trust me, I’ve been there.
What You ALWAYS Have to Research in Your Travels
Visa and entry requirements – you wouldn’t want to be sent back at the country border, would you? Also, what you can and cannot bring through customs is important as well. You might want to stock up on top-notch electronics in Hong Kong but they end up costing just a bit too much to be able to take through customs.
Vaccination and health concerns – seriously, look after yourself and cover your bases with a travel doctor months (!) in advance
Travel (health) insurance – never leave without a health insurance, no matter how careful or healthy you are. You might just get seriously unlucky and still end up in hospital. That should not cost you your life savings. Also, if you have booked super expensive trip and carry expensive items around with you, get it insured as well.
Local customs, phrases, behavioural rules and laws – Being ignorant about certain rules and regulations could not only get you in trouble as it might offend, but you could be send to jail! Also, make sure you know what your head shaking, hand gestures and clothing choices mean in your target culture. It might not be what you intended.
Safety issues – Certain tourist destinations attract certain kinds of crime. Whether it is pickpockets or taxi scams, you need to be aware of this as well as dodgy areas to avoid and times you should not venture outside.
Conclusion – Should you avoid travel planning?
Absolutely not! It’s really all about a healthy dose of travel research. Too much can make you feel stressed (all the details!), paranoid (think the angst-porn of the media), overly hyped up (and then let down), but it can also help you tremendously. Maybe try to mix it up a little and see how much you like it. You can also join online communities, skim through travel blogs and vlogs (I got a youtube channel, too!) for inspiration and see where people recommend informing yourself more.
And then, at one point, you have to let go and just let it go (insert Frozen song here). In the end, it’s not about the pictures or the sights, but the journey itself. Yes, it’s cheesy, but it’s so true. (And yes, I love cheese.)
Dmitry Pavlenko says
Thanks Annemarie for your new very interesting post. Your blog is the best ;)
Annemarie Strehl says
Ah, Dimitry, thank you so much for your lovely comment. :)
Jade D'sa says
Great balanced post! I guess that’s what counts when doing travel research, after all – Balance!
Annemarie Strehl says
Hi Jade, thanks for your compliment. Balance is key, that’s certainly true. You basically nailed it in one word.^^
I think planning for the critical parts of a trip is something everyone should do. But plotting out an itinerary beforehand? Forget about it. I have a good idea of what I want to do, but never a strict schedule…
Annemarie Strehl says
Hi Jeremy, critical parts are always a good idea to have a plan for. I like your attitude because yes, ultimately, things work out differently anyway, wether you want them to or not. Being flexible is key.