How To Travel Without A Plan

thailand-koh-samui-buddhaI love arriving in a completely foreign country without preparation or a plan. The uncertainty is exhilarating and the sense of freedom is unrivaled. It was in this style that I arrived, for the first time, in El Salvador at 1:30 AM last Wednesday.

You might be thinking, as my family did “Why in the world would you go to a country as dangerous as El Salvador without knowing where you are going to stay or anything about the country? Are you nuts?”

Just give me a chance to explain. Admittedly, traveling without a plan is a bit frightening and potentially dangerous but that’s what makes it so fun. It’s an integral ingredient of the journey that makes travel…travel. Besides, El Salvador, along with most countries, aren’t as dangerous as you think.

Although travel in general can invoke anxiety, if you pack the right state of mind, trust that all your decisions are right ones, have faith in something bigger than yourself, and refrain from panicking, you will become more at ease and ultimately experience the journey that is travel to it’s fullest. And in time, you might even do away with plans all together.

The Right State Of Mind

the runaway guide departing for the great south american adventure

The flight was a minor marathon. 2 ½ hours from New York to Florida, followed by a 6 hour layover. Then 2 ½ hours to San Salvador, followed by an unexpectedly long line at customs. Yet despite my exhaustion, I was full of energy. I was thrilled to be in El Salvador and not even my impending diarrhea could keep a smile off my face.

Fate, Destiny, or Whatever You Want To Call It

overcast sunset in chumporn thailand

As I approached the end of the customs line, without thinking, I announced to no one in particular. I said, “Nearly there! Just a few more minutes.” To which the guy standing behind me replied in a flawless American accent, “Yup, almost.”

Intrigued, I turned around to find an El Salvadorian American around my age. Long story short, we got to talking, and in no time, he offered me a ride into the city, and I graciously accepted.

Following a flawless customs encounter, I accompanied him to get his bag. Unfortunately, it never arrived, and after a half hour he filed a missing luggage claim. We exited the airport and waited for his cousin to pick us up. Although he was about an hour late, it gave us more time to converse and get to know eachother.

Letting Instincts Drive Decisions


A rickety old van, blasting what sounded like regae-tone, suddenly came blazing down the straightaway. “Here comes my cousin,” Paco exclaimed. He stopped with a screech and immediately shook my hand and invited me along.

Despite his jovial disposition, I was still hesitant to hop in his seat less van that gave off a strong odor of goat. Without much time to contemplate, I decided to jump in. I was glad I did.

Everything Works Out In The End

a hotel in san salvador with bit jacuzzi for 14$ a night

Although they could have robbed me in the countryside, in my gut, I knew they wouldn’t. The 45-minute ride into the capitol was filled with the laughter of familial reunion and excitement. He even decided to give me a brief tour of the city. It was one of the best early morning drives in a foreign land I have ever had.

While trying to figure out a place for me to sleep, he called his mom. She understandably declined. Instead, they found me a massive room with a Jacuzzi, shower, tv room, king size bed, and parking garage for only 14$.

I entered, shut the garage door, and in moments a bell rang and a little El Salvadorian woman somehow appeared in my room. I paid for 6 hours, took a Jacuzzi, and then hit the sack. The night couldn’t have ended any better.


Although I will admit that I was a bit nervous about figuring out what to do, I knew that if I was hopeful, positive, had faith in the universe and trusted in my gut, that everything would work out in the end. And It did.

Arriving to a country without a plan and then ending up with a free ride with new friends isn’t the first time this has happened and won’t be the last. In my experience it has always worked out in the end and it is by far the best part of beginning a new journey.

If you worry and plan too much, more times than not your plans won’t pan out. Not only will it leave you feeling defeated but it also takes away part of the thrill of travel. However, if you can accept the unknowns inherent to travel, let your guard down, remain positive, and trust, you will experience life as it was meant to be experienced…in the present.

Good Luck and Go For It,


Let Me Know What You Think!

  1. says

    I LOVE the way you think — you are definitely one of my soul brothers. You’re right… if you just have the right attitude, the universe is your friend, and everything works out in the end (wow that rhymed!)
    You’re definitely someone I’ll start watching out for… Hopefully we bump into each other in our travels!


  2. Miguel says

    So is it just me or does it sound like you ended up at a sex hotel?

    “I entered, shut the garage door, and in moments a bell rang and a little El Salvadorian woman somehow appeared in my room.”

  3. says

    I totally agree that planning too much generally only sets you up for disappointment — if you have nothing planned, then nothing can go wrong, right? ;)

    I admit, though, that I am really a planner at heart, so it is still hard for me to show up with nothing booked in a new place. Especially if I am arriving in a new country, I like to have a place booked for at least the first night so that it’s one less thing to worry about when I am likely to be tired and overwhelmed.

    • says

      Hey Steph,
      Yup, thats why it’s always by ear for me :)
      I know what you mean, it’s nice to know where you’re going to sleep sometimes.
      Sometimes when I just need some rest, I do look up a place to stay before hand.

  4. says

    Good advice. I remember my very first overseas trip, absolutely everything was already planned out before I arrived, from flights, to the accomodation. When I think back to it, as much fun as I had, I would never travel like that again.

    • says

      Hey John, thanks. Yea, that kind of trip makes me feel claustrophobic almost.
      It feels like a work schedule rather than the free life. But if you’re with the right people, it can be good. People ultimately make the place right?

  5. says

    Yay! You made it :) sounds like a great start to your adventure. I love traveling without a plan and absolutely agree that the world is a safer place than we’re led to believe. I know well that feeling of trust beneath the fear. I hope we can travel together someday, Leif! ~Emily

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