Have you ever thought about how to incorporate spontaneity into travel? In North America, the average vacation time is 2 weeks. That’s 4% of your year to relax, rest, and rejuvenate. It’s as impossible as it is sounds. How do you cram everything you want to experience AND rest in such a short period of time? The time scarcity often leads to vacations that are as scheduled and hectic as day-to-day life. No wonder people feel they need a vacation from the vacation! Who wouldn’t be exhausted after cramming in a million activities, travel days, and possible jet lag during their limited time off?
What if, instead, you returned home feeling energized and rested? Sounds like a dream, right? One way to achieve that level of Zxen is to leave things up to chance, go with the flow, and see how each day naturally unfolds.
In December I did just that. I wanted to go away for a weekend, have some fun, and explore somewhere new. I left 9 days after booking my plane ticket and Airbnb. Everything else I left up to fate. There were zero expectations for the trip, other than making it a mission to eat a ton of delicious food. (Mission accomplished by the way.) It was such a fantastic, affordable, and memorable experience that I can’t wait to travel that way again.
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What is Considered a Spontaneous Trip?
A spontaneous trip is quite simply a trip sans planning. There are many ways to weave spontaneity into your travels. Perhaps your timing is spontaneous and you book a last-minute getaway. Maybe the destination is familiar, but you leave the itinerary wide open. 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 always wanted to do this!). Below I’ve compiled a list of 10 fantastic ideas to bring spontaneity into your travels this year. Enjoy!
10 Super Fun Ways to Incorporate Spontaneity into Travel
1: Road Trip
Ah, the classic road trip. You pack some food, put on that feel-good playlist, and hit the open road. There’s nothing like it. You’re in the driver’s seat (unless you’re the designated Passenger Seat Prince/Princess) and anything that comes your way is an adventure. As a staple North American travel tradition, you might be wondering how this tried-and-true travel style can incorporate spontaneity into your travels. You’re in luck because I have many ideas for you!
First, if you typically travel with others then hit the open road alone. How’s that for changing things up? Trust me, it’s nowhere near as daunting as it might seem. I’d even argue that it’s quite liberating! Another option is to hop in the car and drive without a destination in mind, stopping only when the gas tank runs out. Top up your tank, explore wherever you landed for a while, and then turn around and head home. Third, switch spots in the car. If you usually drive, hop in the passenger seat and vice versa. You might be surprised how different an experience you’ll have just from swapping seats. Fourth, couple the driving component with a competitive or creative activity. An example of this is making a book out of your experiences. Take photos, jot down notes, and capture the adventure for a paperback souvenir. Get creative and choose a style of book in advance – poetry, children’s book, journal, etc… You could even make it a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure by scripting out your directions in advance without consulting a map: “Hop on the highway, get off at the 12th exit, hang a right, drive for 20 minutes, take 2 lefts, and that’s your destination”. That actually sounds like a great idea…I’m going to have to give that last one a go! The fifth(ish) idea is to have someone else plan your route and reveal it to you when you leave. There’s a very cool Canadian company that does just that, but more about them below.
2: The Ruler Map Trick
When I was a kid, my parents took me and my siblings on a road trip to Virginia. It wasn’t until years later that I learned how they picked the destination. They decided on the farthest distance they were willing to drive and then chose from the available options. I thought that was such a cool idea! I call it the ruler map trick because it’s the same concept, just with a visual tool. You know, kind-of like when you tied a string to a pencil and attached the string to the paper to make a circle compass in school. Get real fancy with this idea and draw a shape on a map, choose a number, and then visit that many destinations within the shape you drew on the map.
3: Guess Where Trips
Guess Where Trips is one of my favourite travel companies in the world. They’re so cool, in fact, that I wish I had come up with the idea for the business because it’s so fantastic. Instead, I did the next best thing, which was to work together and create a secret trip for them! If you’re in Ontario, check out The Waterfall Route, made by yours truly! For a 10% discount, use the code “TMC10”.
If you haven’t heard of them before, let me introduce you to the most fabulous surprise road trips. The concept is simple. Choose a trip based on a theme, for example beer, flowers, or kid-friendly adventures. You can also take the Trip Quiz to see a selection of routes. Then select which version of the trip you’d like to receive, the online PDF itinerary or the fabulous snail mail version. I’d suggest the tangible letters, but that’s just me. (This is of no surprise to anyone who’s played Postcard Trivia with me on Instagram.) For more information on how the surprise road trips work, check out the in-depth blog post I wrote on Guess Where Trips.
