The Problem with Planning

Posted by - September 22, 2011 | Category: Library

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

— Mike Tyson

After the bus accident on the way to Hanoi, I honestly didn’t feel like doing a heckuva lot when I got there. Unless you count “moping” among leisure pursuits.  In that event, I’m handsomely experienced.  I didn’t write anything.  I didn’t respond to comments.  I was the Snuffleupagus of social media.

TheTown of Sapa, Vietnam in the fog

I had planned to see Halong Bay and Sapa in northern Vietnam before heading into Laos.  I had each day calculated – where I would be, what I would do, and what the budget could handle.  I had a plan, and that plan was quickly unravelling.  Going the way of the Dodo, the Great Auk, and trust in Netflix.

Line of cyclos, Hanoi, Vietnam

The truth is, I was planning too much. 

Way too much.

Travel is not some grocery list.  Rolling through the aisles of each country, tossing experiences into your cart, smugly ticking them off as you go. 

“Oh they’re fresh out of jungle tours dear, how about a nice snorkel trip for breakfast tomorrow instead?” 

I am on holiday.  Well, sort of.  And travel shouldn’t be as much work as I was making it.  Here on this date, bus on that date, then head to the checkout.  Or rather, hotel checkout.  Even though I am two months into this trip, I should have learned the error of my over-planning ways a lot sooner.  Nothing like a punch in the face — in this case, in accident form — to adjust your priorities.

The trouble with planning is that it leaves no room for spontaneity, surprise, nor surrendering to a moment.  Time is precious, and if you’re not enjoying your time on the ride, it’s best to move into a slower gear.  So from now on…

Plan is a four-letter word.

Hat vendor on bicycle, Hanoi, Vietnam

I am back on holidays.  Better late holidays than no holidays I say.  I have extended my visa for Vietnam.  That gives me another 30 days here to see it at my pace instead of scrambling.  I’m going to take a stab at slow travel.  At least a lot slower than the pace I was keeping. 

Laos will still be there.  And I plan to see it.  There goes that “P” word again.  You’ll have to excuse me.  You see, I’m new at this. 

Old habits die hard – but they do eventually die.

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64 comments - add one
  1. Plan to not Plan, Laos will be there, its not going to float away (much less can it?).

    I have plans, but that does not mean I will follow it to the letter, its god to have a basic plan just do what comes with the flow, some days will be faster than other days so don’t plan on going fast.

    Your plans will be based on your expectations, go with that :).

    You have to plan to some degree or you’ll run into some problems (I’m thinking more financially).

    I am by no means expert in traveling just yet, I have traveled to places I know real well, those don’t count in my opinion.

  2. I have been there and boy does it burn you out. In Buenos Aires I was feeling pretty low and I realized I was trying to do all the things I thought I should.

    Instead I stayed in and watched a Kardashian marathon and felt much better.

  3. We must be on the same page this week, Raymond. You know, just after a I wrote my post about the dreaded ‘P’ word, I was hit with a serious bout of food poisoning and had to cancel my trip to the Grand Canyon. Kind of ironic, huh? Plans with be the death of us, I swear! But like Laos, the Grand Canyon isn’t going anywhere. Enjoy the slow travel through Vietnam.

  4. I love the notion of “Planless” – in THEORY. But… as I too uh, P#%& on hitting Hanoi (for but a week) before heading down to Saigon for my month-long CELTA course (in just 30 odd days – yikes!), it’s hard for me to wrap my head around not making the best use of my precious time up north. Indeed…

    No Sapa and no Ha Long??? Those are the two experiences I’m most looking forward to (I’m p#%&ning on 2 nts. Ha Long and a 2 nt. homestay around Sapa)

    Seriously, I agree that “slow” (travel) is what it’s all about, and indeed that’s precisely why I’m MOVING to Vietnam indefinitely (to slooowwwwly explore the entire SEA region), but I’m afraid that I’m guilty of the “P” word for that first precious week up north. Speaking of which…

    So you’ve extended your stay in VN, eh? Glad to hear you’ll be sticking around awhile. Where/might you (still) be there come Oct. 30th?

    In any case, I’ll be eager to hear what you decide to do (or not do) about Sapa and Ha Long. By some miracle, we might bump into each other in a rice paddy…

    1. I think in your circumstance, planning is key — especially since you’ve got a week or so before your CELTA gig kicks in. It’s just not sustainable for me day-after-day — too much work! 🙂

      I’m in Sapa right now. Two days may be hard — lots of rain and fog right now, although yesterday was nice (this is day 4 for me here).

      I will probably be back in Thailand towards the end of October. But that’s not a plan — just a general sense… 🙂

  5. Been there in Spain earlier this year. That burned out feeling… when you don’t really want to go anywhere & this epic vacation is becoming a fulltime planning job. It gets better! Hang in there!

  6. Nothing wrong with a basic plan or a list of things you want to do/see/experience but yes, leave it as open as you can.

    You will miss some things but you’ll experience others and the ones you don’t plan are usually more fun.

    Remember your own words, “The trouble with planning is that it leaves no room for spontaneity, surprise, nor surrendering to a moment.”

    Can hardly wait to read what you do post next *grin*

  7. I’m all about this philosophy. On my trip last year I originally thought I would be making my way around the world. I ended up staying in one region on one continent. No regrets, though. I think I got a lot more out of it than I would if I had traveled any other way. Good post. Appreciate the netflix insert 😉

  8. We tend to have a pretty solid plan, working on the road kind of necessitates it. And we thrive when we have a little structure (funny for two guys who live a NVR life). However, we have plenty of experience turning things around on a dime, so we try to be very mindful of the need to be flexible.

