TIME BUDGET TRAVEL
Not everyone has the freedom to just pack up and leave on a whim, spending months frolicking around France (bonjour!), checking out the Czech Republic (ahoj!), or roaming around Rome (ragu in a can!). For the rest of us, there’s Time Budget Travel—the aim to get the most out of a destination when we have but little time available to travel.
To succeed at Time Budget Travel requires a higher level of travel planning than usual—both before and during your trip. And I’m here to help! I don’t have money, but what I do have is a very particular set of skills (beyond using TV and movie quotes to get my agenda across, that is). Read on for my top tips for traveling on a time budget.
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TIME BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS: BEFORE YOUR TRIP
How well you’ll succeed at Time Budget Travel is determined long before you get randomly selected for a pat-down in the airport security line. Planning ahead is the number one rule of Time Budget Travel. Winging it? Fuggedaboutit. Improvising? Impossible. Pre-planning like your life depends on it? Precisely.
Planning a detailed itinerary will help you avoid:
- Getting lost and/or wasting time zig-zagging across town
- Waiting in long lines that could literally take hours to get through
- Boredom and/or trying to figure out what to do on the spot
- Arriving at attractions on days or during times they’re closed
Surprise! We’re closed on the first and last Monday of every month because this is Italy!
- Wasting precious time getting ready every morning
WHAT TO DO BEFORE YOUR TRIP
➤ First and foremost, make sure you’re traveling with like-minded travelers. Is it easy to convince my fellow type-A, museum-loving friends to wake up at 6 am to be the first through the door? Absolutely. Is it damn near impossible to do the same with my I’d rather be sipping a cerveza on a Mexican beach somewhere husband? Absolutely. If not: You’ll find yourself waiting around a lot when you could be out exploring or, as I like to call it, wasting around.
➤ Whenever possible, travel in the off-season. Depending on your destination, you may want to consider traveling in the “off-season” when tourism is at its lowest. Case in point: Paris in the winter – you’ll be able to visit some of the most popular attractions in the world with virtually zero crowds and wait times. You’ve gotta louvre that. If not: You could potentially wait literal hours in line to get inside a place—those are hours you could spend visiting another attraction entirely.
➤ Prioritize what you want to see and do. In the spirit of managing expectations: YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SEE/DO EVERYTHING. Even the quickest travelers have to pick and choose sometimes. Make a list of everything you’d like to see and do in a destination, in descending order of must-see! Make sure whatever you’re okay with skipping out on is at the bottom because, as you know, shit happens. If not: You may find you’ve missed one of your top sights in favor of something totally lame your sister made you see.
➤ On that list, record the opening and closing times as well as open and closed days/dates for each attraction or activity. This will help narrow down what you do on what days and when. Your general idea of “Maybe we should go to Europe this summer?” is starting to take shape! Sure, croissant is a shape.
➤ Using that information, make a chart of what can be done on what days and at what times of day. This will help eliminate the risk of showing up to a museum/show/attraction/parmesan tasting tour on the wrong day. If not: You could miss out on many of your must-sees because you visited on the wrong days or after it was already closed. This happens SO MUCH.
➤ Narrow that down even further by Googling each attraction or activity. On the first results page, over on the right, you’ll find at what times of day it is the busiest and how long a visit typically takes. If not: Visiting attractions during the busiest times of day means you’ll spend a lot of time slowed down by crowds that just plain suuuuck. There’s probably a screaming toddler in there somewhere too. Also, you may cluelessly budget an hour for a particular place that typically takes 2 or 3 to get through. Bye-bye, one more thing on my list.
➤ Enter the location of each activity into a dedicated Google map for your trip. To get the most out of your trip, grouping attractions or activities by location is a huge time-saver. You can download this map onto your phone to use offline so you always have it with you. If not: Zig-zagging across town not only adds up financially, but extra, unnecessary time in transit is a major time-suck. Let’s save the time-wasting for that Mexican beach.
➤ Look up the entrance requirements to each attraction/activity you want to visit. As in, is it mandatory to book ahead? Do they only accept walk-ins? Are you able to reserve a timed entrance? For instance, to visit the crown of the Statue of Liberty, you must book a ticket months in advance. If not, they will be completely sold out when you arrive as they do not sell day-of tickets under any circumstances.
For some museums, like the Pre-Colombian Art Museum in Santiago, Chile, it’s easy to simply walk-in when you please. At others, like the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, it’s recommended to pre-book a timed ticket as far ahead of time as possible. This ticket will allow you to enter at a particular time of day—think of it the same as making a restaurant reservation. If not, you’ll be forced to wait in line to enter–a line that spans blocks and lasts hours.
➤ When packing for your trip, put each outfit on and take a picture in the mirror. (Just one pic, honey.) Then, each day of your trip when you’re getting ready, you’ll already know which outfits are available.
If not: Getting ready each morning will take at least twice as long since you’ll be fumbling through your suitcase trying to remember what you brought and what goes with what. Or… you’ll end up wearing the same thing for five straight days to avoid using your brain to come up with something new. No? Just me?