4: Last-Minute Deals
There are so many websites out there these days to help you find last-minute travel deals. There are flight deals, hotel deals, all-inclusive packages, and more. Some of the more popular hotel deal websites are Hotwire, Hotels.com, and Hotel Tonight. If you love all-inclusive travel packages, Sunwing Vacations and Air Transat are 2 sites for Canadians to bookmark.
Discounted flight deals come in a few forms. There’s the mistake fare, the last-minute attempt to fill the seats fare, and the off-season flight deals. My favourite Canadian site for discounted flights is YYZ Deals. They also send out alerts for several other Canadian hubs.
Groupon has deals on travel activities and accommodation. Travellers who prefer the convenience and social aspect of group travel should check out itineraries with G Adventures and Contiki. Airfare is an additional cost, which is why paying yourself to travel and using reward points for the flights will radically reduce your last minute international travel plans!
5: Familiar Destination, No Itinerary
It’s not uncommon for us to return to a place time after time. Ireland, Italy, and Northern Ontario are my other homes and so I’m often hopping on a plane or jumping in the van to return. While the destination may be familiar, I make the conscious decision to do something new every time. The perfect example of this is my trip to Ireland last September. The loose plan was to spend a few days visiting friends and former haunts in Dublin as I always do and then to head to County Mayo for something different. Instead, I ended up at Europe’s largest matchmaking festival and surfing the next day in County Clare! It’s amazing where you’ll end up when you say yes! Just because the destination is familiar, doesn’t mean the trip can’t be spontaneous.
6: New Destination
It’s wonderful to return to familiar places, no question. I think most of us would agree that exploring somewhere new is also appealing. One of the reasons for this is that there are so many ways to incorporate spontaneity into travel when visiting a new destination. Maybe you book your transportation and accommodation and nothing else. Maybe you just book the transportation to arrive there. Another idea is to base your activities each day on what strangers and locals suggest you should do next. There’s a phenomenal YouTube channel I’ve been watching for years called Yes Theory. Much of their travel around the world leans this way. Check them out for itinerary inspiration or just what it means to be a human in our beautiful blue and green globe.
7: Hyper-Local Spontaneous Travel Ideas
If travelling internationally or even flying domestically is out of reach for you at the moment, I’ve still got you covered! There are so many fun ways to add hyper-local wanderlust into your weekends and weeknights. Be a tourist in your own city and join a walking tour. If you’re in Ontario, Stroll Walking Tours in Waterloo Region is fantastic. If you’re in Ireland, you must meet Kevin who runs the delightful Walking Food Tours in Dublin. Experiment with different global cuisines at local restaurants or head to a specialty grocery store and try a different ethnic recipe at home. Attend a local festival or event. Visit your local independent movie theatre and catch a film you wouldn’t normally see. Check out geo-caching in your city. If you love history, I started an Canadian travel series during the pandemic based on Ontario’s 160 most unusual sites that’s pretty interesting as well. The possibilities for travelling at home are endless!
8: Have Someone Else Plan the Trip
Whether it’s your road trip co-pilot, Guess Where Trips, or a random stranger who’s not even travelling with you, leaving the plans up to someone else definitely creates an exciting layer of spontaneity to your travels. This style of travel can be a thoughtful romantic getaway or surprise trips for a friend or family member. If you’re travelling alone, you can still have someone else plan the trip for you. Each morning the planner can email or text your itinerary for the day. If they’re super creative, they can make their own version of a Guess Where Trip based on your interests or a trip they have taken in the past. Planners, get in on the trip fun and have your travel companions choose between options along the way. Make it what you want!
9: Close Your Eyes and Point
Maybe it’s a city map. Maybe it’s a map of the province or country. Or maybe, if you have the time, resources (points!), and flexibility with work, you plop yourself in front of a globe and let it spin! Either way, this must be one of the coolest off-the-cuff options for the ultimate spontaneous travel adventure.
10: Show Up to the Airport and Buy a Flight
I saved this one for last because it’s been a travel bucket list item of mine for years! I’d love love love to just show up at an airport with a credit card, capsule wardrobe, and massive grin on my face knowing I have absolutely zero idea where I’m off to next. Can you even buy tickets at an airport desk anymore? Regardless, we’ve all got a phone and that does the trick. I can see the montage now…strutting through the airport terminal doors, checking the flight board, pointing in surprise and excitement, before swiping up to open the phone and buy the next flight out. Epic.
Do You Ever Incorporate Spontaneity into Travel?
Have you ever thought to incorporate spontaneity into travel before? Would you, if you haven’t already? Why not give it a try on your next adventure? If you’re already on the surprise trip bandwagon but a family member or friend isn’t quite there yet, go alone! Solo travel is super underrated. If you really prefer travelling with others, I hear ya there too. 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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