Improvised Travel: A Blessing or a Curse?

Croatia

As we left so early from Krka, by the time we arrived back in the bus station in Split, it was only about midday. We had the whole day, and nearly two weeks in front of us but still no concrete plans. The temperature had soared that day, my back was sweating under the immense weight of my backpack and I was starting to worry that we had no flights booked home, or any idea where we would even be flying back from. Our completely improvised trip was starting to scare us.

Improvised or planned travel…?

We stopped by an internet café to book some flights, as neither of our phones were working or reliable. Slumping down my pack, I expected some kind of relief, but the room was thick with heat and loudly whirring from computers that were clearly very old of age. Our original travel dream was to explore the Balkans, heading South to Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina and then Kotor in Montenegro. All year I’d been pining over beautiful photos of these places and their surrounding natural beauty, creating plans and lists and collages (yes, collages). However, the more we searched on Skyscanner for flights back to London from any of these places, or anywhere nearby, the more this dream faded from sight. The prices were extortionate. We realised that improvised, spontaneous travel comes with some drawbacks and our ideas had to be drawn up again from scratch.

By the time we left the internet sauna after nearly an hour of scrolling and researching, we’d successfully booked ourselves onto flights in two weeks time from Venice…

Venice… did you say?

I initially had no plans at all to visit Italy, it wasn’t even remotely on my radar but it seemed like the only cheap flights to London on our selected date flew from Venice, so Venice it was. Everything that we’d planned went out of the window; scrap Montenegro, scrap Bosnia, scrap going South at all. We’d have to start travelling North to catch our newly-booked flights in two week’s time. We wandered around Split only feeling slightly more grounded in our plans, however. We still had no idea what to do next.

I suggested visiting Ljubljana, as it would be almost en route to Italy but neither of us felt like a city break at that moment, in the midday’s heat, covered in sweat and exhausted from our early start that morning. Staring out at the ferries coming and going from Split port, shipping tourists around the offshore islands, it suddenly dawned on me that we should visit the Croatian Island, Hvar. A friend of mine on my French course earlier that year had raved about Hvar and its beautiful beaches. A relax on the beach was exactly what I needed. I quickly convinced Josh it would be a good idea and within half an hour we had tickets to cross the Adriatic Sea to Hvar that very afternoon. Improvised travel suddenly became exciting again.

So to Hvar we went…

The ship to Hvar was unlike any I’d been on before. It was essentially just large room with lines of seats. Everyone faced forward towards three large televisions at the front, where adverts played on a loop. Eat at this restaurant in Hvar, drink at this bar in Hvar, rent a boat from this place in Hvar. Repeat. For two hours straight. I felt like we were being brainwashed.

It took longer than expected to reach Hvar, but I was stunned by how pretty the town was upon alighting the ship. It was different to Split, the buildings seemed smaller but prettier, quainter. Everything seemed elegant and clean and stylish; there were white roses lining the square, white stone architecture and expensive white yachts. You could tell immediately why it was a favourite holiday spot for celebrities.

improvised, travel, planning, tips

improvised, travel, planning, tipsimprovised, travel, planning, tips

We’d made no plans where to stay whilst on the island, (improvised again, woops) so we made our way to the tourist centre to ask if there were any campsites, figuring this would be our cheapest option. After finding out that there was a campsite near Stari Grad, another town on Hvar, we headed out. I quickly popped into a hostel to find out what the prices were, but they were pretty expensive per night and the receptionist there told us that all the hostels on the island would be the same. So we made up our minds to camp.

After taking a look at a bus timetable, I realised that the next bus from Hvar town to Stari Grad was in ten minutes, so we hurried off to the bus stop, shuffling quickly like penguins under the weight of our bags.

