No one loves making travel plans more than I do. I revel in the planning and I believe a well-crafted itinerary is something of which to be proud. I’m regularly sharing past itineraries with friends who are looking for a starting point at a destination we’ve visited, and I truly appreciate the efficiency of it all.

Recent ‘No Plans’ trip to the PNW with friends.

BUT.

I have also recently dabbled in more free-range travel. Fewer plans, more flexibility. A little less upfront homework but without sacrificing the experience of the trip.

And I’ve learned some things.

If you’re looking to dabble — read on for a few things to consider as you embrace the “No Plans” travel style.

Consider who you’re traveling with…

… and make sure everyone is onboard with ‘the plan’ to have no plans.

Travel companion compatibility is a conversation for another day(!), but this is important when you’re in a group. (Solo travel is another thing I’m juuuuuust starting to try – so I’d love to hear a solo traveler perspective! My experiences are almost exclusively traveling with kids, with friends, or with my spouse.)

So is everyone in your group up for a ‘no plans’ trip? Are you traveling with friends who feel more comfortable knowing what’s coming or what to expect?

My travel companions. Childhood/lifelong friend Andrew + college roommate/travel buddy Jenni. Photo: Ruby Beach, Washington

Be sure you’re all on the same page.

Another consideration is the age of kids in your group. When Colt was younger, it was important to me to make plans so we’d be done at a certain time each day – for bedtime. And I felt more prepared when I knew what was coming each day – with a kiddo companion. Back then it would have been a bigger deal if we somehow ended up somewhere without great food options or without a convenient way to get back to our hotel. Every kid is different, but this is definitely something to consider. These days, he’s more resilient and flexible and I find we make fewer detailed plans when we travel together.

Know your objective. Why are you traveling in the first place?

I think we were checking flights for our next trip to see each other.

Is this trip about relaxing? Sightseeing? Food? Is it about time with your travel companions and not much else matters? It’s important to identify your goal for this trip – because every trip should have one. And it will help you set the tone for having fewer plans ahead of time. This recent trip I took to the PNW — it was about seeing my friends and laughing really, really hard together all weekend. We didn’t see a single thing on the Must See List in Seattle. Instead, we got in the car and started driving – with no real plans, hotel reservations, or expectations. But that was our goal! Just hang out together! If the trip had been about sightseeing in Seattle — I might have approached it a little differently.

If you know your goal — you can predetermine how much planning you need to do. And the more open-ended the trip, the more easily it will fit into the ‘no plans’ style.

Be realistic about what you’ll “accomplish”

This is really part two of knowing your objective. Because setting a goal for your trip goes hand in hand with what you want to get out of it. And it’s important to be realistic with yourself about how things will go. For example, if you’ve always wanted to watch the sunset from your dinner table at that restaurant you saw in a movie once. But you don’t make reservations… and it’s booked weeks in advance… you’ll be outta luck. The reality is, ‘no plans’ may mean a lazier, more chill trip – which means you may see a little less of the city, or miss out on that must-see stop everyone talks about. That’s ok! Take your trip and enjoy your time! Just be realistic about the ground you might be able to cover if you’re taking the path less planned.

Using this PNW road trip as an example — we drove from Seattle to Astoria, Oregon with loose intentions to make it over to Portland, but we were having so much fun stopping and enjoying the coastline eye candy that we never made it to Portland, and had to drive late into the night to make it back home for our flights after an unexpected stop in Forks, Washington at the Twilight souvenir store. #NoPlans!

Pack for options

I packed a coat and waterproof shoes, knowing we’d be chasing pretty coastline and sunsets all weekend in unpredictable weather. Photo: Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington

This is a good idea anyway, because you really never know what travel will bring – but when you’re leaving plans more flexible, it’s important to pack accordingly. If you’re headed to an area with plenty of outdoor activity options, but you’re not sure what will sound good when you get there — pack layers, appropriate shoes, hat, backpack – whatever makes sense. Same if you’re headed for a foodie-focused stroll through a city. If you think you’ll want to snag a table at that 5-Star restaurant, you’ll want to throw in appropriate clothes and shoes.

The internet is full of packing tips and lists and capsule wardrobes — use that as inspiration, if it’s helpful. But remember that if you want to keep your options open – pack for it. And don’t forget comfortable walking shoes!

Plan the essentials

Here’s the thing. If you’re already a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ traveler – this isn’t for you. You’ve got a travel style and approach that works for you – and you’re using a flip of a coin to choose your next adventure. But for the rest of us, who are looking to relax our scheduling a little – we may not be ready to abandon the whole system yet. And to that I say – still make a plan for the essentials. If you’re flying – book your flights. Go ahead and find a place to stay — even if you book one with a good cancellation policy so you can change your mind later. If you’re traveling internationally, you’ll want to be sure you have passports and visas and any required vaccinations — those are essential no matter how ‘no plans’ you want to operate.

When you have the essentials nailed, it will keep things more open for flexibility. If you know you have a bed and a shower to come back to each night — you can wander a place all day, finding unexpected adventure and experiences, and have a good solid reset overnight to get up and do it all again the next day.

Start slow

It sounds romantic, right? Book a ticket to a fabulous city and just go! Or get in a car with nothing but a map and a keen sense of road trip adventure!

My advice is to take baby steps, especially if you’re typically a planner. Otherwise you risk overdoing it and potentially spoiling your trip.

You don’t have to go all-in. If you’re a foodie and typically have a long list of restaurants to squeeze in – try limiting yourself to plan-ahead reservations at the top 2 at your destination, and then talking to locals when you get there to fill in the rest as you go. Or maybe try booking hotels and flights ahead of time – but no tours. Wake up each day and decide what sounds good to you. You can also try mixing it up with a planned itinerary – some days will be pre-planned with reservations and tours, and you set aside a few ‘open’ days that give you flexibility to see what happens.

Ease into it.

Goonies never say die.

It’s Growing on Me

I still love planning travel. The anticipation of a trip is alllllmost as much fun as the trip itself. But I’m learning to appreciate different kinds of travel, and I definitely love the unexpected adventure and experiences travel brings. I’m leaning into the ‘no plans’ style and have found myself traveling to more and more places recently that offer a slower pace. Here’s to adventure – whatever that looks like for you!

Are you a ‘No Plans’ pro? What advice would you add to this list?

One thought on “How to Plan a “No Plans” Trip

  1. You don’t know how much I needed the info. shared, Sarah! We are “planning” our first “no-itinerary” trip. The primary goal is Niagara Falls, along with Philly and museums in DC. I have never done a no-plans trip, so this will be an extreme challenge for me. But I’m expanding my horizons and trying to be positive! Love the items you share. Keep it up!!

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