Dreaming up the Ideal Vacation: Balancing Spontaneity and a Planned Itinerary

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Published 8/12/19
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The Colosseum in Rome. The Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Big Ben in London. There are certain iconic sights that you simply “have” to see when you visit destinations. But what about relaxing, exploring, and immersing yourself in the local lifestyle? (This is a vacation, after all.)

Some would argue that the magic of traveling lies in those unexpected moments and through truly experiencing a place through all your senses—and they would have a point. There’s nothing like the laze of sunbathing on the shores of Majorca, napping through the heat of the afternoon alongside locals, or the contented leisure of reading a book for hours in a café, as Parisian daily life bustles around you. When it comes to planning a vacation, it seems like travelers often fall into two camps: the stick-to-the-itinerary traveler and the let’s-see-where-life-takes-us traveler. I’d argue you can be both—and enjoy the best of both worlds.

Alternate Planned Days and Spontaneous Days

Personally, this is my favorite strategy. I’ll start out with an “itinerary” of sorts, and plan one day of heavy sightseeing (whether this is a planned-out walking tour of attractions or a ticketed guided tour), then one day of wandering with no plans, one day of sightseeing, one day of wandering. This way, you can check off all the boxes of those “must-sees” but you’ll still have plenty of time to…say, get lost in the winding passageways of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter or spend a day on the beach.

Plan One Activity Per Day

If a day jam-packed with activities sounds exhausting, spread out your sightseeing and accomplish just one planned experience per day. Whether it’s a local cooking class or a guided museum tour, you know you’ll at least see something notable that day—and then you can aimlessly wander to your heart’s content in neighborhoods that surround your planned activity.

Plan Just the First Day or Two

You know those cheesy bus tours and narrated boat rides that are always full of tourists? Truth be told, they’re a great way to quickly get a lay of the city right when you first arrive and to see a bunch of attractions all at once. Start your trip with one of these guided expeditions, and use it as a baseline to discover nearby neighborhoods, museums and attractions that you want to explore in greater depth—and at your leisure—later on.