There’s the methodical act of making plans, and then there’s the slightly more ambiguous practice of setting intentions. Whereas the phrase “making plans” conjures up an image of my overflowing Google calendar, “setting intentions” evokes a calming yoga class where I’m only concerned about breathing and bending. Maybe these terms have similar connotations for you, too. So, you can understand why, when I’m getting ready to travel, I prefer to avoid plans and instead focus on setting intentions.
Setting intentions for travel allows for a level of flexibility that my typical approach to planning just doesn’t. This approach creates more of a rough outline for a trip, as opposed to a rigid schedule. Are you wondering if (or why) you should adopt my new-timey travel technique? Keep reading to find out how I focus on setting intentions.
When I make plans to travel, it usually involves researching plane fares, checking out accommodation options and trying to find a long weekend in my schedule that isn’t already occupied. Setting travel intentions isn’t quite so formulaic. I can brainstorm a long list of places to visit without committing to a single one. This allows me to be open to any travel opportunities that come my way without feeling like I’ve failed if I can’t make it to every single place on my list in the next year or so. It’s a guide, not a plan.
If you’re a seasoned traveler, after a while, a stunning piece of historic architecture is just going to look like another cathedral and an awe-inspiring sunset behind snow-capped mountains may feel like nothing more than a cheesy Instagram op. This is one of the greatest tragedies of frequent traveling. When you set intentions, you can take the time to step back, think for a beat and remind yourself why you love to travel in the first place.
I like to explore my list of dream destinations and come up with one or two reasons why I want to visit each one. It could be something as simple as a beautiful landscape or a particular landmark I’ve always wanted to see, or something more complicated — like experiencing a culture that I’ve heard is unusually warm and welcoming to tourists. Either way, taking the time to remind myself why I globetrot makes the stress of any journey well worth it.
When I don’t have a solid plan for when I’ll arrive or leave somewhere, what I’ll do for the day (or for the night), I have no choice but to live in the moment. I’m able to slow down and really soak in what’s going on around me. This type of mental clarity evades me when I’m just trying to check the next thing off my list. When I set fluid intentions instead of making rigid plans, I can truly enjoy a trip to a local market or a sightseeing tour of a rustic rural town, and this makes my travels — and my memories — all the richer.
On a similar note, I like the flexibility of relatively unplanned exploration. I try to plan just one thing per day, maybe a trip to a specific museum or a meal at a highly recommended restaurant. The rest I leave up to chance and the recommendations of anyone I meet throughout the course of my day. There’s something exciting about not knowing exactly where you’re going to end up after a few hours. It allows me to discover hidden corners of my vacation spot that I would miss if I would stick a strict schedule.
Granted, this go-with-the-flow travel mentality can take you to some unexpected places. In fact, you might end up places you never really needed to visit, like a crappy fast food restaurant or a lame tourist trap. But the good news is, when you don’t have set plans anyway, these tiny travel fails won’t really set you back. They’ll just become part of the story of your trip — maybe the comedic relief part. But, regardless, these experiences will eventually be memories that you cherish (even ironically).
With this more laid-back approach to traveling, I’ve found a freedom in my getaways that I never experienced before. And it hasn’t held me back from seeing what I want to see and experiencing new places to the fullest. To the contrary, setting intentions instead of making plans has only enhanced my travels. If you think you’re ready to shift your own mindset, try setting some travel intentions for an upcoming trip. Train your brain to go with the flow and embrace any experiences that come your way.