Love at first glance…

The bus journey was full of twists and turns, inclines and sudden drops. From the window I spotted a glorious bay from above, with arid green bushes dotted all the way down the golden hill to meet a beach with vivid turquoise water that melted into blue. We pinned the spot on our map to come back to later. One of the best parts of travelling without a plan: discovering gems like these and it completely taking you by surprise.

improvised, travel, planning, tips

We’d asked the bus driver to tell us when we were near the campsite, and arriving at the Stari Grad Port, he told us to get off. I saw a sign that said that the campsite was a mile down the road so we head off on our way, me with my heavy backpack and Josh with his two heavy backpacks (I have no sympathy, the boy can’t pack properly). The road was long and hot, lined with cars that queued to get on a ferry back to the mainland. After a while we saw a sign that said the campsite was only 100 yards away. Well, the sign lied. It felt like half an hour of sweating and puffing before we reached what looked like could be a campsite. And lo and behold, right outside the entrance… a bus stop… the ‘Stari Grad Campsite’ bus stop. Clearly the bus driver was a sadist and wanted to cause us tremendous pain by telling us to get off a stop earlier.

Camping and illegal fire-making (woops)…

Luckily, the campsite was large and spacious, with plenty of shade from the tall pine trees, and even some slight cushioning from the pine needles that blanketed the ground. It was luxury in comparison to our last campsite, where we slept on sharp rocks and on a slight incline.

Once the tent was completely set up, we began to set up our camp-stove and realised in horror that we were remarkably low on our eco-friendly camping fuel. In order to save ourselves from a slow death from starvation (slight exaggeration as we were actually 10 minutes from the centre of town) we had to divulge our inner Bear Grylls and create an open fire on the campsite floor. We collected three large rocks to create a safe spot in which we could build our fire and used small sticks and pine needles as kindling. It worked well and I was pretty proud at our resourcefulness. Of course, Josh got incredibly over-excited about the fire-making as well.

Our fire created an embarrassing amount of smoke and the little kids walking by stared at us. It wasn’t until two days later that we saw the sign prohibiting campfires, which was probably the cause of all the strange looks from around the campsite. Once the food was cooked, we realised that we’d lost our portable cutlery. After cooking a full meal on a hand-built fire, we had no way of eating the bloody thing. I was suddenly feeling a little less resourceful, having, well… lost our resources.

Friends with (practical) benefits…

At that very moment, we heard English voices return to their tent nearby. We looked at each other and knew that we had to seize the golden opportunity immediately or face the humiliating circumstances of eating our gooey spaghetti with our fingers. I made Josh approach because they sounded Northern (North and South England are avowedly opposed countries, it is widely known). He spoke to the family for a little while and found out about their origins. The mother was Croatian but had moved to Newcastle and met her husband there. The whole family lived in England now but stayed in Croatia during summer. I was impressed with how well the husband and kids could also speak Croatian. The family, obviously knowing the area well, also let us know some locations of the best beaches on Hvar, but unfortunately they also said that they were really only accessible by car, of which we had none. Thus, Josh returned from his hunting trip successfully garnering some cutlery and also some (kind of) useful nuggets of knowledge about Hvar.

That night I went to bed pretty early as I was starting to feel a bit sniffly and ill and hoped that a good night’s rest would do me some good. As I lay in the tent drifting off and feeling pretty thankful to rest after a whole day travelling, planning and more travelling, I thought about our style of travel and whether I liked it or not. Earlier in the day, I was feeling pretty let down by myself- due to not planning or booking any of our transport, I’d basically had to forfeit everything I’d originally wanted to do. However, after the day we’d had, discovering Hvar and its beauty, I wondered if it was really a bad thing. I mean, we’d left our plans open on purpose so that we wouldn’t be restricted with specific dates and times and could go where the wind took us. If that wind took us to Hvar, maybe somehow that’s where we were supposed to be. I was pretty damn excited to explore some of the island’s rugged natural beauty and its more refined towns. Just before I slipped into a deep sleep I figured it out: improvised travel can be indeed be a curse, but one that turns out to be a blessing.

