Does it pay to plan ahead when you travel?

You may be keen to go wherever the wind takes you, or you might be a plan-to-the-hour type of traveller. There are benefits to both styles.

Travellers often fall into two categories—the planned and the unplanned—and more than likely, you already know which of the two camps you belong to, or if you sit somewhere in between.

Whatever your preference, we look at some of the pros and cons of both approaches, which may provide some food for thought before you embark on your next journey.

Why it’s great not having a schedule

Travelling without a set timetable is often something that’s associated with youth. For example, as a young backpacker, you probably have less commitments and more time to explore.

As people get older, uncharted travel may seem a little less realistic. Although, with many Australians likely to spend 20 years or more in retirement, life after work could be a great time to have a little less structure when it comes to your next trip.

Here are some of the benefits of travelling with fewer plans.

You’ve got access to last-minute deals

You can book discount flights and events last minute, including things when you arrive in town, which you mightn’t have been able to book before you left. Keep in mind though—there is the potential that you could miss out.

There's an element of surprise

Your requirements aren’t too specific, and you can change course at the drop of a hat. You don’t know what you’ll see, who you’ll meet and where an alternative route could take you—and that’s just what you’re looking forward to. You might miss the Pope in Rome but sit with the Dalai Lama in India.

You have more time to explore

You haven’t scheduled every day in advance—where and when you’re eating, what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with—you can be flexible with your time as you have fewer commitments. You can stay longer in one city if you want, or bunk with like-minded travellers you meet along the way.

You can step outside your comfort zone

You don’t know what you’re up for and are willing to push the boundaries by doing things you haven’t done before. You’re looking to boost your confidence, courage and communication skills by going in unplanned and unprepared.

When planning can have its benefits

It might be more your style to have every day, every meal and every event mapped out in advance, or it might just be a necessity to accommodate things like limited time, limited money, work, kids, or all of the above!

So, when does it pay to plan ahead?

You time it right

Whether it’s work, family or study, forward planning means you’re able to line things up at just the right time. And, if your travel is weather dependent, booking ahead gives you more of a chance of getting sunny skies or snowy slopes, depending on what it is you’re after.

You make savings

You’re able to secure half-price tickets and possibly discount accommodation because your travel agent told you months ago when it was a good time to book.

Transport is available

There are more connecting flights, plenty of transport you can access, and you’ve got your international driver’s licence handy because you looked into the various means of travel available before setting off.

Your events are sorted

You’ve got your tickets and know you’re not six months early because you checked the dates and knew you needed to book your tickets in advance—and what’s more, you might have scored some early-bird discounts too.

Things you should do either way

Of course, all travel requires a minimum amount of planning—you’ve got to buy a ticket if you’re going overseas right? With that in mind, always consider the following before you travel:

  • Paperwork – check your paperwork is sorted, including that your visas and passport are valid. Keep in mind, some countries may refuse you entry if you have less than six months’ validity on your passport, beyond the period of your intended stay1.
  • Insurance – if something happens before you head off, or you lose something, are injured or sick along the way, you’ll be glad to have the right travel insurance organised before you go. With nearly one in four Aussie travellers experiencing a loss on their most recent overseas trip (that’d be covered by most travel insurance policies) it may provide peace of mind2.
  • Money – knowing you have enough money for the trip and that it’s accessible is also worthwhile, as well as ensuring you have a little extra set aside in case of an emergency. 
  • Your health – make sure you get the necessary vaccinations for where you’re going. Remember, some countries (in places such as Africa, South America, and Asia) also require proof of vaccination against some diseases as a condition of entry3
  •  Your safety – take note of what’s happening around the world on the government’s Smart Traveller website. And, ensure you’re across the customs and laws of the places that you intend on visiting.

What else you may want to consider

There are pros and cons to different planning approaches, but ultimately, it’ll come down to what suits you, your circumstances and commitments, and what you feel most comfortable with.

The main thing to ensure is you’re covered if things take an unexpected turn, and that regardless of your timetable (or lack thereof), that you have fun along the way. After all, that’s what holidays are all about!


Australian Passport Office - Passport validity and foreign visas paragraph 2
Survey of Australians' Travel Insurance Behaviour 2016 page 9
Smart Traveller - Health Checks and Vaccinations 8, 12


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