How and Why to Coin Flip Travel Decisions

I often recommend to readers on my family hotel guide to flip a coin when making travel decisions. Assuming you’ve already done some research and you’re deciding between two reasonable options there is good reason (and some evidence) to believe you’ll be happier having taken yourself out of the decision-making process.

In it’s simplest form, the coin-flip is used to decide between two different travel options. Should we spend 3 nights on Santorini or 4? Heads it’s 3. Tails it’s 4. Flip a coin and a decision is made. Don’t go back or reconsider.

Pros
• Quick. Easy.
• Stop thinking about decision, and do something more productive/enjoyable.
• Just as likely to produce a good outcome as 2 weeks of thought and worry.
• Fun, in its own way.
• Good story, if only to yourself. “I went to Bali and coin-flipped pretty much every major decision. It was great.”
• Increases randomness which likely will make your trip more adventurous (though this depends on how you setup your coin-flip options).

Cons
• Planning a trip is a good portion of the fun. Coin-flipping could reduce the time spent planning, and thus reduce the amount of fun. But, I doubt this is how it would work out. If you coin-flipped one or two pesky uncertainties it’s not going to take away from the bulk of your planning/dreaming/wishing time. And if you coin-flipped many or most travel decisions the reward in serendipity and adventure would counter the loss in the daydreaming/planning phase.

So, if you asked me: “Should I stay at Grace or Katikies?” – and I replied, “flip a coin!” and sent you this link, I’m not saying, what a dumb question, it doesn’t matter, it won’t make any difference. It will make a difference, just not in any way you can predict. Flip a coin, it’ll all work out.

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18 questions and comments

  1. Penny

    The secret to coin-flipping is to use it to uncover your deepest desires … if, for instance, your gut reaction to a flip is disappointment, then you know what you really wanted.

  2. Coin flip travel kid

    Thanks for the article, which brought back memories. When I was little, there were many times we’d travel when my father would instigate a time of flip-a-coin decision-making. He was great at making a big production out of getting out the coin, demonstrating that it indeed had two different sides and so forth. My mother most likely acted as safety officer. I don’t particularly remember the specifics of most of the which-of-two-equally-good-options results, being short and in the back seat when we traveled by car. It might have been “diner or deli?” When we used city buses or taxis, that was a different matter, and I definitely recall some serious fun being had by all.
    Also, one time I asked for a 25¢ compass in a gift shop and that’s what we ended up using to choose our turns on the route home. Good thing Dad had a good sense of direction, but even so there was one river we had to cross and finding a bridge within our “drive east” parameters made it a bit challenging.

  3. Phyllis Lim

    I use a coin flip at times to help me realize how I really feel about each choice. If it comes up heads and I feel disappointed, then I know I prefer the alternative. Too much thinking can lead to dithering. Plus no matter what, there’s often no “best” decision.

  4. Martin Fitch

    Thanks, like your advice.

  5. J K Griffin

    “• Fun, in it’s own way.” should be “• Fun, in its own way.”

    1. hotelsdave Expert Hotel Reviews

      Corrected. Thanks!

  6. Choosing Where To Go

    I just look at the list of direct flights from where I am and pick the cheapest of the places I haven’t been to and wanted go.
    In the long run: lots more travelling!
    hville

    1. hotelsdave Expert Hotel Reviews

      Cool. A form of randomness in itself.

  7. Change Mind After Coin Flip

    I like the idea but doubt I could stick to it. What happens when the flip is something I really don’t want?

    1. hotelsdave Expert Hotel Reviews

      One suggestion is to write down the ones (hopefully few) that you can’t stick to. Make a note on your phone and keep a list of the ones you had to renege on. Would be interesting and likely, just that bit of friction, would discourage you from doing it more often.

  8. How To Use Coin Flip on Daily Decisions

    It would be fun to apply this to daily decisions while traveling (which restaurant, which street to turn on) but I wouldn’t want to be flipping a coin all the time.

    Geoff Martins

    1. hotelsdave Expert Hotel Reviews

      For an easily accessible coin-flip just use the time: if the digits sum to even that’s heads/yes/right/up/go; if the digits sum to odd that’s tails/no/left/down/don’t go.

  9. Coin Flip Travel With Kids

    Thinking out loud here but since we travel with our 2 young kids and I’m always most worried about health and safety I wonder how this would/should affect decisions about their well-being. Would not want to leave that to chance. e.g. Doing a bike tour then finding out they don’t provide bike helmets (because I didn’t do the research).

    Olivia

    1. hotelsdave Expert Hotel Reviews

      The biggest variable with safety when traveling is how much you’re in a car (or secondly, bus) and whether you’re wearing a seat belt. If safety is your biggest hesitation then don’t use it for questions like: Should we drive or fly from NYC to Orlando? (You should definitely fly.) Your example is a poor one, however, as the evidence that bicycle helmets save lives is slim or non-existent. It’s plausible that helmets cost more lives than they save.

  10. Large Benefit to Research/Planning

    This is stupid. Your assuming that research will provide no benefit as to happiness/enjoyment of different options. I’m sure that with some smart focused reading I’ll be able to predict what restaurant, beach, town, or bar I will enjoy more than other options.

    Cristian

    1. hotelsdave Expert Hotel Reviews

      It’s reasonable that your insight to your own tastes and preferences is greater than mine and your ability to sift the different options more finely tuned – in which case the costs of foregoing the research would also be greater. Kudos. Coin flipping is not for you.

  11. Coin-Flip on Whether To Coin-Flip

    I just coined-flipped whether to coin flip all planning for my next trip. It came up no. (Really.) Maybe next trip. Hassam Osei

    1. hotelsdave Expert Hotel Reviews

      I almost said, don’t feel like you can’t use the coin-flip for some decisions you have to make during the trip. But that would contradict my rule to never revisit a decision that’s already been resolved by the flip. So yes, next trip.

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