One of the most fulfilling things I have learned from my relationship is spontaneity and how important and fulfilling it can be. Hayden is a oxymoronic spontaneous planner in all the right ways. He has a tendency to bring out of me opportunities that I admittedly would not act on without his lead. That is what lead us on our first three week backpacking trip to Europe just a few hours after graduating college. Our time spent in Munich, Salzburg, Venice, Lublijuana, Lake Bled, Split, Hvar, and Dubrovnik was an experience of a lifetime. We clicked every second of the trip whether it was indulging in a whole, skin on bone in fish meal or taking advantage of our inkling to experience every second to the fullest and planning last minute to add Italy to the list of countries we were planning on visiting during our time there. While we were there, we became expert backpacking planners which has inspired us to plan yet another adventure – this time to Scotland & Ireland (and potentially England, TBD…more on that later).
Step 1: Pick a destination
It was a casual, usual Friday night when Hayden and I spent 10 minutes apart listing out our “top 5” places for this years trip. Once we completed our lists we compared. While there were a couple of matches, something about Ireland stood out. Easy as that.
Step 2: Google Map It
Pick a destination city to fly in to. Then use google maps to see whats around it. Don’t hone in on the most touristy cities (my favorite destination on the last trip was Lublijuana, Slovenia – I guarantee you don’t know another person who’s vacationed there!). Pick cities big enough with enough to do but small enough to not feel so touristy. If you have the time to experience both, pick both touristy cities (Venice) and local gems (Lake Bled).
Step 3: Establish a Route. Kind of.
When I say establish a route, I really mean figure out where you want to fly into and where you want to fly out of. Its important to realize that plans change and you want to keep an open mind for flexibility (this goes against all things Allie Withers the chronic planner so if I can do it you can too). For example, Hayden and I will be flying into Edinburgh and out of Dublin. We still aren’t sure whats between but it will probably be a couple of these guys: Glasgow, Islay, Liverpool and/or Belfast. Write these all down and make sure prior to leaving there are ways to get to each from each transportation wise (whether it be bus, ferry, car, or train – we avoid cheap flights).
Step 4: Do Your Research.
The past two trips Hayden and I have created a shared GoogleDoc where we list out our cities, the tentative nights we are staying in each, and what the “must dos” are in each. This gives us a plan without a schedule.
Step 5: Book your Airfare.
Watch the airfare the second you start to think about a flight. This allows you to know what an average price is and when there is a good deal. For example, after the “Brexit” we were able to get plane tickets significantly cheaper than they originally were when we first started brainstorming.
Step 6: Do More Research.
Now that you’ve booked your flight, it should feel a little more real. Is there a futbool game you don’t want to miss? Any day trips from the cities you’ll be visiting (I highly recommend a guided hike through Plitvice National Park if you find yourself in Croatia)? Do you think you’ll need more time in some cities more than others?
Step 7: Book Your First Hostel.
Notice I said FIRST. DO NOT BOOK ANY MORE. If plans change you’ll find yourself filled with regret. When researching hostels, keep the following in mind:
- Location – you want city center so you can walk, its worth the extra $$
- History – it was so cool staying in an old prison turned hostel one night
- Breakfast – hostels with breakfast included are killer
- Linens – we refused to stay in a hostel where linens weren’t included
- Nightlife – if you don’t plan on going out at night, keep in mind a lot of other travelers might, check the reviews for this information
- Reviews – this is the most important. read every single review of the hostel and know what to take to heart versus what can be ignored (if everything is amazing except the showers spew cold water – get over it and take a quicker shower that night)
Step 8: Shop.
Know what you need based on activites, weather, easy traveling, etc. The last trip I knew I needed a backpack (thanks to Hayden, I got mine as a gift for Christmas 🙂 ) and some comfortable, but still trendy, walking shoes – read: Keds. This time, I needed shoes for more dreary, winter weather. I went with some awesome, trendy comfortable Tory Burch sneakers I found at Nordstrom Rack (you’ll hear more about these later) and some trendy tennis shoes I could pair with jeans and leggings alike.
Step 9: Relax.
Just because every detail isn’t planned doesn’t mean it isn’t going to go the way you think. Enjoy being there rather than having to stick to a schedule. As long as you get there and get out, everything in between is going to be perfect. Even if it’s just sitting there taking it all in.