Sometimes our day-to-day could use a little extra spice. Why not plan a spontaneous international trip to zhuzh up your life?
In December I went on a spur-of-the-moment trip to a country I’d never visited. The kicker was that I “planned” the whole thing 9 days before I left. Unlike Europe, where it’s super easy and affordable to hop borders on a whim, I live in Canada. The inspiration for this snap decision was easy. Gas, food, and accommodation are expensive here, so why not see if I could visit another country for a similar price or better?
How did I choose the final destination for my recent spontaneous international trip? First, I decided how long I wanted to spend in transit. Given that it was a 2.5 day adventure, it was very little. Next, I set a budget for the weekend. Then I went to Google Flights and used the underrated Explore function to find something within my criteria. Voilá! Two countries outside of Canada and the US popped up. I booked the tickets and buckled up for the ride!
What is Considered a Spontaneous Trip?
A spontaneous trip is quite simply a trip without much planning. Perhaps you book something last minute at a familiar destination with a loose or empty itinerary. Maybe you book a flight to a new location and leave everything else up to chance. Potentially the most extreme example of spontaneous international travel would be to show up at the airport with a credit card and hop on the next departing flight (I’ve alway wanted to do this!). Like any travel, spontaneous trips can take many forms. Here are some more ideas on how to incorporate spontaneity into your travel.
Should I Book a Spur-of-the-Moment Trip?
Coming from someone who hasn’t always loved off-the-cuff situations, I would 1 gagillion percent say “YES!”, go on a spontaneous trip. There are so many benefits to both spontaneity and travel in general, which we’ll dive into below. Basically, what I’m saying is, think less and do more. Go. Go. Go!
The essence of pleasure is spontaneity.
— Germaine Greer
How to Plan a Spontaneous International Trip
Tip 1: No Expectations
To get the most out of your travels, however random they are, eliminate expectations. It’s much harder to do so with a well-planned out or highly anticipated trip. In contrast, spontaneous travel throws everything out the window. If it’s a last-minute decision to travel, it removes the time used to dig in to expectations. If it’s a new country or city, the sky’s the limit thanks to the unknown. Whatever the destination is, keep an open mind and you’ll have a fantastic time.
Tip 2: Last-Minute Deals
For last-minute hotel deals, keep these websites on your radar: Hotwire, Hotels.com, and Hotel Tonight. If you love all-inclusive travel packages, then add Sunwing Vacations and Air Transat to the list.
Though it doesn’t seem to be as popular as it was a decade ago, Groupon has deals on activities and accommodation. For solo or newer travellers who would prefer the convenience and social aspect of a group, G Adventures and Contiki offer last-minute travel deals. Keep in mind that your airfare is an additional cost. (Pssst! That’s where paying yourself to travel and using reward points for the flights could drastically reduce the cost of an impromptu flight!)
Tip 3: Google Flights Explore
Not to be forgotten when creating your own improvised trip by air is Google Flights Explore. As mentioned above, that is exactly where the inspiration came from for my trip last December. To recap, I chose the desired transit time and the maximum flight price I wanted to pay before pressing the magic “Search” button. Google Flights presented several flights within Canada and the US, however my sights were set farther abroad.
There are several reasons to use Google Flights Explore, not least of all because it introduces options not previously considered. It’s also super easy to use the various filters, from price to length of travel to the class of flight. As a visual person, I love that you can see both a list and a map version of what’s available.
I recently worked with a travel coaching client who is planning a trip to Iceland. In one of our sessions I introduced Google Flights Explore and São Miguel Island, a tiny Portuguese island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, popped up. Let’s just say they’re now considering a warmer November getaway!
Tip 4: Discounted Flight Sites
One way to book a spontaneous international trip is by keeping an eye out for flight deals. Definitely subscribe to mailing lists for the flight alerts. Some of the alerts are mistake fares so you want to book them before they’re fixed. The best Canadian site for discounted flights is YYZ Deals. Though I have yet to book a flight through these alerts, it’s still one of my favourite travel websites. They also have alerts for several other Canadian hubs.
Flight alert websites are amazing for travellers who may not have a particular destination or time of year in mind for their next trip. They’re open to any possibility. YYZ Deals is perfect for the traveller choosing the destination with the best deal. As someone who has travelled for this reason many times, I highly suggest giving it a try!
