Is Planning Part of Travel? A Debate.

Photo of a Lonely Planet guide to Spain lying on top of two newspaper articles about Spain and a map of Spain.

Stipulated: Planning for travel is a part of the travel experience. Begin.

Affirmative: Researching a place teaches us about its history, culture, climate, geography, cuisine, and customs, just as actually traveling to the place itself does. They are all part of the same experience.

Negative: Nothing is the same as being there. Does reading Chesapeake fill your mouth with soft-shell crabs, splash you with waves, hit your nose with salt air, warm your skin with the Maryland sun? Is taking a course on the history of Spain the same as touching a medieval castle wall or walking the Camino? Is reading about the Mona Lisa the same as seeing it in person?

Affirmative: No one is saying that planning replaces travel. I’m saying that planning a trip is a necessary stage in the travel process. You can’t build a house without drafting an architectural plan, and travel is not possible without knowing what’s feasible and desirable and then making a blueprint.

Negative: A blueprint is just an idea without construction to make it a reality. And the building process inevitably leads to changes when reality conflicts with drawings. Ideas without action are just daydreams, and daydreams are not reality. 

Affirmative: Actually, planning takes the idea of a place out of the abstract and begins to make it real. Planning a trip allows me to picture myself in a place, to visualize walking around and experiencing it. If I have a ticket and a hotel reservation, then the travel experience suddenly moves from an abstract thought that may never happen to one that will happen. The travel experience begins when we start the research that leads to the reservations that enable us to go on the trip. Without a plan, it’s not real. But it becomes real through research and planning and booking tickets.

Image of a green "thumbs-up" and a red "thumbs-down" side by side.

Negative: The trip has begun when you leave your home. Period. Until then, it can always be changed. It can always be canceled. You haven’t actually traveled until you’ve left home. Travel by definition means leaving one place to go to another. Planning is simply the drudge work that precedes the actual experience. Case closed.

Affirmative: No, case not closed. Travel: “to go on or as if on a trip or tour” (Webster’s).Have you never heard of traveling in the mind? Have you never heard of armchair travelers? Have you no imagination?

Negative: “Travel expenses are the ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job.” (IRS) Nowhere does the IRS say that planning a trip is an allowable expense.

Affirmative: Oh, come on. The IRS does not define travel for pleasure. They are only concerned about which dollars can be taxed and which can’t. But since you brought up numbers, think about it this way: A budget is an abstract concept until you put your expenses into a spreadsheet. Then you can see the big picture. You can see patterns. You can see how it all fits together. It’s the same with travel planning. Making actual reservations and putting them into a calendar makes it possible to visualize a trip and then make it happen. Just like capturing expenses to make a budget is an essential part of spending, making plans is an essential part of traveling.

Negative: Well, making a budget may be a responsible part of spending, but it’s not essential. How many people out there actually take the time to create and use a budget before buying something they want? Would we have a credit crisis in this country if everyone did that? And doesn’t all that planning take all the fun and spontaneity out of the actual experience, whether it’s buying something or going somewhere?

Affirmative: Planning doesn’t prevent spontaneity. Actually, it makes spontaneity possible! Making reservations and planning an itinerary  doesn’t mean you have to plan out every moment any more than a budget dictates exactly what you spend where. But it gives you a sense of what is possible and some guard rails to keep you from falling into the abyss.

Negative: The abyss? That’s pretty hyperbolic don’t you think? 

Affirmative: You’re the one talking about a crisis!

Negative: okay, okay. We may have to agree to disagree. It’s not that I don’t appreciate planning—I really do. I love having a framework to hang our actual travel on – to build around once we actually do start to travel. I think it’s necessary in the way that creating a to-do list helps me get things done or following instructions helps me put a piece of furniture together. But it’s not actually doing the things or building the furniture. It’s what you have to do first.

Affirmative: You know I can’t let you have the last word. I also appreciate spontaneity. And the full experience of being in a place and using all of my senses. Why else would I do all the planning to be able to travel? Planning without travel is, well, I guess that’s being a travel agent. But travel without planning is just fleeing. It’s not travel with purpose, and that’s what I think we’re doing, and what has the most value.  Drafting an outline is part of the writing process, isn’t it? 

