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Spontaneous Travel: A Detailed Guide to Travel On A Whim

January 23, 2019
spontaneous travel

Take A Spontaneous Trip This New Year

A common myth: to travel spontaneously means you simply pack a bag, choose a destination, and leave for that locale within a few hours. How whimsical! Or potentially, pretty problematic. It might not be the best idea to abandon all reason simply because you want to do something unplanned. In fact, it’s important to note the difference between planning and research when traveling spontaneously! You can forgo planning, but successful execution of a spontaneous trip occurs when you do thorough research. It is imperative to understand certain requirements like visas, driving permits, and vaccinations before you even enter a country. That is when you can feel confident deviating from any plans when the opportunity presents itself. And, when done properly, the unplanned experiences you have on that trip will probably be the highlight of your entire adventure! That is why I partnered with HotelTonight — a mobile app and website that lets you book last-minute deals on accommodations — to share exactly how to create those elevated experiences that come from spontaneous travel.   

Photo by @journeywithjorge

If you want to take more spontaneous trips this 2019, you don’t have to start with a three-month solo adventure somewhere international. Start with a local day trip and learn the basics about navigation, safety, booking, etc. Choose a destination that is less than an hour and a half away from your hometown, and read up on the best local attractions and restaurants in that city either on the tourism board website, a travel blog, or online publications like Timeout or Thrillist. From there, practice your skills by booking a domestic overnight or weekend trip. After taking a few of these shorter trips this year, I can almost guarantee that by the end of 2019, you will be booking a two-week European jaunt to drink mulled wine and eat chestnuts at eight different Christmas markets across the continent.

Read More: Spontaneous Summer: Europe Trip

Do Research Prior to Your Spontaneous Trip

How much research actually goes in to traveling spontaneously? Well, that is dependent on when and where you are going. The first thing to do is ask the following questions:

  1. What time of year are you visiting? Is it peak season?
  2. Are there any special events happening around the time of my visit that might make booking more difficult?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you might want to consider planning that part of your trip in advance. I spent three weeks island hopping in Greece this past summer. I had initially thought it would be fun to see “where the wind took me,” which became a little too literal when I missed my first flight ever due to high winds. However, after looking at ferry timetables and accommodation availability, I quickly realized that I could not leave this part of the trip up to chance. There were such limited options in my budget on many of the islands, and the ferries ran too sporadically for me to not plan ahead during August. The same advice holds true if you are visiting a destination during a major festival like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, or Oktoberfest in Munich because everything will book up early.

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If you answered “no,” to the above questions, then traveling spontaneously to that destination might just be the best decision you have ever made. For your first international trip, I recommend visiting a large city like Barcelona, Rome, Lisbon, or Budapest during their shoulder season — the period between high and low seasons. There will be plenty of options for places to stay, the weather should be mild, and the cities not overcrowded with tourists.

Book Flights On A Whim

Google Flights, Skyscanner, and Hopper have features where you can put in your starting destination under “Departures” and then choose from an entire continent or region for “Arrivals.” This allows you to quickly see the best flight deals from a variety of cities at a glance, rather than having to tediously check flights for each potential city. I typically use Google Flights as a starting point, as I believe the site gives a very clear overview of potential options, and then verify that I found the best deal by checking the other aforementioned sites.

Tip #1: Last-minute airfare is more costly than when booked in advance. To combat this price discrepancy, choose a destination where your native currency is strong. Hungary, for example, uses the Forint. I recently spent a month in Budapest and paid an average of 5 US dollars for all meals. Transportation cost me $35 for the entire month; I could ride the metro, buses, and trams an unlimited amount. This way you have a bit more of a cushion if flight and accommodation prices are high.

Find The Perfect Accommodation

After booking that last-minute flight, you’re probably going to need a place to stay. I end up in all types of accommodations when I travel because I strongly believe that each serves its own purpose. When I travel solo on a spontaneous trip, I typically stay in hostels so that I have the opportunity to meet people. But, after a number of days in a hostel, I have other needs which include pampering, a bathtub, and a great night’s sleep in a cozy bed in a hotel.

You would think that traveling solo at the last-minute while sticking to an affordable price point would be a recipe for disaster; but, HotelTonight provides great deals and multiple property options, affording you the opportunity to be choosy. HotelTonight breaks down the hotels into categories to clearly identify  the service level and overall vibe of the property. If I am on my own, I will usually pick a property from the “Solid” category and if I am traveling with a partner, “Hip” or “Charming” are my go-tos. And my favorite feature — because swiping is so satisfying — is the Daily Drop. Each day, you have the opportunity to swipe right on a mystery property and the rate will be at least 30% lower than the rest of HotelTonight’s already low rates. The catch? You only have 15 minutes to book it!  

HotelTonight has helped me numerous times when I needed to book a same-day hotel. There were many a Sunday at Coachella (you think I would have learned my lesson the first time) when I did not want to drive home late at night, but couldn’t afford to spend a fortune. Picture this: it is Sunday night, 8:30 PM, with the headliner starting in 15 minutes. I go on the app to book a room for the evening and I actually find reasonable rates. I now not only get an excuse to stop by Tommy Bahama for lunch on Monday for the best salad on the planet, but I also drive home refreshed after a glorious night of deep sleep.

Tip #2: HotelTonight is perfect if you need an affordable same-day place to stay, but you can also book accommodations on HotelTonight up to 100 days in advance, for up to two weeks at a time.

Tip #3: It is important to know in advance how to get from the airport to your accommodation. Sure, nowadays most airports have WiFI, but if you don’t have an international plan or a wifi device with you, it is best to rely on printed directions as opposed to frantically asking the information desk at an airport where there could very well be a language barrier.

Choose Excursions Without a Plan in Place

While you can typically show up at a tourist attraction same-day with no issue, there are the “Alhambras,” “Warner Bros. Studio Harry Potter Tours,” and “Uffizis” of the world, that need to be booked a month or so in advance. If you do travel spontaneously and find that these attractions are sold out, look into alternatives. Spending a bit more money on a guided tour or visiting at an off-beat time of day are potential workarounds to this problem. There are typically ways to visit even the most popular attraction in a city, you just have to work a little harder to find a solution.

Tip #4: Even if your trip has been organized in advance, you can still be open to spontaneous activities during your travels! I recently returned from a three-month trip to several destinations in Europe. One of the standout moments was canoeing up the Danube river in Budapest. While my trip to Hungary had been planned for months, canoeing hadn’t even been on my radar as a possible excursion. But, prior to arriving, I had joined Facebook groups like Girls Gone International Budapest and International Meeting Point Budapest. Both of those groups host local events every week, so I went to an event on my second night there.

I met a Hungarian at that event who was looking to launch a canoe tour company. I offered to take some photos for him; and, two days later, three of us (always go in a group to be safe) went canoeing up the Danube to a nearby town called Szentendre. By the end of my time in Budapest, I was celebrating a neighborhood bookstore’s anniversary and attending an exhibition for a local artist, all because of the connections I made on that second night!

The best travel experiences are not found on an itinerary. It’s the people that you meet that make a trip memorable and that simply cannot be scheduled into a 10:30 AM breakfast. Just like with solo travel, when you travel spontaneously, you will have the highest highs and the lowest lows. It’s the times when you get ill on a ferry in Greece and end up in York, England, 10 hours later with a new loving family that will stick with you forever. I will get to writing about that soon! So, I encourage you to go outside of your comfort zone this year, even if that means starting with a simple day excursion and building up to a well-researched spontaneous trip. It will not only be one of the most exciting adventures you have ever taken, but it will ultimately be life-changing.  

 Where would you like to travel spontaneously this 2019? Share below!

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