After 2 years of Backpacking in South America, I would like to give you some advice for planning your trip. It can make the difference between a “Good travel experience” and a “WHAT THE F**CK travel experience.”
Today I would like to speak to you about why you shouldn’t book everything months or even weeks in advance and why you should let some “hole” when you’re planning your trip.
It’s normal that you want to have a perfect itinerary when you have only 2-3 weeks to discover the country. However, some of the tips below can help you to get a different approach to the travel. Maybe you will finally decide to visit Colombia in two or three trips instead of one 😉
It’s true that some of the reasons below are more suitable for long-term travel. I consider that a long-term travel experience can be one month of adventure “only.” In fact, it depends on the expectation of each one regarding his travel
Whatever your way of traveling is, it’s an unusual and fantastic enterprise. But in my opinion, it’s more exciting and useful to live it as a life lesson.
Welcome to the world of vagabonding, the main reason why people become addict to the travel.
Are you in a rush and you don’t want to read all the details? You can directly jump to the conclusion of this article ==> Click here
1 – You Find A Country Custom Made For Your Soul
Two and a half years ago, I decided to quit my job and travel around the world. After lots of research, I bought a world trip ticket to visit a maximum of countries in 1 year.
I started with my Colombia travel and went to the main destinations. My love story with the country has begun. However, I was still thirsty to discover other countries and I decided to leave after one month. I just had five months before my trip to Easter Island from Santiago de Chile.
The time pass, all the countries are beautiful, but I didn’t find the feeling I had during my Colombia travel (Except in Brazil). I wrote to my agency and asked them to cancel my flight to Australia. I wished to go directly to New Zeland instead but only in January the year after.
I had two months free on my new schedule, and I decided to come back to my first country: Colombia.
I used this time to learn Salsa in Cali and passed my Diving Open Water License in Taganga.
January arrived, and believe it or not. I was still unready to leave the country. It was worst, and my relationship has become stronger. I called my agency again and told them to cancel my flight; I will not go home next June. They nicely reimbursed me 110$ for the airport taxes, but they couldn’t do it for the flight tickets. And you know what? I didn’t care because I was back to travel in Colombia one more time.
Reason 1: Less planning your trip to have a chance to #FallInLove with a country
Do you remember the last time you meet this incredible person, and you have immediately connected to each other? It can be the same with a country.
And I tell you,
it’s painful to leave a place you’ve fallen in love with only because you have already booked a flight to go somewhere else.
2 – To Avoid Killing Your Best Friend (Or To Be Assassinated)
I’m traveling with Laura. I have known her for ten years, and we have been drunk so many times together that I can’t remember all. We have slept in the same bed without ever trying to have sex, she heard me crying because of a girl, and I carried her when she fell unconscious in the tramway. I think we can say we are best friends.
However, today I can’t deal with Laura anymore. And neither can she with me.
We are perfect together for our “normal life,” but the expectation we have as a traveler is different. When you’re planning your trip with someone, you will be with the other person almost 7/7 24/24 (Thanks to the toilet and shower breaks)
Small things you don’t appreciate will become HELL, and you will understand the expression the drop of water that has made the vase overflow. Sometimes you can deal with it; sometimes you can’t. And you will become angry at each other for strictly NO REASON.
Same when your grandma is yelling at your grandpa because he doesn’t remember the name of the cousin of the postman.
The only way to save your friendship? To Have a break and travel apart for a time.
Do you want to know our last argument?
We are somewhere on the Brazil coast, and we’re arguing because I’ve packed the pieces of pizza in different boxes, but she mixed them in the fridge.
Then we decided to travel in different directions before we start using knives.
Reason 2: #BestFriend in life are sometimes not #BestTravellerFriend
If you’re traveling with someone else, you will have the possibility to split for a time and save your friendship (or your couple). Less planning your trip lets you a loophole
3 – Your Favorite Secret Movie Is Billy Elliot, And You Want To Develop Your Salsa Skills.
Small hostel in Puerto Varas, It’s raining like hell outside, and I decide to sit at the table in the living room with my computer.
I’m in front of my shitty Chilean computer, playing poker on the internet. It was my passion when I was a student. Thanks to the poker, I could stop gathering fruits during my summer holidays.I was in love with this game; I wanted to become the best.
