Are you spontaneous or a planner when you take a campervan road trip?

Campervan road trips should be fun, not stressful. Are you embracing your personality as you explore?

Adult woman traveling alone in her campervan sitting at table planning her road trip with a map and cellphone.
Planners gotta plan…

Are you a planner or a spontaneous traveler? I pondered this question as I prepped for my upcoming multi-month vanventure. Van-lifers often project a casual, take each moment as it comes kind of vibe about planning their campervan road trip. When I started this adventure a few years back, I saw myself as a kindred spontaneous adventurer. After all, many campervan influencers talk about the fun they experience finding a place to overnight – meandering along forest service roads until they find the perfect secluded spot along a river bank surrounded by mountain views. That’s what I imagined it would be, but was I right?

Maybe for some…

But I’ve learned that being a planner versus spontaneous is mostly a hard-wired personality trait. Most people fall into one category or another. Few are 100% at either extreme, but you probably know which side you lean towards. And I have to admit – I am a planner. Even on campervan road trips.

Find out more about your style by taking this quick personality quiz. If you want to learn more about planners versus spontaneous people, read this.

Back at some nonsensical corporate training event I once attended (thank goodness those days are in my rearview mirror), I remember that people decidedly self-identified as either “planning” or “spontaneous” travelers. I had no question that I was a planner but was shocked that most of the people in my group were spontaneous travelers. They were perfectly comfortable showing up at a destination with no idea where they would spend the night. Yikes. Just thinking about that scenario gives me the heebie-jeebies.

As a planner, I always assumed most other people were also planners – why wouldn’t they be? But, surprisingly, more women self-identify as spontaneous travelers versus planners. surveyed 1000 travelers; nearly 40% of women say they’re spontaneous, and only 26% said they were planners (the rest fell in between). Even more surprising, among the spontaneous travelers, only 1.9% said they were stressed by their travel experiences – while 21% of planners found travel stressful.

Does this surprise you as much as it did me?

Of course, according to the survey, nearly 90% of people travel with others- and many spontaneous travelers tag along with planners. So they rely on someone else to do the planning – now that, indeed, sounds stress-free.

Back in the day, when I took long road trips as a single mom with my large family (6 children), I always planned every night’s stay well in advance – I was not about to be stranded on the road with a large van full of children. My children never worried about having a place to stay, knowing I had it covered. Their travel probably felt spontaneous and stress-free.

A couple of additional factoids from this survey stood out to me. First, among planners, 24% go camping, while for spontaneous travelers, camping didn’t even appear as an activity they engaged in. This makes sense to me as the downside of not planning while camping can be a lonely night at a rest stop – or an unplanned and expensive hotel stay; while vacationing in a city, you will almost always be able to find some decent place to stay. Second, planners and non-planners seemed to enjoy their travels equally. 86% of planners found their last trip enjoyable, whereas 83% of non-planners enjoyed their last travel experience.

Fighting your nature is never a good idea.

When I got my van, I consciously went against my nature and tried to embrace a new spontaneous me. Yep, I thought it would be easy just to hit the road and randomly find boondocking spots to land every night. I rebelled against my nature and tried to model myself after the wildest, most spontaneous social media travel influencers.

And it was not fun. It was stressful. I worried all day long about whether I would find a good spot. I worried about not having cell coverage to use my campsite-finding apps. I worried about getting lost. I worried about not finding a campsite. I worried about getting the “knock on the door.” I worried about finding creepos next to me. And then I beat myself up for not being a “real” van-lifer.

And do you know what happened? Yes, sometimes I found great spots – but when I did, it was because I planned – I used my apps when I had coverage and downloaded coordinates to the places I wanted to check out.

But sometimes, the coordinates were wrong.

Once in Nebraska, I thought I was heading to a lovely spot with many dispersed campsites. Of course, it was a Friday night in June, and the only state park nearby was beyond full. I ended up at a crossroads of two dirt farm roads. I drove around for hours and came up empty – it ended up being my first hotel stay of that campervan road trip. The sunset at the farm crossroads was indeed pretty, but nothing else was enjoyable about that adventure.

Promaster campervan on a dirt road by a farm in Nebraska. Lost. Example of a campervan road trip problem.
Campervan road trip gone off track

Planning saves the trip

So while still on that road trip, I started planning a week or so ahead. When I landed somewhere with good cell coverage, I used my apps (click here to find out what my favorites are) and planned out several days. Then I could balance a few, what looked to be reliable, boondocking spots with more established campgrounds. And I started to enjoy myself more.

I’m about to head out again on a 3-month vanventure and was feeling super stressed until I sat down and loosely mapped out the first month-long leg of the trip. I booked stays in National Parks (pretty hard to do spontaneously), balanced dry camping sites with places offering free showers, and used my Harvest Hosts membership to maximize free nights as much as possible.

Then I breathed a big sigh of relief.

Next, I booked a few experiences I knew I wanted to do but was worried would book up if I waited too long. The joy of planning means I can now anticipate these experiences without worrying that I might miss out. On my last long campervan roadtrip, it was common to show up at a site I wanted to visit and find it closed for the day. Many small attractions are open only a few days each week, so a little bit of planning helps avoid missing these gems.

Planners can be spontaneous too!

But I still keep much of my campervan road trips spontaneous. I never plan food, for example. I watch for local eateries, pick up goodies at local farmer’s markets or roadside stands, and buy food from my farm-stay hosts. Some of my best experiences are the spontaneous conversations I have with locals. I always ask the people I meet to recommend things to do and places to see, and I’ve never been disappointed.

The best memories indeed come from spontaneous experiences. But it’s also true that some planning, especially if that’s how you are wired, can relieve some of the stress of traveling and leave you open to embracing the unexpected. And plans can change. Just because you’ve reserved a site at a campground doesn’t mean you can’t cancel it and pick a different spot that fits your mood – or the weather.

The bottom line?

Embrace who you are and remember the absolute pleasure of solo van-venturing is doing it your way. If you are a planner, plan away. For you, some of the enjoyment of travel is probably linked to your effort researching it. You discover your landing spots by planning, and you enjoy anticipating the places and activities you’ve planned (like I’m eagerly anticipating swimming with manatees, an outing already scheduled for my upcoming trip).

I like to think of this quote when I’m questioning my methods:

You must plan to be spontaneous

David Hockney

What kind of traveler are you? Planner? Spontaneous? A hybrid? Tell us about your approach in the comments – we can learn from each other. And enjoy your next campervan road trip.

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