Maximizing Your Vacation Time

waiting in lineAsk anyone what their favorite things to do are and travel will be somewhere on the top of that list. But most people aren’t taking gap years or long term backpacking trips, they are taking short holidays. My recent reader survey showed that over 50% of my readers take a holiday that is 4 weeks or less. So when you can’t spend months in France, how do you make it feel like you just did? When my friends ask “Matt, the wife and I are going to Europe for two weeks. How do we make the most of it?” this is what I tell them:

Go off the grid – They say it takes 2 days for people to relax and settle into “travel mode.” To expedite that process, turn off your electronics, get off Facebook, and don’t even think of opening your inbox. Disengage yourself from the real world and spend your time thinking about your trip and all the wonderful things you’re going to do while you’re on the road. Keeping yourself plugged in means you’re simply keeping yourself back home and not where you are.

Judge Distance – My friends sometimes ask me, “Can we go to Rome when we visit Paris?” When you don’t travel often, judging distances between places can get tricky. Friends of mine once tried to put Perth into a 12 day Australian trip. Plan your trip according to the distance you are traveling. Don’t try to jet-set all over the place. You’ll spend more time packing, unpacking, and traveling than actually seeing anything of interest. I know there’s a temptation to see as much as you can, but with travel try to remember that less is often more. Stick to one geographic area.

Staying Close to Home – If you have a limited amount of time for your trip, don’t jet off half way around the world. An exotic far away place sounds like a good idea but with limited time, going far just wastes your precious travel days. My rule of thumb is that for every two weeks you have, don’t fly more than 7 hours. That way you get to spend more time in your destination and less time in the air.

eating outside in stockholm

Travel like a Turtle – I already mentioned above that less is more when you travel. Don’t feel like you have to see everything and go everywhere on your short trip. There’s nothing wrong with taking your time in a place and getting to know it. Most travelers check off the major sights and then move on to their next destination. You can do better than that. Get to really know London instead of trying to squeeze half of England into your trip. You can always come back. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off ensures you only have time for pictures.

Do What You Want – When people get to a destination, they usually open a guide book and head straight for all the main attractions. They rush around feeling like if they don’t see X, Y, or Z, they’ll miss out on “seeing the place.” But there’s no such thing as a ‘must see’. See whatever you want. It may sound stupid, but a lot of people go places because everyone else does. If you don’t like art, skip the Louvre. If you hate scrambling around on ruins then avoid going to Angkor Wat. Don’t like fish? Skip the Tokyo fish market. It’s your trip, not Lonely Planet’s.

Relax – This is your vacation. You want to relax and rest and experience your trip your way. When I go to a new place, I like to get into the pace of life there. In places like Barcelona, for example, that means sleeping late and staying up late, and in place like Fiji it means early to bed and early to rise. Go with the flow, relax, and enjoy your trip. It’s not the number of things you do but the fun you have that matters.

sleeping in paris france

Even though you’ve only got a week or two for vacation doesn’t mean you can’t have a great time. You can make these two weeks feel like forever when you take the time to plan your trip properly and scout out the things that you really want to see and do. Make the most of a place. Get to know it well. That’s the key to successful travel.

  1. I can’t agree more with “less is more” for planning a vacation. We used to have friends visit us in Prague who were hitting 4 cities in 10 days and were absolutely exhausted by the time they went home. Resist the urge to try and see every big city/sight in the vicinity and just enjoy relaxing in a couple of places.

  2. ‘Turtle Travel’…I love it!! The biggest thing I learned in our year away is that I always pack too much in. Now? All I want to do is go to one place and really see it, really learn it, really feel it. Do I really know that much more about Thailand b/c I saw every inch of it? Or would I have had a deeper experience just staying in one place? Next time…I stay in one place.

  3. Great tips, Matt! I totally agree about not biting off more than you can chew. It’s the worst to look back on your short vacation and realize that you spent most of it in transit. That part is always hard for me because I try to fit everything in, but it’s not always the way to go.

  4. Great tips. Too many first-time travelers try to see everything in just a few days moving place to place without breath. Go slow. Soak in the culture. That’s when you get the best most rewarding experiences… plus it’s much cheaper.

  5. I used to be a “cram everything into a short time” kind of traveler, and over time I’ve changed my approach. In the beginning, I used to think I’d never return to the places I was visiting, so I had no choice. What I’m learning is that because of my passion for travel, I return more than I think. 6 years ago I had never been to Paris…now I’ve been 3 times. There’s plenty of time….use it to your advantage…

  6. Great advice. I love the, ‘It’s your trip, not Lonely Planet’s.” People always ask my advice for trip planning suggestions and I give them my recommendations, but then say that they’ll find the things they want to do and see when they get there and talk to people. Travelling time is so precious- these are great tips for making the most out of it!

  7. Rushing is the worst thing you can do (next to wearing cargo shorts with white socks). Maybe it is because I am getting older, or maybe it because I am getting a bit more lazy, or maybe it is just because I do no research a head of time and find out everything last minute – but I think one should travel like you treat a lady – take your time, enjoy the moment, and when a problem occurs – just nod your head and hand over you wallet as it will be much easier and a more enjoyable experience.

  8. Excellent post, Matt! I really enjoyed reading this as it mirrored my own travel philosophy. Like many beginner travellers, I used to plan ambitious itineraries that attempted to cram everything I could into the short time I had to travel. It didn’t take long to learn from my mistakes and take things at a more relaxed pace like you suggested. I always caution people on this when they ask for travel advice as well. I personally feel that it’s much better to know one place well than to visit several places without actually experiencing them.

  9. I noticed there were two kinds of vacations I take. The sit and relax vacation and the see things and do things vacation. I used to wear a badge of honor when I told people about all the things I did in a one week trip, but that’s when I also say I need a vacation from my vacation. I still can’t help myself sometimes, but I have to admit that staying in one place for a week and getting to know it will make you want to return all the more instead of saying “been there, done that”. I’m going to travel like a turtle on my next trip. Thanks Matt.

  10. Awesome post, Matt! I really resonated with this, but I’ve certainly learned the hard way a few times. Spending time transitioning between locations is also so exhausting and I nearly always forget until I have to do it all over again. It’s definitely caused me to just want to nap instead of going out to explore, which is the opposite of trying to pack a lot in!

    Some of the best experiences I’ve had have been when I spent 10 days in Paris or 2 months in Taiwan. In both instances I really felt like I was LIVING somewhere, not just visiting, which is so much more rewarding.

    I’d suggest this post to anyone traveling – long or short term!

    Thanks again,

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