After I’ve started working in Monaco, the passion disappeared progressively. I was playing only for money, without pleasure. I made more errors than usual, and poker is a bitch which doesn’t allow mistakes. I stopped.
Anyway, you don’t care about my poker’s stories, right?
Let’s go back to Chili.
I play on my horrible computer (yeah I hate it) and lose my 10 $bankroll. It seems I’m not the best anymore.As traveling became my daily life, it’s time to find another passion.
I know I want to go back to Colombia. I like to dance and kept on embarrassing my sister with my “almost” sexy moves. Furthermore, I love Colombian girls.
It’s decided, I will learn salsa for three weeks.
After one week in Cali…
I’m happy. Last night I invited my first Colombian girl to dance salsa in a club. Of course, my performance was not “Whaououuuouu!” but nobody cared.
I was born in a country where tradition is to be first drunk then stand up and move the hand from left to right or top to bottom or both at the same time if you are a professional.
I guess you can imagine my skills when the salsa teacher asked me the first time to:
- Understand the music by Counting the tempo
- Do my steps in rhythm
- Lead the girl
And of course, do it all at the same time
But I tried, and tried, and tried.
And you know what? Nope, I’m still not a professional, but I’m enjoying it now. And I’m not scared to invite a girl to dance anymore. (Except if she has danced like a goddess with the doppelganger of Eddie Torres in the club Tin Tin Deo in Cali)
Reason 3: You can stay and #LearSomethingNew if you’re less planning your trip
When you’re traveling, you can take the opportunity to learn/develop a skill that you have never thought about before. Are you ready to accept the challenge?
4- You Meet Your Secret Crazy Half Punk Brother, And The World Is Yours – Pinky And The Brain
New year Eve in Cali (Colombia)
It’s 9 pm, and we are waiting for our dishes in the small restaurant at the corner of our hostel. The waiter arrives, and I can’t stop myself from laughing.
Greg is a vegetarian, and he didn’t have many choices. Tonight, he will eat a delicious meal.
– Hmm, I always wanted to eat a plate of pasta with cold tomato sauce for New year.
I met Greg a few days ago at the bar of our hostel. We immediately played at his Tinder to find a date for the night. Indeed, he is a God at Tinder. With great power comes great responsibility, he never uses Tinder in his country.
Greg is a guy with dark humor. His punk side refuses to respect the law and to adapt to our society fully. However, he is one of the nicest people I met, and he always does his best to adapt himself to the culture of the country he is visiting.
He likes to play the doomed person in relationships. And it’s true. With Greg, there is always someone who is suffering at the end. Most of the time, it’s him. But, it never lasts.
Sometimes you meet people who push you up. With them, you’re always motivated and in a good mood. Do you know what I mean?
It’s my case with Greg. My crazy side takes control of my personality, I’m scared of nothing, we are doing stupid crazy things, and I love it.
The New Year party is great. We are a funny wolf pack, giant dolls full of fireworks exploded in the street, and I finally kiss the girl of my dream: Talia.
She is from Israel, dance salsa like a caleña (girls from Cali) and has fantastic hair. (I’ve always been attracted to the hair of a girl. I maybe compensate the fact I don’t have a lot)
Unfortunately, the next day my fairy tail suddenly stops. She is not interested in changing plan for me. Travel girls know what they want, and they are not scared to say it.
My heart is broken, and my mate Greg has already left to Medellin.
2 days later, I take one of the most significant decisions of my trip (and life). I won’t grab my flight to Australia, and I have no idea how and when I will go back home.
Greg, I’m coming.
Reason 4: You want #ToStayLonger because you meet great people
Traveling also allows you to meet people you will never forget. Memories are made of people and experiences. Don’t be scared to accompany your new friend/lover to places that are not on your “trip plan.”
5 – You Cancel Your Plan To Take Over The World And Enjoy Your Freedom
I’m still in Colombia, and I knew that if I cancel all my flights, they can’t reimburse me. So I will probably pay one of the most expensive 1-way flight tickets to Colombia in all the history of the Backpacking. Planning your trip and canceling your flights can be costly.
