Do Everything Travel

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport

Reading through a travel magazine or one of the myriad travel blogs, it’s hard not to get envious. For anyone who loves to travel, it can be agonizing to hear stories from people who seemingly get to travel all the time, visiting far-flung areas of the world that to most people seem like fantasies. As someone who gets two-weeks of vacation a year I not only understand these feelings, but I live them.

What tends to happen to 9-5ers like me, is that when you finally do get to use that much coveted vacation time, you go a wee-bit overboard. Ok, a lot overboard.

Over the years I have been guilty of some fairly egregious travel over planning. From comprehensive planning TWO YEARS in advance, to my somewhat infamous use of tabbed, 50-page travel binders, it can be said that I had a problem. Requisite with this insane level of over planning is the feeling, no, the compulsion to see and do as much as humanly possible. Set aside the fact that this is the only time off for the entire year, my trips used to be 24 hour marathons of tours, monuments and whatever else I could squeeze in.

This planning compulsion come to a head when we planned a last minute trip to Ireland. We arranged it to coincide with a four-day holiday weekend, so that we wouldn’t have to take any time off from the work. The downside to this was that we barely had two days in the Irish capital to explore and see what we could. In typical over planner mode, I purchased the city passes and proceeded to do nearly EVERYTHING on the list. We’re talking about dozens of sites and attractions. We nearly ran from one spot to the next in the unseasonably chilly Dublin weather, desperate to pack in as much as possible.

Dublin Georgian Door
Dublin Georgian Door

The result of our Irish marathon was a very blurry memory of Dublin and complete and utter exhaustion. My partner had never been like me, I was the one who over planned and he always graciously tolerated my foibles. This trip though was too much for even me and it suddenly hit me what I had been doing all these years. I talked about experiential travel and the importance of going off the beaten track, but was I really doing it?

Dublin was an extreme. We normally do not travel to Europe for a long weekend and when we are on vacation, we have much more time and flexibility to travel at our own pace. But the Dublin trip was almost like a science experiment for me. I had created my own little travel biosphere and could observe the ridiculous over planning I am nearly always guilty of. The decision was made, I needed to change.

I wish there existed a group for people like me, a sort of travel planners anonymous. Since that time I have fought the almost primal instinct to plan our adventures to the last second. I do have my momentary lapses when I schedule every moment of a travel day, but I almost always follow it up with a leisure, or no activity day. Like a cruise ship activity director, I now try to create a balance between experiences and relaxation not only for my own benefit, but to keep my relationship intact.

I don’t think I’m alone in this phenomenon, particularly amongst those of use who schlep at a desk for most of the year, gradually ticking off the days until our next vacation. Vacation time in America has become an oasis on the horizon for most of us, something to keep us sane while we go through the daily machinations of work life. It makes sense that one would try to make the most of this time, to do as much as possible. I get that.

Ultimately though, this tendency to over plan, to try to make each and every trip perfect is self-defeating. What ends up happening is that you don’t enjoy your trip and you actually get far less out of it than you could. What is key in trip planning, is finding ways to really experience the destinations you visit. Even though you will have only a brief time there, you can still learn more about the cities or countries than what is represented in its brochures and guidebooks.

Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos
Isla Santa Cruz, Galapagos

In a previous article, I discuss my favorite travel experiences. These are ways in which I stepped away from the map and must-see lists, and thought about what made the places tick; what EXPERIENCES were endemic to the areas that made them special. I try to do this now whenever I travel and the experiences thus far has been far more memorable than a Ho-Ho bus or endless cathedrals or royal apartment tours could ever be.

So when you find yourself planning your next adventure, be it to a favorite beachside resort, or halfway around the world, look for ways to take the trip to the next level. It doesn’t have to be expensive or obscure, but it does have to be memorable to you.  After all, we don’t travel to collect location stamps or to mark sites off a list. We travel to collect the experiences and memories that we not only carry for a lifetime, but that also make us better people for having done them.

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

10 thoughts on “Do Everything Travel”

  1. I’m the exact same way. I can’t travel full time, so I spent a LOT of time planning (it’s like our travel porn during the workday) and packing in as much stuff as I can. This summer I took a cruise in Croatia and honestly had no idea how to relax. I was anxious over the amount of time I had to do absolutely nothing. So bizarre.

