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Gap Year Planning; Planning it or Winging it?

Ok so we’ve dealt with where you might head and how you’re going to lug all your kit there – but what are you going to do once you’ve got there?

Another massive divide amongst the backpacker world is how much planning you should actually do. And that’s what the third part of our Gap Year Planning feature is focussed around – do you plan it or wing it?


Planning vs winging it

Planning things is a part of life. My Dad always says that “proper preparation prevents a pathetically poor performance” (check that for alliteration!) and it rings true with alot of things. Why should travelling be any different?

But on the flip side not planning leaves you the freedom to adapt to a situation, a situation you most likely haven’t encountered before. It leaves scope to go with the flow and all the options that are suddenly thrust in front of you as a member of the backpacking community.

Alot of it comes down to personal preference though – so read on and see which camp you land in.



There are 3 main reasons to plan your trip; budget, structure and fall back.

Having alot – if not all – of a trip easily allows you to sort your budget. By paying for accomodation, tours and activities up front you leave yourself with a clear budget for spending money.

This curbs what I like to call “backpacker flush syndrome” at the beginning of your trip – where the reaslisation your on holiday and away from work sees many backpackers looking at large bank balances and thinking they can go on a spending spree – something that is soon regretted.

The fact your main activities are all paid for also means you don’t miss out on the key things you wanted to do, this is particularly poignant towards the end of a long trip where money is dwindling and you’re surviving on the bank of mum and dad and eating noodles!

A major factor in budgetting too is that if you buy things in bulk (whether its simply large chunks of accommodation or simply spending alot in one go) many travel outlets will cut you a deal – if in doubt ask!

Structure is the second key point. By planning things in advance you utilize your time to its maximum potential, no wasting time in limbo – which ultimately proves better value for money.

Because you know to a large degree where and more importantly when you are going to be places it gives you a certain sense of urgency. Not in a bad way though. The fact you know when you’re leaving means you tend to use the time you do have in a place more wisely – you don’t waste days mulling around, you get out of bed and explore.

And exploration is the aim of the game when backpacking – you’re there to see the world and experience new things.

I know plenty of people who’ve left for pastures new full of intentions to see the world and simply got ‘stuck’ in one of the first places they got too – planning avoids this stumbling block.

The fall back plan is an off shoot from the structure side of things. Some people simply get stuck for what to do or through their nature aren’t confident enough to get up and leave and try something new. The nature of planning means this too is no longer an issue, and with the guidance of your travel consultant you can create something  that suits both your aims and time scale.


Winging it

But leaving with little or no planning also has it’s advantages, the main areas though are flexibility, budgeting and personalisation.

Flexibility is by far the biggest advantage. By not committing yourself to a set plan you can go with the flow more – which is great when you make a heap of new mates who invite you to tag along on an adventure you hadn’t even contemplated. It gives you the space to react and adjust – meaning you can move without ties, at your own pace to your own places.

Allowing you to have the gap year you wanted to have.

It also means if there’s any major changes in your circumstances, or if you simply don’t like the place or indeed country you can simply cut and run somewhere new!

Although planning helps with budgeting so does winging it. This is especially true if you have a comfortable amount of money but also if you have nominal amounts. With copious amounts you can simple decide to do things as and when you feel like it – again meaning you can make spontaneous decisions.

With a small amount of cash behind you having the option to move where you can afford or find work means you’re not tied to an expensive situation where you’d potentially rupture money. You can adjust your circumstances to suit how far your money can stretch. On the flip side when you build up your funds it means you can bail on a whim and enjoy your cash!

It can also force you to work – not having plans can gives you the drive to

As already mentioned as part of the flexibility personalization is another major plus side, especially if you don’t really know what you want to do and the main reason for traveling is to see the world and be open to new experiences. You can simply go where the wind takes you, meet new people or travel alone. Experience heaps of new things or simply laze on the beach.


So which way to sway…

Both angles have their downsides though – most of which are the negatives sides of their advantages.

Budgeting you can overspend before traveling and cost can spiral – make sure you are only living within your means. But not budgeting can also leave you open to overspending – and at the end of the day overspending is a backpackers worst nightmare.

By leaving yourself flexible you can also get stuck in your original destination, something which is all too common with first time backpackers traveling alone. By planning you have to move from point to point and may miss out on some amazing things or even find yourself not spending enough time in places you love and too much time in places you thought you’d love.

Sure by winging it you can personalise your trip – but isn’t that also what you’re doing by planning?

But by having a fall back plan aren’t you loosing some of the risk and excitement of disappearing and enjoying life on the road? Or are you simply being sensible?

Overall though one arguments upside is the other arguments disadvantage. Plan and you gain control over money, but you also loose flexibility. All the points are locked in a limbo which can only really be broken by personal choice.

Alot of hardcore backpackers hate the idea of planning trips. They argue it destroys the very nature of the notion of backpacking.

For me though this is a stupid notion.

Traveling is a personal journey. A journey you must approach and complete on your own terms in a way that you feel you’ll be most comfortable and above all gain the most enjoyment from.

Whether this is throwing all caution to the wind and buying a one way ticket to a random destination or meticulously planning every detail is up to you – and you only.

Don’t let someone ideal sway you – simply make an informed decision.

My final piece of advice?

Take the happy middle ground, plan important sections and leave the rest to chance – don’t over structure but don’t leave yourself open to failure by having to cut your trip unceremoniously short.

For me traveling was about having a great time and learning some life skills. But the life skills I’d already acquired lead me to the conclusion that to have the best time meant balancing planning and spontaneity. In the end I planned 3 key points; landing in Cairns, a start and finish point on the west coast and xmas in Sydney. The rest panned out how I felt it should at the time.


And I don’t regret a moment :)


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