And I’m… HAPPY!
I’m sure you can understand. It was the first time in my life I had no date. Nobody is waiting for me, and I have no obligation. The absolute freedom.
I guess it’s why people want to win the lottery.
We live in a world where we grow up with many codes inculcated by the school, society, our parents, nanny (Nobody can stop me putting rocks in my mouth now!!). We all have a plan to follow, and it’s the same for most of us:
School ==> Good grades ==> University==> Good grades ==> Jobs ==> to form a Family ==> To build a house ==> Good grave
If you say “No” to one step of this program, you’re different (Almost a weirdo)
When you’re traveling with no date, you have no plan so no constraint. I had planned a one year trip, and I was bored to say to everyone
“Oh seems a great idea but I don’t have time. I’ve got a flight soon, and I have to go there.”
I had Fu***ng ONE year! Of course, I could go if I wanted.
It’s all the reasons why I canceled my flights.
Do you know the four agreements? No? ==> Read this article
I love the book: The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. It helps me to change my way of thinking 🙂
Thanks to this new way of thinking, I could:
- Go back to Medellin and become crazy again with Greg
- Invite this Colombian girl for a lovely weekend in Rio Claro
- Play Ukulele with a friend in Bogota
- Climb in Suesca
- Discover the most northern point of Colombia
- Find a dream job as a tour guide on the San Blas Islands for 1 year
Reason 5: Less planning your trip allows you to enjoy the #AbsoluteFreedom
If you want to travel 4-6 months or more and you have no obligation at home, you should think twice before booking a flight return ticket in advance.
You will be able to enjoy the feeling of absolute freedom.
6- Freedom Is Not Enough, You Want Another Goal. Saving The World?
I’m enjoying life with sex,
drugs, and rock&roll. Colombia is full of amazing people, and it’s hard to leave each place.
The feeling of total freedom gave me new energy; I believe I can rule the world. The universe is mine. However, a downside is coming progressively after 2 months. I can feel it, following me like a shadow.
Everyone who has traveled for a long-term will understand what I’m telling about. I start missing home, friends, family and try to answer THE BIG question: What am I doing with my life!!
The famous Nomadic Matt wrote an excellent article about the downside
I decide to stop somewhere, to relax and read my books (I only speak when I want, and I don’t care if people think I’m unsocial).
I take a look at the map, – Hm, Palomino seems excellent!!
I find the ideal hostel, family vibes, few guests and near the beach. I met another crazy musician guy (Yep, I love crazy musician person) from Austria. We do different expeditions for a few days, but we always come back to Palomino. I appreciate the daily routine, and I still don’t want to move.
However, I still want to go to Capurgana one day and find a way to go to Panama.
After 2 weeks, I’m thinking about working/volunteering somewhere. It could be a nice opportunity to save money and stay longer in the same place.
It’s funny how freedom without a meaning of life is not enough. We need goals to move forward otherwise life is just boring. I learned that happiness is just a short feeling as a result of a good experience. It’s ephemeral, and you can’t keep it in a bottle.
Would you like a quick recap of happiness? Watch a great Ted remix made by BrainPicking
Jonas (the Austrian dude) tells me there is a very nice hostel in Capurgana: La Bohemia. 2 days after, I take my backpack and decide to check by myself this great hostel.
I didn’t know, yet it will be thanks to this hostel that I will find a job for a whole year.
Reason 6: To fight #AgainstDownside
You can take the time to add an activity or a job to cope with an eventual downside. We need some goals to be happy.
7- You’re The New Jack Sparrow Of The Caribbean Sea
I’m waiting in line to take the boat to Capurgana. I had to buy plastic bags to protect my stuff, but I still have one left.
A girl in front of me needs one. I give it to her, and we start speaking. She is from France, but she lives now in Capurgana. She is the owner of one of the hostel there. Do you guess which one?
Yes, La Bohemia!!!! OMG, I love when such things happen.
Capurgana is a small town lost in the Darien Gap. In two words, it’s Chill and Vallenato. I’m enjoying my stay in the hostel. La Bohemia is made of wood in the middle of nature. We are like a big family, cooking together, playing cards, etc…
The manager of the hostel is a Colombian, but she is also working with San Blas Adventure. Maria (it’s her name) explains me it’s a company which organizes a 4 days trip to the San Blas islands with speedboats. You spend the 4 days on one of the most beautiful islands in the world, you learn about the Kuna culture (indigenous living there), and you do parties at night with your group.