    I heard someone say “when man plans, God laughs.” I don’t do the whole God thing, but the point is clear. And valid.

  9. I plan plan plan, right until I leave the house, then I quit planning. I have found that all of my favorite moments have been unplanned, not in the guide book, not post-it noted, just there when I was looking.

    But I too have those “But we have to see…!” moments. So thanks for the reminder to forget “the plan” sometimes.

    1. Thanks Julianne. I still have a general sense of where I want to be and what I want to see — I’m just being a lot more open to where ever the moment takes me. 🙂

    1. I think certain things need to be planned — like “I need be out of the country by this date cuz my visa expires.” But the unplanned stuff sometimes is the most rewarding. 🙂

  10. i agree with too much planning… it becomes exhausting at one point… but on the other hand, i do plan my trips especially now that im travelling on a very low budget, i have to carefully plan the destinations and dates so i could take advantage of the promo fares, the only thing that i plan though are the entry and the exit points, other than that its pretty much “anything goes”…

  11. I think when I plan too much, I am just rushing to places to hit my “target.” It feels more like a job/something I have to go instead of just enjoying the day and seeing different things.

    So now I only plan with 2-3 spots in mind for everyday, and the rest I leave it to surprises of travel =)

  12. Good for you. Follow your instincts and your heart and you will enjoy yourself more. It sounds like you have the right attitude and are starting to get into the swing of things.

  13. Absolutely nothing wrong with planning! I tend to plan a lot. Have some trips where you plan and some where you are more spontaneous. My next trip is completely unplanned except for the dates that I am traveling.

    When on long trips, I like to set aside days where I have no plans at all. That way, if I want to sit around and do nothing, I can relax and enjoy it without feeling guilty. As a general rule of thumb, for every two weeks that I am traveling, I have at least one day that I set aside and don’t plan anything. It’s good to rest and relax too!

  14. Great post… nice to hear perspective on this!

    We just started our full-time traveling journey 3 weeks ago today and definitely don’t feel burned out or like we’ve planned too much (yet :-)) but this will help us ideally avoid that all together…

    …thanks for sharing!

    Nancy & Shawn

  15. I hear yah buddy. I planned so much before I left on my RTW a year ago. But my plans were thrown out the window as soon as I got there and I just traveled day to day making plans last minute and going wherever the wind took me.

  16. I am an obsessive planner, and on this recent trip I was just on, I did a good job of following THE PLAN. Now that I’m back home, I’m exhausted and having to fight myself to catch up. I should have planned some rest, too. Hopefully a lesson I will learn next time. (but I doubt it)

  17. It’s ok to have plans, but plans need to be flexible. Things happen, you hear about more interesting places and sometimes you just need a break. So you don’t want to plan too much! I just got stuck for a week in Don Det in Laos. Was “planning” on staying here for few days, but it was nice and chilled…

  18. The great thing about my current mode of travel (circumnavigating the world by ship) is that for once I’m actually staying in the port city where we’re docking for the majority of each time we’re in all 14 countries. This is primarily due to my on-ship work schedule while docked, but it’s nice to get a full six days or say in these cities to explore at leisure and not have to plan a whole lot!

  19. Good for you Raymond! I’m a huge advocate of little planning but really letting things flow the way they are intended. I love your statement about “surrendering to a moment,” – this is one of the best way to have incredibly unique travel experiences.

  20. I think you have to start doing slow travel once you’ve been going for a while. Otherwise, the breakneck pace just becomes insane. I’m figuring for each year I need at least 3 months in one place…

  21. I think over-planning is a four letter word… except, uh, it’s not actually four letters. Whatever, details!

    We’ve found that it’s best for us to have a balance between plans and flexibility. Too much “go with the flow” and we find ourselves stuck somewhere random with nowhere to sleep for the night. To little and we find ourselves just stuck. I want it to be the baby bear’s bed where it’s juuuust right! 😛

  22. Good on you! I have never been a planner … it stresses me out too much. Sure, I keep ideas on what I would like to do, but I find if I have an itinerary which goes beyond my initial night or two in a place, I get super anxious. I love to keep myself open to experiences, and the best way to do that is not to plan on things. 🙂

  23. I’ve learned to become more this way when I travel as well. Some people think that travel is about how many countries you’ve been to or how long you’ve been on the road, but I feel anybody with those kinds of thoughts has lost perspective.

  24. Good to have a plan and I too benefit from structure but it’s important to have one that works for you and not the other way round. Some of my most precious little memories took place on a hammock, or a verandah. Just staring into space. Wasn’t doing anything or saying anything and nothing was happening. But I remember those moments now.

  25. We’re giving the don’t “plan” too much on travels a go too. Something I’m not used to at all. I’ve got to say, I’m really liking it.

    On this trip to Maui we’re on right now, it feels great to say “I might just go hang out by the pool today or I might not. I might go surfing today or I might go for a Luau. I’ll just go with the flow and decide when the time comes!”

  26. I can really relate to your statement that travel isn’t a grocery list. Life isn’t a grocery list, either, but I and so many other people treat it like one. I’m a control freak, and being planless or ‘underplanned’ terrifies me, but it’s really good for us. Let life happen, let travel happen… hopefully someday I’ll be able to let go enough to enjoy it 🙂


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