  2. I can relate. I began planning for my first trip to Italy almost a year before I left. I started planning for my first trip to the U.K. about 6 months before I left. Both trips were great but I still didn’t get to see everything I wanted to because I discovered a key personality trait about myself…I’m inherently lazy and no amount of planning is going to change that!! Once I came to fully understand that about myself, the stress of wanting to see everything kind of melted away and I found that I felt ok about spending an entire rainy day in my London hotel room eating boiled egg sandwiches and watching television. Like you, I’m a 9-to-5 person so my vacation time is precious to me but overall, I decided my sanity was more precious to me. Last year, I traveled to Spain and Italy and slowed down a bit more and this year, I’ll be traveling to the Netherlands, Belguim, and France and my 80 year old aunt is accompanying me so I will HAVE to slow down whether I like it or not!! I think it will be a good thing.

  3. Haha, this is totally me as well, or at least it used to be. I was forced to change when we went on our RTW, and even if we never would have done that, I think I would have had to change at least a bit so my wife wouldn’t strangle me.

    I am just a very organized person and I like to have all my ducks in a row. I love researching when it comes to a trip, and I read so damn much about a place before I go, I find it necessary to take notes, lots of notes. All of a sudden I have a notebook filled with random notes, but they’re not organized enough, so I have to type them out in word documents in a more organized manner. It’s sick.

    I learned to go with the flow a bit on our RTW, but that was much easier because we had a year to do it, so the pressure wasn’t there like it is on long weekend or week-long trip. But it did change me. The few times we have gone out of town since the trip, I have chilled out big-time. I realized that it’s not necessarily what you see, but what you experience–the people you meet, the things you do, the food you eat, the drinks you drink. That’s what I love about travel now, not checking things off my list.

    But I could definitely still benefit from a OPA (Over Planners Anonymous) meeting here and there. I still revert back to old form sometimes, and I still always make lists, no matter where I’m going or for how long. I just like to know what’s in a place for me to see, do, eat, and drink. Great post, Matt.

  4. Love the comments, found myself laughing out loud while reading them. (I’m looking at you Adam) It’s hard to break away from over planning but on our last trip I was mostly good. Of course on our next one, I completely booked a few of the travel days months in advance.

  5. As the “one who graciously tolerates Matt’s foibles” (and I would be the first to admit that I can be less than gracious on occasion), I can say that it is too easy to fall into “check the box” type traveling. Particularly if you don’t end up doing everything that you had expected to do, it can seem like the trip was a failure or waste of time. But I don’t think that is true in every case, or even a majority of cases. Sometimes, vacations or trips are just as memorable and exciting for what doesn’t go right than for what does. Matt and I took the train north of Dublin and completely missed our stop (we didn’t realize the doors don’t automatically open unless you push the button—yeah, not bright). We didn’t realize our blunder until we were pulling out of the station. We had to get off at the next stop (4 miles away) and wait for the train to come back in the other direction at a freezing cold, eerily quiet station. Although miserable at the time, I’ve told that story to lots of people with a chuckle–much more than about where we were actually trying to go that day (which was fun, but not especially memorable). But for our goof, I’ll remember the train ride, the landscape and the wintry Irish day forever. Sometimes there can be joy in the unexpected, even if at the time it’s a little painful!

  6. I totally see where you’re coming from. I’m just about the same! I planned a schedule for my trips, allowing 1 hour there and 2 hours there. Of course I came to realise that it failed every time and that I didn’t enjoy running around like that.

    Now I sometimes feel like I’ve missed out on things but on the other hand, I think to myself that I enjoyed it much better being spontaneous and relaxed, rather than a ticking clock.

    But there are so many interesting things in this world, it’s hard to choose and let go of the schedule, and thus, of many sights. But in the end, I say that if I really liked a place, I’ll just go back.

  7. We should start our own group, Matt. I am the kind of person you describe. Or at least, I used to be, before I started blogging. I don’t really have time to overplan my trips any more, I barely have time to plan them. But yeah–Excel spreadsheets are my friend. :-) My problem with not planning is that more things tend to go wrong on my trips (as I will be blogging about shortly), and then I have to think on my feet more, which I’m not terribly good at. On the other hand, the more that goes wrong, the more I have to blog about! Another good reason for not overplanning.

  8. That makes me think of when I had to move to London… I started planning a year ahead and then a few days before departure, I had to re-do everything in a split second. Surprisingly, it went quite well, although I’m still not exactly sure how it happened. Adrenaline, I suppose.

    You can read more about it here:

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