Casual travel or spreadsheet plan – preference?

Casual travel fits my style. Like the writing pantser* I am, I enjoy seeing what turns up. For me, travel can mean exploring the other side of the world, somewhere in Australia or a suburb just kilometres from home.

In my world, travel and spreadsheets don’t fit in the same sentence. That’s a personal preference, but for accountant Narelle Davis Wilson the fit is natural.  In a recent post, Narelle talks about her ‘love of spreadsheets and how they are the perfect tool for planning a holiday’.

I admire Narelle’s thoroughness and dedication to organising the perfect holiday. At the same time, I confess to laziness that prevents me from putting in more planning effort than absolutely required.

As in writing, there are no rules for how people should travel. Well-planned and casual travel have their advantages and disadvantages. They depend on the travellers for their success and enjoyment .

Holidays before ‘travel’

Life before I turned fifty precluded travel outside a small orbit of Western Australia. Holidays meant a tent or two by a river in the bush or at the beach, almost always with an assortment of children and later, grandchildren.

The camping gear sat on a shelf in the shed. It took a few minutes to load it, some food, clothes and kids into the car.  We could go for a night or three weeks. Expectations ran high. No plan needed. We’d done it all before and knew it would work out.  

When my opportunity came to travel seriously, I had the most amazing coach and teacher, my sister, Elizabeth Worts. She knows how to travel. As well as that, she encouraged those who visited her in Bangkok (where she lived for nearly a decade) to see the world with an open mind, a sense of adventure and clear eyes.

Casual travel in Bangkok

Days on holidays with Elizabeth in Thailand flew by in a flurry of new sights, sounds and smells. In a few weeks I enjoyed

  • Golden Wats (temples) and palaces;
  • markets where stalls selling fresh fish sat beside those selling live monkeys;
  • street stalls with magical offerings where good natured Thais taught me to barter;
  • trips up the Choa Phraya River on boats heavily laden with old women carrying babies and old men clutching roosters, all rubbing shoulders with saffron-robed monks;
  • seeing the royal barges and the coffin-maker at work beside the river where kids cooled off and housewives tended rabbits in cages suspended over the water;
  • going early one morning with Douen, Elizabeth’s maid, to give food to the monks and later to the meat markets where she shopped;
  • walking on the beach where smelly fish dried on nets in the sun, and engaging with a chubby baby propped up in the seaweed while his mother worked nearby;
  • being drenched to the skin by laughing youngsters who threw buckets of water over us at Songkran, the water festival.
  • rafting on white water in the jungle;
  • riding downhill on an elephant (not for a minute considering how cruel that was);
  • eating amazing food;
  • shopping far too much – that was fun, although I rarely buy anything these days;
  • meeting other ex-pats.

The list could go on, with random unplanned delights added at every turn. Then, over breakfast one morning, Elizabeth said,

‘Let’s go to Hong Kong for a couple of days.’

And so we did. Just like that! With a mind reeling from excitement and pleasure, my delight in casual travel grew.

Later reflections

I worked out that I would only ever experience a microscopic slice of a world full of amazing people and cultures, scenery, built structures, adventures, sounds and scents. Rather than try to do it all, my approach would be to explore gently, for the time I had and wherever I found myself, with curiosity and awe.

That’s why I choose to do what I call casual travel with few plans and little luggage*. It’s about saying ‘yes’ to whatever presents itself and enjoying the consequences. That’s the way I learned and it still works for me.

*Pantser – writing without a plan (by the seat of your pants)

*Here’s my post about travelling lightly

8 replies on “Casual travel or spreadsheet plan – preference?”

  1. Your holidays sound full of fun and adventure. I keep my address book on a spreadsheet. And I used to make my half termly plans on one too. I took great delight in colour coding everything! 🙂

  2. Hi, Sue. Your use of spreadsheets sounds impressive. I also colour code lists, writing ideas, research, etc, but always on paper. I delight in that.

  3. I’m definitely a spreadsheet woman…. before the holiday that is. Once there I’m more a “take it as it comes” person. Having a Planner for a husband means all holiday planning is left to me (and secretly I’m glad about that). And of course having three children means that plans for trips these days have a flexible (read haphazard) approach . One thing I do agree on- travel light!

    1. I didn’t know you were the holiday planner in your family. I thought it was always Bhen. You must be very good at it, because your holidays always seem awesome. Your children are very lucky! And travel light is the only way I know to do it. I guess it’s all those years of camping that taught me that.

  4. A really great post, Maureen. We are semi casual travellers! We have half baked ideas and discover and plan along the way! Serendipity is often the best part.

    1. That’s what I love about being casual or semi-casual travellers, Susan. Serendipity is a travellers best friend, and even the clangers often turn into the best memories. Thanks for your comment.

  5. I am definitely a planner when it comes to my trips! Both of my amazing experiences in Europe were very different. The first, I planned almost every last detail for the 4 weeks of travel, from what train I was catching to the things I wanted to visit. While on the second (for 8 weeks) I had basically booked only the flights there and home! I loved the amazing freedom of being able to stay somewhere longer or leave sooner or find new things to do while I was there, but, I did find I missed opportunities in places where they had to be booked in advance, or for example when I accidentally turned up in Milan during fashion week (which I’m sure is great for those into fashion!) and found that it was overcrowded!

    I have found I like to plan the things I want to see and do and make sure to book things in advance but I do like to leave a buffer day. I like to stay somewhere for at least 4 days and have the last with no plans so that I can explore or do whatever comes up!

    1. Your trips have been amazing, Rosie, and I think you’ve done a fabulous job of navigating Europe by yourself as such a young woman. The idea of planning every inch of a trip on a spread sheet gives me goose-flesh, but I agree with you that it’s good to have a bit of a plan so you don’t go to Canne during the Film Festival or in your case Milan during fashion week. We don’t book much ahead because then we’ve had to move on too quickly when we also want to be where we are, if that makes sense. And John and I always try to stay in apartments rather than hotels or motels. That we can cook for ourselves if we feel like it, and do the odd load of washing in between places we go.

      We also find it much more fun to catch local transport, trains and buses, between different places rather than relying on major transport. It’s heaps and heaps cheaper, and easy to get on and off. And if you miss a train or bus, there’s usually another one because they only do short legs to suit the local traffic. We came back after our first (badly planned) trip to Europe with a few hundred dollars of unspent Eurail tickets because we’d discovered the local trains. Never made that mistake again.

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