Back in 2oo2, I took my first trip to the African continent. I flew into Johannesburg, South Africa and 4 months later I flew out of Cairo, Egypt, having visited 8 countries during that time. Looking back (yes, that’s a long 15 year look back) I am amazed by the lack of planning I had done before hand. I had, of course, gotten my required inoculations and had booked flights into and out of the continent. I packed appropriate clothes, shoes and lots of industrial grade bug spray, but otherwise had few plans about where I was staying and what I wanted to do. And I had THE time of my life.
During those 4 months, I got my advanced SCUBA license, went on multiple safaris and hikes, ended up in countries I hadn’t thought of visiting (sure, people I met just 2 weeks ago, let’s rent a car and drive around Mozambique), swam with creatures I didn’t even know existed (I cannot even describe how amazing it is to share the water with whale sharks), booked a last minute trip on a dive boat in the Red Sea, went sand boarding and met countless interesting people all along the way. There were also days where I didn’t do much besides read a book or talk to other travelers in my hostel. Days when my plans got rained out or I missed a bus I needed to get on – maybe those days felt “wasted” at the time, but in truth, downtime is just important when you’re traveling for a length of time.
What inspired me to write this quick post is the fact that sitting here at my kitchen table, reading about package trips for safaris in southern Africa, I realize how intimidating, expensive and complicated these trips sound. And that’s coming from someone who has already been on an African safari. From all the way over here in Los Angeles, planning and shopping for a 1-week safari sounds overwhelming. Perhaps the safari organizing companies make it sound like that so that you justify paying them extra money to make the arrangements for you. Or maybe it is that a life on safari sounds so different from my day to day city life. At any rate, if I didn’t have real live proof from my experiences in Africa I would feel very intimidated about going on a safari without an doing an extreme amount of planning and paying ahead of time.
The purpose of this post is not to say that tour companies are corrupt or unnecessary. I definitely paid my money to a tour company in Cape Town to take me around the countries of southern Africa for 3 weeks while staying in a tent. I’m just saying that if you have the time, go and figure it out when you get there. Often times you’ll find more options than you knew existed and you’ll also find cheaper prices. The purpose of this post is to inspire you to “Just Go” rather than getting bogged down in all of the details of planning.
Just go! There was so much that I learned “on the ground” in countries I’ve traveled to. My first trip to Africa was before Trip Advisor and Facebook, before common access to mobile phones and when digital cameras were just becoming popular (which is why all of my pictures are in a shoebox rather than uploaded on my laptop). When most accommodations and tour companies did not have websites. So I was forced to kind of figure things out on my own. Talk to fellow travelers, visit businesses in person, test my luck with companies that did not have a detailed Yelp profile. Not every adventure was a complete success, but in the end I am so glad for the random occurrences and unplanned adventures.
Just go! I talk to plenty of people who feel intimidated by travel, especially solo travel. I understand those fears. With so much information out there, it can be intimidating and overwhelming trying to plan anything beyond a day trip to a nearby city. But I encourage you, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, pick a location, get a ticket and go. You can…you WILL…figure it out when you get there. And if you’re open to experiences and not disappointed by plans changing, you’ll be so glad you took my advice to Just Go!
I know that “Just Go” does not work in all situations. If you only have a weekend in a location and you absolutely MUST eat at that city’s Michelin starred restaurant or have to get tickets to the opera, yes…you should book that ahead of time and if necessary pay the extra bucks to have a travel professional arrange it for you. But if you have a little more time or a more flexible itinerary, figure things out when you get where you’re going.
For those of you who are heavy planners, this may sound a bit outlandish, but the truth is in my day to day life at home, I am a big planner as well. With three regular check lists (two digital and one paper) I do not “fly by the seat of my pants” on a regular basis. But somehow when I’m traveling, I start to let some things go. If you go in to your trip with the mindset that I’m happy to just be traveling you will have a blast. Give it a try! Just Go!…and let me know how it works out. Where did “not having a fixed plan” lead you?