So what kind do you prefer? Making it up as you go along, or following a strict schedule? Some of us like a mix of both styles. Let me know in the comments…

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    Practical Wanderlust (@practicalwander)
    November 7, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    I’m 100% the planning type! Nothing ruins my day more than showing up somewhere with no plans for where to go or what to do… I HATE having to find a place to sleep on the fly. I was cringing as I was reading this because it sounds like such a nightmare to me! But that’s the beauty of travel… there is no wrong way to do it. Everyone has their own style and their own preferred way of doing things, and they can be so totally different yet still completely work out!

  • Reply
    Susan
    November 7, 2016 at 4:32 pm

    Definitely the planning type! If I don’t have a solid plan, at least when it comes to lodging and transportation, I have a mental breakdown. I absolutely have to have all of that booked. Once we get to the place and set down our bags though, it’s a different story. I prefer visiting a city with a few lists of activities ranging from must-see to would-like-to-see. That way it’s not completely planned, but we still have a vague idea of what we want to do. So I guess I like to do a little bit of both?

  • Reply
    Maja
    November 7, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    I’m a big planner and I’m not sure if I would even like to improvise. I was wondering, what made you go to Hvar in particular, of all Croatian islands? We locals actually avoid it a bit, it became to “fancy” and too expensive for our pockets. Luckily, there are plenty other islands to choose from 🙂

    • Reply
      worldinsidemypocket
      November 7, 2016 at 10:43 pm

      I said in the post, my friend recommended Hvar in particular! Hvar town was a little too fancy for us but we stayed near Stari Grad, which had a more cozy vibe in my opinion. Also, as we camped and made most of our meals, it definitely wasn’t expensive! I loved exploring Dubovica and the other natural spots in Hvar, which I’ll share later on 🙂

  • Reply
    Sydney Fashion Hunter
    November 7, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    Hvar sounds lovely. Another place I am going to have to add to my list for 2018. I’m not usually and improvised traveller as my trips are usually short breaks and I don’t have the luxury of figuring it out as I go along and I always book my return flight. Glad this campsite suited you better than the last!

  • Reply
    lydia@lifeuntraveledl
    November 8, 2016 at 12:00 am

    I’ve done both and I find both offer good and bad points. When I travel with my boyfriend, we never really plan anything but I wouldn’t do that with just anybody (some people need to know their every move). I like to know what there is to see and do and I also like to change plans along the way. Like your decision to go to Hvar, that’s usually when we discover the best places!

  • Reply
    Kreete
    November 8, 2016 at 12:36 am

    I do a bit of both! I love to plan stuff out and like you, I do collages of places I want to go and see or things I want to do, but I also leave room for spontaneous side trips and most of the time I only manage to visit half of the places on the list anyway. I love your writing style, it’s very catchy and no, I have no sympathy for your travelling partner either ha! My man can’t pack either, It’s going to be interesting to see what he will take on our next adventure to Indonesia and Nepal. Maybe all of his belongings he has ever owned ha?!

  • Reply
    leahshoup
    November 8, 2016 at 1:10 am

    It’s hard to say which I prefer in the end as I feel like I’ve had good and bad luck with improvised travel. I will say that improvised travel makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something by getting by without plans! However, I’m a bit of a type A person so it also stresses me out!

  • Reply
    Hope Chen
    November 8, 2016 at 1:47 am

    Hey Natasha, this was a great post! I always travel without a plan, and especially loved your point about finding hidden gems when improvise-travelling. That is definitely one of my favorite parts! I also am not great with certain outdoor things such as making a fire – completely understand the excessive smoke that resulted. Would love to visit Hvar!

  • Reply
    Marissa
    November 8, 2016 at 1:51 am

    You make good points about the benefits and drawbacks of not planning travel. I have to try to resist my urge to over-plan everything when I travel, and there’s nothing more rewarding than discovering something you never knew existed! That said, it can be really frustrating to have to ditch your vacation dreams when the realities of last-minute booking don’t quite work out. I hope you enjoyed Venice if you were able to spend any time there before your flights (though your photos of Croatia look amazing). I was just there in August and loved every minute!

