Reader Question – Planning vs. Flexibility

How do you balance planning so far in advance to arrange permits and reservations with handling changing plans on the fly? On one hand I know you need to arrange permits and reservations, but on the other you also allow for things like illness, weather, or just having such a great time that you want to stay where you are.

By nature Molly and I both do better with a plan so we tend to error heavily on the side of over-planning everything. I have a spreadsheet of gear we’ll pack. As you can see in the photo above, we keep lists of the clothes we’ll bring and we lay them out a week or more ahead of time. We have had to make some deviations for weather, illness, and an asshole that stole all our gear, but I don’t think we’ve ever lingered somewhere just because we wanted to. The main thing I do to help us maintain some flexibility is book refundable hotel rates. It’s pretty normal that we cancel or change a few nights every trip. Although these rates can be a bit higher, normally the extra $5-$10/night is offset by what would have been lost by completely cancelling them. In practice, I’ve found that AAA rates, which are almost always flexible, tend to be in line with the lowest prepaid rates anyway.

“The Spreadsheet” We’re planners. Although we’re open to flexibility in theory, in practice we really aren’t unless forced to be.

When things do come up that cause a change in plans I start by cancelling any reservations in the next two or three days that need to be changed. We’ve found last minute rates at hotels can be much higher, so we try to keep some points available to book these rooms with since point costs are fixed (at least at IHG hotels).

The specifics of why we needed to change plans tend to dictate how we go about deciding what to do. Last summer when I was sick Molly just hopped on some hiking apps and found a nearby mountain that looked appealing. A couple years ago when the Rockies were hit with one of the biggest winters for snowfall in years we changed plans drastically and headed to Southern Utah for a week instead. A decent summary of our attitude on flexibility is that we stick to the plan unless we can’t. Putting in the time to research the places we visit helps to ensure that we’re happy with what we’ve chosen.

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