Negative: um, well, I guess it’s supposed to be. Clearly I’m a renegade because I didn’t outline any of this! 

Affirmative: grrr. Some editor. 

Dear readers: 

This is what we’ve come to while we continue to wait for any kind of response from the Spanish consulate about our visas. Conversations like this. And planning. And revising our plans. And revising them again. And thinking about next year, when we vow to spend less time waiting for our fate to be decided by others and more actually seeing the world. 

So what do you think? Is planning a part of the travel experience? (If so, we’re pretty much traveling all the time!). Let us know in the comments below!

When we hear from the consulate—or just give up and go to Spain on a tourist visa—you all will be the first to know. 

(And thanks to Les Klein for posing this debate question.)

10 thoughts on “Is Planning Part of Travel? A Debate.

  1. Rob Race says:

    100% part of the experience. Planning for a trip takes so many twists and turns before actually taking the big step of putting your money where your “planning” is….That said, if all you want to do is book airline tickets and go to an all-inclusive resort – maybe not so much part of the process……Choose your adventure wisely!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. April Holland says:

    I love part of the planning: choosing lodgings, deciding which sites are most interesting, envisioning the experience. I find the bureaucracy tedious at best and more commonly frustrating. I have so much respect for your abilities and patience!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Les Klein says:

    I have noticed that not planning well may carry a significant price. Once home, a friend may casually say, “Did you do…” or “Did you see…” and suddenly, sadly, surprisingly you realize you did not get all that you might have gotten out of the experience had you only planned better. Good on you and Rachel for doing the planning together and thoroughly.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Demetrios Karis says:

    Planning for a trip can have all the positive aspects mentioned in the article but you can have a great travel experience without spending all the time (and hassle!) planning. There is also the fun part of planning — reading about the history and culture — and the less fun, which is figuring out travel and lodging arrangements (at least not fun for me). Do billionaires make their own travel arrangements? Of course not, and neither would you if you had 100 million dollars. You would hire someone to create an itinerary and make reservations and you could focus on reading and learning about the country and culture. The assistant would consult with you, perhaps give you a presentation, but you wouldn’t spend hours looking at different flight options and costs.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Steve says:

    Wow, great topic. I like that you look at it from multiple sides. A definite YES it is part of travel. I absolutely love the planning process (that said, I frequently change my plans after putting many hours in, lol). When I’m finalizing my accommodation choices I even go on Google street-view & practice “walking” to the nearest grocery stores & pubs. Being a slow traveler I don’t really plan activities, I just try to look at what’s available ahead of time to get ideas. Regarding the Spain visa issue, imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice yelling “GO!!! NOW!!!”

    (Don’t look back : )


    1. Al says:

      I love this advice, Steve — both the part about using Google street-view (which we have done in a few cases but maybe not enough!) and about just going. Leave it to the Governator to motivate us!


  6. Ruth Race says:

    I have now read this twice. Much to absorb by doing so. Some great dialog! I think that should be Chapter One when you write a travel book some day! Mom

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Chuck Eldridge says:

    Travel planning can be age related to a degree as well as how self-directed one prefers to be..
    For some older folks, the total extent of planning is deciding which bus tour(s) to take when they get to port on the cruise ship. Younger travelers can be looser with their plans as was the case for me several times. My first trip to Japan was for work so I had my return ticket in hand. I had saved my per diem for months in advance and used it to go around on my own. I’d been mostly to big cities on the job so I sought out smaller, less touristed (is that a real word?) locations with my itinerary mostly driven by how long the money would last.
    These days, with the looming onset of senescence, cruises and bus tours still don’t interest me but neither does the vagabond life. So I plan. It’s the vicarious aspect of travel. The foreplay if you will. It’s makes you want to go all the way. I research the places, sights and events that interest me. Working out a convenient and hopefully somewhat efficient schedule, I build in time for the unexpected but inevitable to occur. On our trip to France last year, suddenly my wife and I were making almost daily stops at churches to enjoy the stained glass. Who knew?
    So I guess, as with all things, it’s a matter of degree. And smart planning.


  8. Lizard Wizard says:

    For me it depends a lot on what I’m looking for in a place. Sometimes I just want to take a few days off from work and just chill somewhere, enjoy the view and recharge my battery.


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