Forget The Gap Year Itinerary, Go With The Flow.

Waterfall in Thailand, Gap Year

Travel should always to some extent be spontaneous and open to misadventure. Sometimes the best gap year experiences are not pre planned, but are discovered completely by accident, and it is important to have a planned itinerary flexible enough to be open to those experiences when they do happen.

I have written a few times now on how it is a good idea to travel slowly on your gap year, to plan not to plan, to not be so rigid with your itinerary that you leave out any chance of spontaneity in your trip at all. But sometimes it is good to just throw the itinerary out of the window completely!

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

Bruce Lee.

Like the very wise Bruce Lee once said, be like water, and he was so right. In travel, just like in Wing Chun and his very own Jeet Kun Do, it is so important that you remain flexible and open to new possibilities and experiences.

When you set off on your own backpacking adventure you will meet so many interesting new people, see so many interesting new things and have so many new experiences you never even imagined thrust upon you that it makes it impossible to fit everything into an already packed itinerary.

Don’t get me wrong I understand the urge to see as much as you can and tick off all the must see sights on your trip, especially if you have limited time in any given place, and I agree that any gap year or backpacking trip does require some planning.

But if you are too rigid in your plans, if you are too stuck to the absolute certainty of your itinerary, you can miss out on some truly amazing experiences.

Independent Travel Is All About Those Spontaneous New Experiences.

I have had some of my best travel experiences completely by accident, completely unplanned, simply because I was willing to change my plans at the last second and go with a gut decision.

On my very first backpacking trip over a decade ago, I had never originally planned to go to Cambodia. But I got on the wrong long distance bus in Bangkok, bought the ticket on the coach thinking it was going somewhere else, fell asleep and was only woken up at the border when I needed to show my passport and get my visa!

I could have panicked and got all stressed, but I simply ditched my already rough itinerary, postponed my visit to Ko Chang for a bit and headed for Siem Reap instead. I had no guide book for Cambodia, no prior research or clue of what was there, I just figured it out as I went along and it ended up being one of the absolute highlights of an already amazing trip!

And I didn’t miss out because of it either. I simply carried on to Ko Chang later after I had left Cambodia. That is the benefit of having an open itinerary.

And later in that same trip, like many backpackers intoxicated by the lures of Thailand on their first independent trip, as soon as I hit the southern islands for the first time I immediately decided to push back the departure date of my plane ticket home by a couple of months!

Island Life Has A Way Of Completely Mesmerizing You And Keeping You There.

If I had stuck to my original planned itinerary I never would have seen some of the islands I did, or spend time with some of the awesome people I met there. I wouldn’t have learned to ride a moped or trekked to some of the best waterfalls I have ever seen. I definitely wouldn’t have had time to get my PADI certificate which was another spur of the moment decision which I am really grateful I had the chance to do.

“We often get so caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey. Appreciation is a wonderful thing, don’t overlook it.” 

I have kept this independent, go with the flow spirit in every trip and adventure I have taken since that very first backpacking trip, and I have had some amazing experiences and met some amazing people as a result.

So when you are travelling the world remember that it is fine to plan a little bit, but go with your gut instinct too. Be flexible and enjoy the path your travels lead you down, not the one that you try and force yourself through. The places, the experiences, the people that you have and meet along the way are all part of the travel experience. It is these exact experiences that you started travelling for in the first place! And it is up to you to follow your gut instinct and enjoy them!

So go, travel spontaneously. “Become like water my friend.”

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

10 Mistakes You Will Make As  First Time Backpacker.

A Guide For Settling Into The Backpacking Lifestyle.

Backpacking And The Hustle Burnout.

How To Plan A Gap Year.

The Art Of Backpacking, Travel Slowly.

What I Wish People Had Told Me Before I planned My First Backpacking Trip.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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Posted in Travel Talk
8 comments on “Forget The Gap Year Itinerary, Go With The Flow.
  1. Daidri says:

    I love the thought of traveling like water and just go with the flow!!! I’ve embraced this concept more with age and boy am I glad. I still may have panicked a bit if I’d been the one who fell asleep on the bus and ended up at a different location… just a little! 🙂

    • Haha, a little panic is okay. ;D I think this is a concept that has developed with age and many, many trips for me too. It is so much easier than trying to rush and see everything. Thank you for commenting.

  2. Bob R says:

    Very lucky that your wrong bus adventure took you to a country where it was possible to get a visa at the border.

  3. mytanfeet says:

    You reacted very calmly to accidentally going to Cambodia! If that was me I’d totally be freaking out and probably would have just tried to turn around instead of going there. Great to hear it turned out to be a lovely adventure though!

    • Haha, well it’s all part of the adventure, right? What’s the worst that could happen? I’d get turned away and head to the nearest town for the night before carrying onto my original destination. It’s hardly anything worth worrying over. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  4. katiedwyer16 says:

    I love this advice! My favorite travel experiences have always balanced the two: a few well-chosen plans, with the majority of travel informed by happenstance and serendipity. I love traveling in a place where I speak the language and can literally show up in a new country not knowing where I’ll spend the night or how I’ll fill the next few days.

    No matter how long you spend in a place, there will be things you miss. Often the things you see when “going with the flow” will be all the better for being off the beaten trail.

    Thanks so much for this!

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Hi, I'm Michael! I'm a former nurse turned published author and world travelling professional adventurer! I have spent over twenty years travelling over 100 countries and I want to inspire you to do the same! Want to know more about me? Just click here!

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