Untethered — Travelling without a plan

Edinburgh, Scotland
Small side street in Edinburgh at dusk.

Sometimes we need to be removed from the familiar. I usually make lists and plans when it comes to everyday life, I think too far ahead. And when I don’t, I stress about the fact that I’m not making lists and plans.

Travelling isn’t like that. For me, travelling is often as simple as picking a destination and going there. I usually have an idea of what I’d like to see but I’m not a devout follower of itineraries. I like to exhaust a place — in the sense that I will try to see as much of it as physically and timely possible.

Time is my biggest challenge. I’ve often walked to the point that my feet feel like they should be switched out for a new set of limbs. I’ve pushed myself to see everything I can before closing time, before the sun sets, before I come up against a hard timeline — like the last departure of a train that will take me back home. I’m a big believer in exploring all the nooks and crannies of a place, and walking is my favourite way to get around.

Exploring a place on foot lets you slow down and soak in the atmosphere. There is something magical about discovering a beautiful alley walkway hidden in the architecture of an old town, or standing on a cliff-side trail overlooking the sea, halfway between the starting point and the destination.

Being lost in an unfamiliar place, without a plan, has led to some of my fondest travel memories. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t do your research, that you shouldn’t check how much battery life your phone has, that you shouldn’t stock up on some hard cash for those times when a credit card is nothing but a bit of useless plastic, or that you shouldn’t check the schedules for transportation. Don’t be an idiot. (I have been and I advise against it.)

Sandy beach at North Berwick, Scotland
Sandy beach at North Berwick, Scotland

But try to follow the flow. If you see an interesting walkway, go that way, you might find a hidden courtyard café. If there’s a long set of stairs off to the side, take the climb, you might get see an amazing vista open before your from up on high. If you spot a tiny museum, give it a try, the smaller places tend to hoard fascinating stories and weird artifacts.

My last trip to Scotland took me to Edinburgh, which I used as a jumping off point to see other towns and cities. Each morning, I went down to the train station and chose a destination at random. And I wasn’t disappointed. Even the places that didn’t always work out, I found a silver lining, usually by tossing the plan and just exploring.

Train travel in Scotland
Travelling by train in Scotland makes it easy to be spontaneous. 🙂

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