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.
At the end of the day, 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, 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 islands of the Andaman coast 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 does have a way of sucking you in and keeping you a lot longer than you intended to be there for!
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.”
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