She tells me she will be one of the guides. She is cool. I say I’m joining the adventure.
The next 4 days, I live like a pirate. We move to different islands each morning. The sea water splashes my face a few times, and it helps me to stay awake. I don’t want to miss one minute of the spectacle going on right before my eyes.
I go and explore the ocean floor with my snorkels, hoping to find mermaids and treasures. No success. The guides cook for us, and we just have to put our feet up.
At night, I let the rum drips on my beard and chest. Pirates don’t need soft to drink their alcohol. I pass out in my hammock with the last sounds of music and laughs.
And one day, unfortunately, the dream stops. We arrive in Panama City.
I had a lot of fun with Maria and the other guide (Yakira), so I decided to stay at the same hostel. The next day Maria comes and asks me if I want to work with them (First as a volunteer and maybe to become a guide one day)
I’m thinking: Me? Managing a trip from A to Z with 25 persons in English? It seems scary!!! I will never be able to do it! F**k that!
However, to be a volunteer seems fun and without responsibility. I’m in!
4 months later, I make my first trip as the main guide. During the briefing, my heart starts beating wildly. It scared the shit out of me. Fortunately, the guests forgive my weird speech because of my french accent (Thank you sexy accent :D).
The next morning, It’s the departure. I’m out of my comfort zone, and it’s terrifying but exciting! Nobody imagines the storm of feeling inside of me.
I’ve acquired many new skills in this job. And do you know my new favorite motto?
The ridiculous does not kill, be shameless and try.
By going out of your comfort zone, you must draw on your resources. By consequent, you learn a lot about yourself.
Traveling is a perfect moment to try scary experiences. Indeed, you are already in this mentality because you’re overcoming challenges every day.
Take your chance! Besides, if you fail no one of your friends will know 😉
Reason 7: Less planning your trip is to have more time and occasions to be implicated in something that #ScaredTheShitOutOfYou
When you’re traveling, nobody knows you. Take the opportunity to be anyone you want to be and go out of your control zone by pushing your limits and forgetting your fears.
8 – Jack Is Tired, You Need To See Your Mate From France (Yeah Jack Like French people)
Facebook discussion with Adrien during one on my day off
– Hey, Tom! What’s up?
– Nothing. I’m chilling at the apartment. I received the Guest list of my next San Blas Trip. 2/3 are Australians guys, It gonna be nasty… I hope they won’t be all naked this time.
– Haha haha, it’s karma dude. You can’t have only girls all the time!
– Yeah, you’re right. I hate Karma ^^. I’m gonna take some vacation soon and have some rest. Where are you going this time btw?
– Dunno… We didn’t book anything yet. Oh shit, we should try to go somewhere together! Let’s go to Costa Rica!
– Costa Rica? I can’t. I will meet my parents there for Christmas. All the backpackers join their parents in Costa Rica because it’s the most expensive country, hahaha. Guatemala seems awesome too.
– Guatemala? Is it not dangerous and full of mosquitos serial killer?
– Mate, you should stop watching the news. Vamos!! (Let’s go in Spanish)
– Ok, Vamos Vamos!!!
2 days later we have our tickets.
1 month later, we are drinking a beer together in Antioquia.
When you are traveling all around the world, you encounter hundreds of people. So I’m sure you will understand the pleasure to talk to someone without asking the first 3 questions (that you hate since 3 months): What’s your name? Where do you come from? For how long are you traveling?
Did you already have this impression?
Reason 8: Meet your friends #WhereYouWant
The advantage when you’re less planning your trip is that you can meet a friend from home without having the feeling to leave a place you enjoy only because of her/him.
9- Vagabonding, Your New Favorite Word After Rum
Vagabonding is not only catching a train to cross the United States like Kerouac. It’s more a travel attitude to live the journey instead of leaving from a famous place to another one.
“In this way, vagabonding is not just a process of discovering the world but a way of seeing – an attitude that prepares you to find the things you weren’t looking for”
You have more time to see and understand the country without being a selfie robot.
