I used to meticulously plan my vacations. Now I book the flight first and worry about the details later — and it's done wonders for my budget and travel anxiety.

Courtesy of Hana LaRockThe author and her husband in Georgia.
  • Hana LaRock is a freelance content writer and strategist, and she’s taken advantage of working remotely by travelling to over 30 different countries.
  • While many people try to schedule tours and sightseeing for every moment of their vacation, LaRock has developed a different method: Just book the flight, and worry about the details later.
  • This allows LaRock and her husband to find and buy flights at their cheapest cost, and travel to amazing destinations they might not have otherwise have prioritised.
  • LaRock has vertigo and cyclic anxiety, and this method of travelling also helps her reduce stress and be more open to going with the flow.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Ever since I started travelling with my husband seven years ago, we’ve always just booked our flights first and worried about the details afterwards. We like to use this “backpacking” mindset – with a little less of the “roughing it.”

The main reason why we don’t specifically plan out our travels is that it’s much more affordable to travel when the flights are the cheapest. We don’t always know where we’ll end up, but that’s ok, and usually results in an exciting adventure. We developed our own “not-planning” plan, and it goes something like this:

We book our flights one of two ways

Courtesy of Hana LaRockThe author and her husband in Jodhpur, India.

Option 1: Find somewhere to go within our budget, no matter where it is.

To do this, we go to Skyscanner, put our departure city, and select “everywhere” under arrival city and “cheapest month” under dates. This is how we booked a $US480 round trip flight from Mexico City to Rome (direct and virtually unheard of) in December 2017, when we weren’t planning to go to Europe, but ended up visiting five countries while on the trip. The same happened when we were living in Seoul and found a flight for less than $US200 to Vietnam during our limited travel dates. We didn’t initially have a particular desire to go there (it was simply the cheapest option), but it ended up being one of our favourite trips to this day.

Option 2: Find a flight to the specific destination we want to visit, but only when it’s cheapest.

For this, we’ll already have the destination in mind, but are only willing to travel there when the flight is most affordable. We track prices using Google Flights, which is how we found our Tokyo flight at about $US540 and our flight to New Delhi for $US450, both out of LAX. Even though we were living in Mexico City at the time, we flew out of LAX for these flights because it was much cheaper. Flying to LAX from Mexico City cost about $US180 each at the time, which we were prepared to pay as it still would have been cheaper than flying directly out of Mexico City. We did a Google Flights scan at the same time to make sure flights to LAX would be cheap around the time of both of the trips, and they were.

Typically, when you book a flight this way, you may have to travel during a “less desirable” time (like Europe in the winter). But, we lucked out and were in Japan during the Cherry Blossom season. And, in Europe, we got to see the Christmas Markets, so aside from the cold weather, it was worth it.

Extra flexibility can help combat travel anxiety

Courtesy of Hana LaRockThe author at a home stay in Patan, Nepal.

Another reason why I book the flight first and worry about the details later is because I suffer from vertigo – and cyclic anxiety that comes with it – which makes planning anything very difficult. I unhappily had vertigo on trips to India and Japan, two trips that we had meticulously planned, and it inspired me to go back to my more flexible ways.

The next step – worrying about the details later – helps me to lower my expectations of the trip and be open to whatever might come my way. For me personally, if there are no extreme or specific expectations, there isn’t much room for disappointment or anxiety.

Closer to our departure date, we start thinking about accommodation. With this, you have to be careful because in some places, prices will go up if you wait until the last minute. I recommend making a reservation on a website like Booking.com, which tends to have flexible cancellation policies. If your plans are totally open, book accommodation for at least the first night that you land, and then go from there.

Next, a few weeks before our trip, we’ll do research to get familiar with our destination, usually watching YouTube videos or reading local blogs to get a general idea of what to do. However, we never book any sightseeing tickets in advance or plan a day-by-day itinerary, as waiting until you arrive gives you more options. It also helps that my husband and I enjoy free or inexpensive activities, like sitting in cafes, wandering the streets, or roaming grocery stores.

Once you arrive, have a flexible plan

Courtesy of Hana LaRockThe author and her husband at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Once we’re safely at our destination, we use Google Maps to explore what’s nearby, by typing Things to do in (destination name). If there’s anything interesting, or free on certain days, we’ll keep track of those activities in a Google document, but still hold off on making any concrete plans. It’s important for us to leave our itinerary open in case we stumble across something we like, or especially if we meet friendly locals.

Having a flexible plan (or, no plan at all) is how we ended up visiting a desert safari in Rajasthan, India, and were invited to see fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Cebu, Philippines. Of course, it helps if the destination you’re travelling to is affordable, because it makes booking last-minute plans easier.

I recognise that by both of us working online – I am a freelance writer, my husband was an online teacher and is now also a freelancer – we can travel whenever we want, and for longer periods of time than most people, which is definitely a privilege and a luxury that we are grateful for.

Quick tips on how to make the most of your trip

Courtesy of Hana LaRockThe author shopping at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey.
  1. Travel for a longer amount of time in fewer locations (slow travel).
  2. Travel when it’s cheapest, and choose cheaper destinations.
  3. Always look up visa policies before booking a flight. (With India, for example, we knew we’d need a visa so before we booked, we made sure we had more than enough time to get it before our prospective departure date.)
  4. Book one-way flights when you can so you can leave your plans open.
  5. Look up day tours once you’re in a city or ask around town.
  6. Travel light. I use a carry-on size wheelie bag, and take a big backpack that I can check if I need more stuff. Staying in accommodations with a washing machine helps, and you can always buy more stuff if you find you need it later.

Why travelling without planning makes all the difference

Courtesy of Hana LaRock.The author and her husband on a rainy evening in Shinjuku, Japan.

Booking the flight now and worrying about the details later allows you to discover interesting places that you might have overlooked if you stuck to a strict itinerary. For some people like me, it can also reduce anxiety because you won’t be concerned about everything going “according to plan” if there isn’t any plan – you can just take each day as it comes. Travelling this way gives you the opportunity to not just get to have an amazing vacation, but also to become a more well-adjusted person, and learn not to sweat the small stuff.

Hana LaRock is a traveller, freelance content writer, and strategist with more than seven years of experience. She and her husband Max are originally from the East Coast, but have lived abroad in South Korea and Mexico, along with travelling to over thirty countries together. Hana and Max cofounded Strait Up Travel, where they work together to help others realise their own travel goals. Learn more at her website.

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