I am a planner. I take pride in my detailed Excel spreadsheets and my coloured file folders that I create for a mere camping trip. I like to know how I am getting from A to B and every detail in between. The thought of going with the flow used to give me anxiety; that is, until my experience abroad.
I studied abroad in Graz, Austria for one semester and four weeks after arriving we had Easter break. Unlike Canada, Easter break was three weeks off rather than four days. This meant for most exchange students an opportunity to explore Europe. So, I started to plan.
Due to the amount of time I had, I decided I was going to travel to the Netherlands, England, Scotland and Ireland. I began to plan my trip just like I have planned every other trip previously: flawless and without a detail spared. Due to the magnitude of the trip, I soon felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work involved.
As the trip grew nearer, my anxiety became even more severe. I looked to other friends who had traveled before and I received the same response: “Don’t over-plan it, just go with the flow.”
Now, this was tricky for me to wrap my head around, but my one friend reiterated that all I needed to book was my flights and some of my hostels. Just some hostels?! This all felt incredibly strange.
“Don’t book buses, or tours or excursions, you will just spend more money than necessary,” they said! As I took the advice, I felt less overwhelmed by the amount of planning left to do, but my nerves grew at the thought of traveling with so little planning. Nonetheless, I went for it.
The first part of my trip started with a bus ride from Graz to the Vienna airport in the early morning. I arrived in Amsterdam where I navigated my way through my first large metro system to my hostel. Everything went smoothly and I gained some confidence. While in Amsterdam, my plans changed and I decided that I was no longer going to go to England but instead travel straight to Scotland. This is where not booking everything came in handy. Plans will change.
While I was in Scotland, I found a bus trip through the highlands that I decided I wanted to do. This was a different and cheaper tour than what I was going to book prior to leaving. This is an example of the many experiences that I had solely because I stumbled upon them rather than booking in advance.
By the time I was traveling through the south of Ireland and on week three of my trip, I found myself letting my trip guide me; in some cases, I would book my bus tickets the day I decided to leave for the next city. I had adjusted my mindset to the lifestyle I was living.
Now that I am back home, I have readapted to a life of rigid schedules and delicate planning. While it may sound like the conditioning I underwent to go with the flow is now extinct, this is not the case.
There is a time and place to have a perfectly laid out plan. Traveling through Europe is not one of them. I gained the ability to recognize when a plan is required and when one is not. And, when one is not needed, I now know what to do because going with the flow will never be as daunting as it used to be.