Other helpful websites and newsletters for Canadians searching for last-minute deals are the low-cost airline carriers. Examples include Flair Airlines, Lynx Air, Porter Airlines, and Swoop / Westjet. Keep in mind that with no frills flying comes with extra costs for everything from bags to food. I love flying with budget airlines because, for me, flying is just about getting from A to B. I can pack my own snacks and water, am fine with less leg room (even as a 6 foot female!), and don’t need impressive bells and whistles. As long as the plane safely transports me to my destination in a timely manner, I’m a happy flyer.
Tip 5: Reward Miles
There are many reasons to join a rewards program, specifically Aeroplan if you’re Canadian. (Hot Tip: If you don’t yet have a free Aeroplan account, open up another tab and sign up right now.) A major reason why so many of us “travel hackers” love rewards miles is because of how much money you can save. Another reason is, without a doubt, the flexibility and spontaneity it provides. Both of my trips to Europe in the last 4 months were possible because of rewards. I booked them a few weeks out from the date of departure and paid $150 and $162 for return tickets. That’s absolutely wild, especially since the $162 flights were in peak holiday season!
What’s this now? You say you know very little about points and miles? How convenient! I want to pass on everything I know about properly using this travel wizardry. Just the other day I was talking to a friend who was complaining about how they thought points were useless. Their gripes went something like this, “You can only book circuitous routes with annoying layovers” and “I had to use a ton of points and I still paid several hundred dollars”. I hear this all the time and it makes me cringe. These misconceptions about using travel rewards are some of the many reasons I created the Pay Yourself to Travel course.
If you’ll indulge me with a short story, you’ll quickly see how beneficial and freeing it is to use points and miles. A few years back, my youngest brother was invited to a close friend’s bachelor party in Austin, Texas. It was not going to be a cheap weekend, between the overpriced Airbnb and flight, the booze, and the US exchange rate. He wasn’t thrilled about the crazy costs. Now, my youngest brother and I share the same fabulous stubborn-headed trait. It took years to convince him to listen to me to hop into the rewards game. At the point of this story, he had (finally!) been earning points for a while. It was time to see if his older sister was worth her salt or just badgering him with all this points talk. In his buddies’ group chat they rhymed off the usual complaints about points and miles. He called me anyhow to see if we could book him a decently-priced, non-red-eye flight. Challenge enthusiastically accepted! I couldn’t wait to show him all of the exciting possibilities. His buddies booked their flights together so I immediately looked for that specific route. They were also paying over $800 for their tickets. After a couple of minutes, I sent him a screenshot. It was the moment of truth… Success! He would be able to fly with them for less than a 10th of the price! I don’t know who was more excited.
If travel rewards feel intimidating, complicated, or unnecessary, I don’t know what better story to illustrate that they are the opposite! I cry a little (inside) each time I hear the exorbitant price someone has paid for a flight. Please, don’t! I would absolutely love to show you how accessible and amazing they are. If you’ve got questions about the travel coaching course or 1-on-1 sessions, send me an email at email@example.com and let’s get you on a plane for pennies!
Tip 6: Go with the Flow
This might be the most important “planning” tip for creating your most epic impromptu international itinerary. For a lot of my life, I’ve been someone who thrived on “knowing”. Rubrics in school, recipes in the kitchen, and “what-if” overpacking brought me a sense of calm. I was not a fan of change and uncertainty. Then life broke me in and put me through the ringer, as it does for all of us.
I have grown to love going with the flow and now actively seek out these opportunities. Case in point is that time I moved to Ireland, or Korea, or when I went on a round-the-world trip, lived in compact car (a few times), and then moved to New Zealand. Oh yeah, there’s also buying a campervan and learning how to renovate it without any tools, space, or prior knowledge! You might even say it’s become a thrill to incorporate these experiences into my life.
If going with the flow is anxiety-inducing or contrary to your today personality, then I would doubly encourage you to give spontaneous travel a go. It may not be roses and unicorns at first. In fact, it might even be really tough. I know it was for me! Over time it will get easier, and dare I say quite enjoyable. You might even come to crave it, especially when its benefits spill into your work and personal life at home.
Tip 7: K.I.S.S.
By design, impromptu trips are quite simple. You might book your transportation or accommodation and nothing else. However, humans tend to complicate matters. Do not do this! Especially if this is your first time booking trip of this nature, keep it simple. You know, the “K.I.S.S.” method. Be open to what comes your way, go with the flow, and relish the pleasant surprises.
