No matter how long you’re traveling, there comes a time when you want to take in a lot of places in a short amount of time. Here’s how to do it.
Know yourself — and what interests you.
It’s perhaps the first rule in many things, and yet it still holds true. Why are you traveling? What are you hoping to learn or do or accomplish or create? Goals or purposes have a place here, so…
Plan where to go with your priorities in mind.
There are hundreds or even thousands of places to see in most places –so yeah, time for priorities. Priorities for me usually include the weird and the bizarre,
Read TripAdvisor reviews with a grain of salt
Yep, they’re great for getting a sense of a place, as reported by random travelers on the internet. From just a page or two of reviews, you’ll quickly learn the third floor is the highlight, the best bathrooms are in the basement, or to avoid going at 3pm and 5pm because that’s when tour groups arrive. Knowing stuff like this helps you skip ahead to the best part, take care of business while you’re there (thus saving time later on), and working around big groups.
Despite having done a fair number of reviews myself, I’m still suspicious of any place in the hotel or restaurant space — especially when the reviews don’t sound organic. (You get a sixth sense on this after awhile.)
Know when places are open and if you have to join a guided tour
Sundays and Mondays are the worst, on average. While this is admittedly an imperfect average, Sundays tend to be the most common off day for places that are not ‘traditional’ tourist destinations, while Mondays are most common for places that are.
As for guided tours, I’m torn. I’ve taken — and enjoyed — the perspective tour guides can offer (see a recent review of one excellent company). They’re also required to visit certain places (some southern Thailand islands, some places related to alcohol, for example), or to reach a number of related places in a single day. If you have to join a guided tour, then the choice is obvious. In most cases, it’s easier to go, while in other cases, it’s better to go since the car / bus / boat takes you there more directly. Less time in transit usually means more time enjoying the places.
Speaking of which…
Try to keep to one side of town (or one direction from town).
Instead of planning days by theme, plan them by what else is close by. Four places on the west side of the city? Unless the public transportation is crap or something else weird is going on, there’s a fair chance you can get to all four with time remaining.
How does this work IRL? When we’re making a list of places to see, we’ll start with a Google doc for the country. As we research, we’ll fill in details of interesting places and organize them by provinces, states, or major cities. It’s usually broken down to the city level, but in cases where the city is large we’ll usually assign each place to a direction (e.g. north Berlin, east Medellin). Places outside the major city will usually get a distance from the city as well so we can see what’s feasible. The night before, we’ll usually figure out where to go, what time to get up, and what order to enjoy those places in.
If it’s not interesting, move on.
Cut your losses. Don’t stay just because you’re trying to get some value for your money. Vent, leave a review, or tell your friends on Facebook. There’s no ‘hate-watching’ or ‘hate-visiting’ in travel, or at least there shouldn’t be.
When time allows, do a post-mortem — what was it about the place you didn’t like? Did your research not prepare you for reality? Did you realize it wasn’t your topic of interest once you arrived? Were there signs / clues to any of this beforehand?
Consider the city cards
I’ve covered dozens of the European city cards, thanks to other travel bloggers around the world. They’re not universally worthwhile, as you’ll see in the reviews, but they’re worth considering once you land. Don’t bother purchasing them ahead of time, though. Why? They’re generally easy to get in person, you’ll get the physical card and brochure you need, and it’s far easier to get any questions answered beforehand. It also reduces the risk of it taking too long to arrive if it’s being mailed…
Why the city cards? Most offer discounts or free admission to points of interest alongside an easier process to use public transport. No need to purchase tickets, carry around a pocketful of coins, or the like.
Take logical journeys, not jumping around.
Move with a purpose — avoid meandering or staying in one place unless you’re taking a break, eating, or trying to figure out where you are. For extra credit, use your transit times to take a breather and plan ahead.
Along those same lines, avoid wandering or getting lost. Few people like to get lost, naturally, but SIM cards and smartphones help minimize those issues. Yes, it’s fun to meander and get lost in back alleys — but that isn’t the goal here. We already know where we’re trying to go, and while there’s a bit of time to peer down a side street, it’s rare we get too far pulled from our plans for the day. (Something really interesting pops up? I’ll make a note and research it more thoroughly when we get back to the apartment / hotel.)
Travel rain and shine
Not every place is appropriate during a thunderstorm, but plenty of museums are weatherproof. It’s a rare occasion when the only day you can go to the beach is rainy.
It goes without saying that protecting your gear is paramount. Ponchos, grocery bags, and Ziploc-style bags are great for that.
Book hotels near the public transport hub you’ll use the most
Most countries have plenty of subway stations, ferries, bus terminals, and train stations — but make it a point to figure out which of those systems you’ll actually be using. There’s no point being two blocks from the train station if all your trips are done by bus.