I would also like to have the same superpower as the guy in Jumper. But imagine if we all could do it? It will be like that:
And we can observe it today with the mass tourism in places like Venise, Barcelona, etc..
It’s becoming a giant industry, and unfortunately, everyone (tourists and agencies) is focusing on the destination only and not on the journey itself.
You will learn to enjoy each moment. Giant s**ts on the way will make your travel memories unforgettable.
If you just want a selfie with the Eiffel tower, take a picture in front of your TV. It will be cheaper.
I blame no one. We use to take shortcuts every time we can save time. Now it’s simple to travel, so we are doing South of America in 2 months.
Me too, I often take shortcuts, no one is perfect. But I’m trying, and I will continue to try my best.
“In this way, as we throw our wealth at an abstract notion called “lifestyle”, travel becomes just another accessory- a smooth-edged, encapsulated experience that we purchase the same way we buy clothing and furniture”
We forgot the essence of traveling. Where are the heroes of our childhood?
- The motorcycle diaries with El Che Guevara
- Lords of the ring with Sam Gamgee (Frodo sucks)
- On the road with Kerouac
If our generation doesn’t write books/blogs about it, who else gonna teach it to our kids?
Only Vagabonding will give the passion for the travel, nothing else.
I will say that Vagabonding is a little bit the recap of this article and, if you have to remember one world only, it would be this one (I repeat it just in case): Vagabonding.
I know we are leaving in a society where sitting 1 hour only looks bad. We need to plan, act and plan again.
And it can be hard to imagine to travel to the country of your dream with only the idea about the places you wish to go. You don’t want to fu***d up your vacation, and there are so many things to visit!
“The key to preparation is to strike a balance between knowing what’s out there and being optimistically ignorant”
But think about it from a different point of view. Isn’t traveling one of your best chance to feel something you have never experienced before?
You will always be able to come back to discover another part of the country if you enjoy the place.
“There is no better opportunity to break old habits, face latent fears, and test out repressed facets of your personality”
Traveling is an amazing school of life, don’t jump classes.
All the quote has been taken from a fantastic book: Vagabonding, an uncommon guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel
10 – Your Boat Sank Yesterday, You’re Finally Coming Home
During my trip I heard lots of different answers to the question: Are you ready to leave?
Some fellow travelers were excited to go back home to see their lover/ family/ friends.
Others went back before their first date because they didn’t enjoy it.
The last ones had shining eyes because they were not ready. And, most of them have moved back their flight if they had any commitment to their country.
What I want to say is that most of the time you will not be happy with the date you have settled. If you have a deadline at home (new class, new job, end of your holidays, etc.), of course, you should book your flight to save money.
However, if you have no obligation, avoid having a headache with your flight return and just go home when you are ready. Most of the time you will not save money by buying a round-trip ticket because you will change the date anyway. We never know in advance what we can find on the road.
And you will be surprised how much longer you can travel if you want to try the vagabonding adventure: Cooking at the hostel, moving slower and with local transports, working/volunteering, etc.
Reason 10: You can really decide when #YouAreReady to go home
Are you still with me?
My travel was cool. But I made a mistake to plan all my trip. Then I realized it, I canceled everything, and my journey became awesome.
It’s not easy to leave with less preparation because our brain tells us: “No you’re crazy, it’s insecure! Everything is going to turn wrong.”
But it’s wrong.
Because If you’re not planning your trip from A to Z, you can:
- Stay longer in a country you love
- Avoid killing your best friend
- Have time to learn something new
- Stay longer with people you have met
- Enjoy Absolute Freedom
- Cope with a downside
- Try to go out of your comfort zone
- Decide where you meet your friends from home
- Going home when you’re ready
Next time, try! Even for a short trip, save 2 days where you are free for example. Or choose 2 big cities like Bogota and Medellin and decide you will move around 1 week each one. And write me to tell your experience!
Do you know someone who would be afraid to do it? Print the article and stick it on the toilet door at the toilet seat level. Or you can share it on his/her Facebook wall/email.
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All the places have been personally tested by myself or approved by very close friends. I will do my best never to disappoint you.