  • Reply
    CreativeTravelGuide (@CTGTravelGuide)
    November 8, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    I have always wanted and dreamed of improvised travel but as a primary teacher I find it so hard to improvise travel in the limited time we have off! One day I will make improvised travel happen! I think improvised travel works best when you have plenty of time (and funds!) to explore at your own pace and are open to visiting any and all countries! P.s.. I always collage stuff too! 🙂

  • Reply
    Janine Good
    November 9, 2016 at 1:55 am

    I am such a huge planner! I don’t feel as comfortable with improvising as I like to know where I will be each day on my trip. However, I do like improvising day trips and organized sightseeing. You do make some really good points for each way of travel planning.

  • Reply
    explorelovetravel
    November 9, 2016 at 9:34 am

    Hvar looks amazing! I’d love to go there one day. I sometimes make improvised detours while on road trips. Like for my birthday this year, we went on a road trip to Luxembourg (we live in France) and while we were there, we decided to make random day trips to Trier in Germany and to Arlon in Belgium 🙂

  • Reply
    Sara White
    November 9, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I totally admire people who can travel more spontaneously, because I’m such a planner – and not having plans nailed down stresses me out to no end. While I don’t like planning out the details of each day (ie tours, sightseeing, etc) because that feels too constraining, I absolutely have to have flights, accommodation and transportation set in stone. My boyfriend is SUCH a spontaneous traveller though (he’ll hardly make dinner reservations a night ahead because “who knows what we might feel like then”), so I’m trying to open myself up (gradually!) to the fact that interesting and unexpected positive experiences can come out of a lack of planning.

  • Reply
    Marta Nightingale Styczen
    November 9, 2016 at 10:47 am

    Hahaha, I love your adventure! I definitely do both, I never plan long trips, like a month on, rather make rough highlights and notes in my planner. The only things that I always try to find out in advance are transport (since I learned it may cost you quite a lot of precious time to get from one place to the other because the terrain is mountainous, for example and though it seems like a short distance it might take a few hours) and special sites because they often need pre-booking, or might be closed for some reason on this or that day.

  • Reply
    Jess
    November 9, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    I’m a planner for sure. Your trip to Hvar sounds fantastic, but I would have called it quits at the prospect of walking around with a heavy pack for too long! It sounds strange, but I’ll often schedule time for “improvising” but it’s usually an afternoon or day with no fixed agenda rather than weeks.

  • Reply
    highheelsandabackpack
    November 9, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    I’m a mix of both a planner and an improviser really – I don’t want to go somewhere not having an idea what I want to get out of it but equally I don’t like feeling tied to a plan, particularly if I meet interesting travel companions along the way or hear a recommendation about visiting somewhere I hadn’t considered. Sometimes improvised adventures can be the most exciting 🙂

  • Reply
    Cristina
    November 9, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    I’m more the planning type, but I always leave room for a bit of improvization. Even if you didn’t get to go where you had in mind, it turned out pretty well, didn’t it? Happy travels! 🙂

  • Reply
    The Travel Captain
    November 10, 2016 at 10:07 am

    Great post. I’m usually a planner but it also depends on the place. if its a huge city/urban landscape, i’ll tone down with planning because i know i’ll be walking past interesting sites all along the way. But i definitely have to know where i’m sleeping at all times 🙂

  • Reply
    Bonnita
    November 10, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    I am a bit of both! When I get stressed or too excited I travel a lot spontaneously. Your trip to Hvar is definitely something I’d would try and fancy! Beautifully written.

  • Reply
    Two Small Potatoes
    November 11, 2016 at 10:01 am

    I’d love to see more photos of your time in Hvar. It looks really pretty. And I love that you decided to wing it and that you guys are campers too! Even when we say we’re going to plan a trip, we typically procrastinate until it’s time to go or just scrap any semblance of a plan from the get-go. We’ve found over the years that all of our best travel experiences have been unplanned adventures!

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