Tip 8: Off-Season
This tip is one of my favourites. First, you avoid the crowds. Nobody wants to spend their vacation in lines, so skip them and visit in the off-season. Second, it’s a more affordable way to explore. Prices drop in the off-season to attract visitors when the weather isn’t calling their name. And third, the true destination reveals itself when the tourist show is on hiatus. Locals will be less stressed from dealing with the high demands of foreigners who don’t understand their language and traditions. It’s a fantastic opportunity to dig deeper.
Tip 9: Lesser-Known Destinations
You may have noticed a running theme throughout this blog post: flexibility. Whether it’s with your time, itinerary, or the destination, a little flexibility will go a long way in creating a memorable trip. Leaping feet first into the unknown can be scary, though it’s equally thrilling. Heck, you could even raise the stakes, close your eyes, and see where your finger lands on the map!
By travelling to lesser-known destinations, you’re likely to engage with locals in a more authentic manner. The tourist transaction is removed and humanity and hospitality take its place. Even if you don’t speak the language, you can mime, smile, and learn a few new words. A little goes a long way when communicating outside of our comfort zones. The prices in lesser-known places can be more affordable too. Last, though not least, is the post-trip enjoyment when sharing stories with friends and family. The conversation becomes more engaging because their curiosity is piqued. You might even inspire them to visit somewhere they hadn’t considered before.
Tip 10: Don’t Overpack
You know those people who bring every the kitchen sink with them on a trip, “just in case”? Yeah, that used to be me. I was the one paying for overage fees at the airport ticketing desk. (The picture below on the left is what I brought to move to Korea, not to travel…but it is an effective contrast to the one of me at the airport with a carry-on for 5 weeks in Europe!) If your travels include flying and you can manage just a carry-on, do it. It’s life-changing, no exaggeration. Even though the silly social media world convinces us we need to wear 4 different fabulous outfits a day, you 1 million percent do not. You’re going somewhere else to relax and expand your horizons, not to become an online travelling fashion show.
For those who panic hearing the word “carry-on”, start with learning about a capsule wardrobe. It’ll completely change the game for your body, as well as your mind. Nobody wants a bad back as a souvenir thanks to hauling heavy luggage. To the same extent, wouldn’t you rather get excited about the activities you’ll experience vs. worry about your outfit? Fashionistas, you can still put your best foot forward with a capsule wardrobes. Enjoy the extra mind space in your new surroundings.
Another reason to use a carry-on or a school-sized backpack is because you gain tons of time. Since you won’t be waiting forever at luggage carousels or filing lost luggage claims, you’ll race out of the airport and into the fun ahead. Even though one of my credit cards gives me a free checked bag when flying Air Canada, I have yet to use that perk. Once you go carry-on, you never go back. Let me know if you’ve crossed over in the comments below.
Bonus Tip: “Plan” to Travel Even When There Are No Plans to Travel
There are dreamers, and there are planners; the planners make their dreams come true.
— Edwin Louis Cole
Planning is sexy. There, I’ve said it. Planning is sexy. You might question why I’m talking about planning in a blog about spontaneity. However, if you prioritize fitness in your routine, make a point to keep in touch with family and friends, save for retirement, or do any of the other important day-to-day tasks that sometimes feel mundane but lay the foundation for amazing results, you already know what’s up. Every time we take action to prioritize something we value, we’re planning for the opportunity to be flexible in the future. There’s a quote from race car driver Bobby Unser about success that says, “Success is where preparation and opportunity meet”. I believe the same can be said for spontaneous travel. Earning and understanding rewards programs is the perfect example, as is putting money into a travel fund each month even when no trip is on the calendar. While this is the bonus tip, it might be the number 1 tip of the whole blog, so happy “planning”!
Have You Ever Planned a Spur-of-the-Moment Trip?
Have you ever planned a spontaneous international trip before? Would you, if you haven’t? If you haven’t, why not? Here’s your chance to challenge your boundaries and branch into the next version of yourself, however that may look. How exciting is that!
If you’re already on the surprise trip bandwagon but a family member or friend isn’t quite there yet, have them read this blog post on 8 reasons why spontaneous travel is life-changing. You’ll have a travel buddy in no time!
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