We’re doing something different for this summer’s trip – cutting out much of the planning, and putting the adventure back into our travels by just turning up somewhere and seeing what happens.
I’m a planner by nature, partly because being a travel writer has always required some pretty intensive itinerary making, if books and features are ever going to get written on time. And partly because – let’s face it – I love lists, charts, tick-boxes and big bags full of guidebooks, notes and print-outs.
Not this time though. We’re going to throw in our lot with Fate and travel around Europe on a bit of a whim.
Does this idea excite you or fill you full of horror? Here’s what we’ve done so far – and here’s hoping it inspires you to throw of the trip-planning shackles.
The ground rules
We set ourselves some rules (come on, I can’t live entirely without structure, the world would simply stop turning).
1. We have to visit more than one country – and the trip has to include at least one country we’ve never been to before.
2. We have to buy the cheapest available outward flight that fits our dates – wherever that happens to be in Europe.
3. No guidebooks – either for pre-trip planning or for taking with us.
4. Only one piece of sightseeing information allowed per destination. I usually take along endless lists of ‘Best restaurants in X’ or ’10 great things to do in Y’ or ‘Top 20 attractions in Z’. This time we’re allowed one search and one saved piece of information per country.
The cheapest outward flight that fitted our dates was to Vienna, and I haven’t been there for 20 years, so no stored knowledge to help there. And it was cheaper to fly back from Prague, where I’ve never been – so that’s rule 1 and 2 taken care of.
After a quick look at Google Maps, we also added Budapest (once, 10 years ago) and Bratislava (never been) to the itinerary. They’re about an inch or two apart on the map, how hard can that be to travel between them?
So that’s one trip, four countries and still no plans. Oh, and we don’t speak any of the languages. Going well so far.
Finding somewhere to stay usually involves reading guidebooks, asking friends, trawling through hotel websites and cross-checking on TripAdvisor. Or turning up somewhere and looking personally in lots of different hotels until I find one I like.
Not this time. Having effectively broken the entire trip into four separate city breaks – Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Prague – we’ve decided to throw in our lot with Airbnb. One website, resulting in – we hope – four very different but authentic experiences.
And because we’re not doing any other trip-planning, we’ve basically booked blind. Choosing ‘old town’ or ‘city centre’ as the only filters, we’ve reserved four apartments in four cities that we don’t known at all.
All we have to do is walk out of the door and explore. Speaking of which –
Things to see and do
We’re going to go armed with our scant knowledge – Prague, has a castle and a famous bridge; Budapest, erm, on the Danube, steam baths; Vienna, Hapsburgs, cake; Bratislava, no idea – and see what we can find. We’ll ask our Airbnb hosts when we get there for their insider tips, and we’ll shout out on Twitter and Facebook (again, not until we’re there), see if anyone else has any good recommendations.
We have kept to our rule about pre-trip research. I am taking the following random bits of information, for no other reason that they sounded fun: a micro-brewery trail in Bratislava, the details of the Communist statue park in Budapest, directions to the hispter neighbour of Wieden in Vienna, and the times of Prague’s astronomical clock performances.
But we won’t plan a single other thing, we won’t go to tourist offices or buy guidebooks, and we won’t load up visitor websites.
What could possibly go wrong?
Sure, we’ll miss lots of things, and probably not see some famous sights because we didn’t know the closing day or couldn’t figure out how to get there.
But I bet we’ll also find the most amazing local haunts, and eat in really good neighbourhood restaurants, and happen upon all sorts of things we wouldn’t find if we had our noses in a guidebook.
That’s the idea anyway. I’ll let you know how we get on in a future post.
By the way, while I love your comments – and I’d be interested to hear what you think about this trip – don’t go giving me any recommendations if you know these places well!
I’ve never been so ill-prepared for any trip I’ve ever taken, but that, I’m discovering, is the exciting part.
Feature image, My To-Do List by Rob and Stephanie Levy, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Bucket List by Alexander Mueller, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Prague by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho, via Flickr, CC BY 2.0
Bratislava Castle at Night by Juraj Kubica, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0