I am very lazy about planning vacations. I am ashamed of this, but it is the truth.
When I backpacked Thailand I didn’t even have an itinerary. I did exactly zero research. My strategy was to buy a plane ticket and book a cheap hostel. Then, I went down to breakfast in the morning and asked folks what their plans were. One group had planned to ride elephants. That sounded fun, so I asked if I could tag along.
Later, a travel agent asked me if I had thought about seeing the islands. I hadn’t. But, she had really cheap plane tickets, so I spent a few hundred dollars to tour the islands in the south part of the country. It sounded like fun, and it turned out to be a great experience!
Another day, a tuk-tuk driver asked me if I had been to Chang Mai, and I said no. He told me that his family lived up there and that it was a nice city. So, I asked him where I could buy a train ticket, and he took me to the station. I bought a ticket and spent a week in and around Chang Mai, and it was great.
I lived extravagantly. I bought expensive fruits just to try them, had a suit and a few shirts made, and did all the tours I came across. However, I did this because I knew that I could. Thailand is not an expensive place to travel. I didn’t even manage to spend a thousand dollars there in a month.
However, sometimes you can’t be lazy.
I may like to do the kind of trips where I can turn up and do whatever I like, but I only do that in places where I can afford to. When the place I am going is crazy-expensive, I don’t have that option. In those cases, I plan meticulously.
A great example of a place you have to plan for is Tokyo. It is so expensive to travel in Tokyo! You think the airfare is going to be the bad part, but then you see hotel prices and nearly faint. Then there’s the cost of transportation, which is negligible in most places. It is anything but in Tokyo!
You have to plan exactly where you want to go and how much your trains and subways will cost you, because it’s easy to spend hundreds of dollars just getting around in the city, never mind the country. And unlike other parts of Asia, you really won’t see that much English around, so you also need to try to avoid getting lost.
Even in more affordable countries like Korea, research will save you money. For example, hostels are seen in most of the world as a cheap place to stay the night. This is not the case in Korea. They think of hostels as a fancy foreign thing, and so they are actually quote expensive in most cases.
Instead, you want a jimjibang (or bath house) for really cheap accommodations. But of course, the easiest way is to just stay in love motels. They are very expensive in Japan, but in Korea they are one of the most cost-effective options available to anyone.
Really, it’s all about how much time you want to put in. If you think hours of research is worth the money, then you should do a lot of research. Every country is different, so there is no rule for what you should do. Maybe rent a car in Tokyo. But take the subway in Seoul. Paris has great subways and they go all the best places, but in London the Tube is pretty pricey and the tour buses are cheap.
If you look around online and compare prices, you can always find the best ways to do something in the place that you are going, and this will help you to have an organized and cost-effective trip.
Or, if you would rather, you could be like I was in Thialand, you can listen to other people talk about the great deals they got while you walk around sunburned and lost eating a $7 Popsicle.
They would say that I am an idiot who doesn’t understand how to travel. I would say that I value adventure and that I like to have trips where I can go where the day takes me.
Once, I accidentally ended up in a parade. Another time I got to tour a Shinto cemetery. I never would have set out to do those things because you don’t set out to do things like that. And yet, they are some of my best memories.
You do what you want to do to have the kind of trip you want to have. Just remember that stumbling upon well-spotted snacks or random parties can be fun, so try not to be too ridged. It would be a shame to go to a place and never see the culture because you were too busy taking pictures in front of each temple in the city.