Why Traveling Without A Plan Is The Best Plan

My absolute favorite thing about last minute travel plans is that there really isn’t time to plan.

When I first started traveling Europe during my year of studying abroad, I would always make very strict plans for each place that I visited. I would see this landmark, tour this museum, eat at this restaurant (insert pointer finger emoji here). As a detail oriented planner it was always really important that I stuck to those plans, with as little deviation to my “efficient touring process” as possible.

I can’t really tell you where it changed for me, because I am still very much a detail oriented planner in almost every area of my life. I love having a plan, and knowing that I am being the most efficient with my time. Especially when that time is limited, and spent in amazing countries around Europe during such a special season of my life.

Maybe I got tired of feeling frustrated every time my plans were foiled by the designated ‘plan ruiner’ named “Life”. Side note: isn’t it funny how, as predictable as life is, we are still some how shocked every time it interrupts us and throws us off our course? Personally, I don’t know why I don’t just expect it by now.

Maybe I finally realized my eyes were too big for my… stomach? Does that analogy work here? Maybe my metaphorical ‘city exploring stomach’? Or just my feet… I think that works better. The cities were too big for my feet. Literally though, my feet hurt so much after my travels! Whatever it was that changed my perspective, I am so glad it happened because I have gained such a wonderful appreciation for the art of what I call roaming.

I want to share a story with you. A story about taking the path of least resistance and the outcome of roaming wonderfully.

Traveling Without A Plan Hamburg
#roamwonderfully in Hamburg.

With two days leftover on my Europass and one weekend left to use it, I scrambled to put plans together to visit the Devil’s Bridge here in Germany. I then came to find out that it is as complicated to get to as it is popular on all the travel Instagram’s I follow. So, my plans fell through the night before I was going to leave, which was such a major bummer. In an effort to redeem the weekend I looked at Google Maps, spoke to my boyfriend on Skype and started skimming Germany for a weekend destination. Before he could even find a suggestion I happened to clicked on Hamburg. The pictures on google looked pretty, the city was popular, and it was by the coast. So, I said “looks great!” and bam, I was on a train the next morning with an Airbnb booked for the night.

Getting off the train I just hit the pavement walking. With no rhyme or reason I just started to roam the city. I realized that there is something so wonderful in doing this, in taking pictures, changing direction spontaneously, and quite literally zig zagging through the streets only kinda sorta looking at Google Maps to know your general location (safety first you know) with maybe 1-2 places in mind you want to head toward.

I have been able to see so much of the cities I have visited using this method of exploration. The only down side is that my Nikon was stolen during my first months of traveling and so I have had to resort to using my phone which dies super quick from all the photos I take. It’s not that I am a photo hoarder per say… there are just so many awesome and pretty things to take pictures of! I blame my art professor who told us: “Always take pictures of everything that inspires you, anything you think you might be able to use for a piece in the future. You like that brick texture? Take a picture of it, you might regret it if you don’t.” Well now, no one wants to live with regrets right?

Anyways, with this “flaw” in my roaming method I decided to paint it with a silver lining. I decided that when my phone battery was getting low on life, that was my “intermission” of sorts. It was time for me to take a break, my tea time, my Fika (for all my Swedes). I’d find a coffee shop or cafe and recharge my batteries, and my phones battery too.

This is a tradition that I have come to love during my roaming adventures, and it’s because of what I call “The Roaming Effect”. Somehow, when I decide I have to get to a specific destination in a certain amount of time (like the amount of time it takes my phone to die on 12% battery life), that is when these beautiful European cities DISTRACT me the most! So much so that I inevitably miss my next turn and end up blocks away from said destination. While roaming Hamburg I was heading to somewhere I was positive would have an outlet to charge my phone (I think it was a Starbucks?). On my way I didn’t just miss my turn, but kept walking so far I was five blocks away before I even realized it. So I thought, “Okay, if I take this street and then cut across I’ll get back to where I need to be and still see new streets of the city.” I don’t really like to backtrack the way I came, I’d rather go down new streets to see new stuff. But with less battery at this point I began thinking to myself, “Don’t miss another turn, you need to FOCUS!”

Traveling Without A Plan cafe
The stunning Nord Coast Coffee Roastery.

This is when I always end up stumbling across hidden cafés and coffee roasters like Nord Coast Coffee Roastery in Hamburg. They are always seemingly located down narrow, cobble stoned streets set between 18th-century brick buildings. I admit, it’s not the worst change of destination I could have chosen. This has continuously happened to me in every city that I have visited in Europe. This is The Roaming Effect. 

If you have read any of my previous blog posts or follow my travel Instagram, then you know I always find an excuse to mention coffee, and post all the new coffee shops that I visit. It’s my thing. Coffee is the thing I nerd out about and the thing I am always seeking out, both intentionally and unintentionally. This Roaming Effect is, to me, the product of finding your own travel niche. The thing that makes traveling special to you. Your experiential treasure chest of sorts, that allow you to mark that newly explored city with a big fat X that marks the spot. For me it is a new coffee shop. That one place that I stumble upon that I can enjoy a good cup of coffee and experience the variety of culture and community that comes through the doors. It is where I allow the day and all I have seen to sink in and impact me. It’s these places and moments that solidify my experiences and build unforgettable memories that I get to take with me forever.

These coffee shops, roasters and cafés also play a big role in my writing, because they are the places I end up writing a lot of my thoughts down that end up becoming blog posts like this one. Blog posts that travel across cities, and countries and find their way to you! I think about the fact that, had I never missed my turn that day in Hamburg, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon Nord Coast Coffee and written the thoughts that inspired this blog today. Had I never missed many of my turns while traveling, I wouldn’t have stumbled upon many of the places that I have. I think about all the cups of Joe I wouldn’t have enjoyed, barista’s I wouldn’t have met, stories I wouldn’t have heard and the things that maybe I wouldn’t have written.

These are the paths of least resistance that I have learned to look for, that I love to look for! Paths taken during spontaneous weekend trips to a new city, that make me appreciate learning how to travel with a loose plan. Learning to be flexible with my days, so that I have room for the possible appointments that I might stumble into. And to know that the absence of a strict travel plan doesn’t mean you aren’t making the most of your time. It just means that you are engaging more in the moments you are in and allowing possibility to enter.

For me, life’s interruptions and life’s possibilities are the same thing, they just look differently based on the plans you have made and how willing you are to deviate from them.

Profile photo of Hallie



Hallie is a young wanderer who loves coffee, photography, and all things travel. Follow her adventures at @roamcatalinaroam

Leave a Reply