➤ Pack everything in packing cubes. Staying organized when you travel is a HUMONGOUS time-saver. Personally, I organize mine by tops, bottoms, underwear and socks, one for shoes, another for miscellaneous. There are also toiletry organizers and things keeping my carry-on, i.e., life together.
If not: I know you know about the hotel/suitcase/wardrobe explosion. Don’t even play.
TIME BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS: DURING YOUR TRIP
➤ Prioritize TIME over COST. This may mean taking taxis or Uber instead of walking or using public transportation. This often costs just slightly more but can save you LOADS of time, especially when added up over the course of a few days. If not: A 5-minute cab ride can equate to a 40-minute walk. Is that extra time really worth the $1.25? Methinks not.
➤ Ask for the check when your food is delivered. In many countries outside the U.S., it’ll be like pulling teeth to get your bill at the end of a meal. Asking for it right away ensures that when you’re done eating, you’re free to leave. If not: This. Can. Waste. Hours. TRUST ME.
➤ Commit to waking up early. Beating the crowds is half the travel battle! If not: I sense a sheep-herding situation is in your near future. And I don’t think sheep get a lot done during the day.
➤ Travel light. Hauling around a bunch of stuff takes so much extra time. The goal is to be able to grab and go and fit easily into a cab and not have to make multiple trips up the tiny Euro-elevator. If not: Having to check a bag means you have to wait for it at baggage claim and you know how long that takes. That’s if your suitcase even arrives at all, mwahahah.
➤ Keep all of your necessary travel information easily available. As in, your flight information and hotel confirmation number for convenience; your hotel name and address to quickly tell the cab driver where to go; as well as the names and locations of the places you plan on going during your trip. If not: Having to constantly look all this information up—especially on weak wifi or international data—adds up to a crapload of wasted time. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
➤ Pack snacks. Having to constantly stop for food adds up. Instead, keep a few snacks in your (or, let’s be real, your wife’s) purse at all times. Swing by the local grocery store and pick up some stuff, grab some fruit at the street market, or just straight up arrive packing sustenance like yours truly. I never leave home without emergency Clif bars. If not: There’s a chance you’ll end up blowing off your whole day’s plan in the name of hunger. Guiltyyy!
➤ Stay vigilant in terms of your own safety and the safety of your property. Finding a police station and filling out a police report in a foreign country takes SO MUCH TIME. I find these things out the hard way so you don’t have to! Ahem, check out this post on what to do if you get robbed abroad.
➤ Make the most of every minute available. And by that I mean, don’t head to the airport unnecessarily early because you had to check out of your Airbnb and have nowhere to put your things. Instead, there are companies that will store your luggage for the day while you sightsee—imagine that!—then pick your stuff back up before you need to head to the airport. Instead of spending six hours killing time at the airport, you were able to fit in another attraction on your list. Huzzah!
In Chile, I used a company called Airkeep (currently available in Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Argentina) that allowed me to store my luggage at a nearby hostel for the day. All over Europe and North America you have companies like Luggage Hero, Stasher, and Nannybag who throws Brazil and Australia in there for good measure.
GET THE GUIDEBOOK
I’m a firm believer in guidebooks and always have one with me on trips. For example, instead of wandering around trying to translate window menus to find a place to eat, just check the guidebook’s recommended restaurants. They’ve never led me astray! If not: If you thought deciding on a place to eat dinner was difficult at home, try doing so in the spur of the moment in a foreign country.
Travel guidebooks I recommend (in order of preference):
➤ Rough Guides | Great commentary, pictures, suggestions, and information. I love their maps and the way their books are organized. Just my faves.
➤ Rick Steve’s | If you like his TV show, you’ll love his guidebooks. Which I do.
➤ Fodor’s | Okay, tied for 2nd place – I love the background information and restaurant suggestions as well as all the helpful information on specific sites.
➤ Lonely Planet | They aiight. But I know a lot of people who use Lonely Planet exclusively.
➤ BONUS: Culture Smart! | They probably won’t save you a lot of time, but these guidebooks are GREAT for getting to know the local customs and culture.
TIME BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS: AFTER YOUR TRIP
➤ After your trip, make note of the times when you think you wasted the most time. Was it waiting in line for something when you could’ve booked tickets ahead? Was it getting lost? (*raises hand shamefully*) Did you learn of a special VIP pass while you were there that you wish you’d had? Would they just. not. bring you. the damn check, for the love of Gouda!? This kind of retrospection will help plan your next time budget trip.
MY FAVORITE TIME-SAVING TRAVEL RESOURCES
Obviously, I’m all about wasting as little time as possible when I travel so that means less waiting in lines and more of what I love = stuffing myself full of foreign cheeses and aggressively cooing over street cats. Here are some of my favorite, go-to, time-saving travel resources that will help you get the most out of your time budget trip.
Waiting in lines at the airport is for chumps! TSA Pre✔️ allows you to skip the security line (and leave your clothes on and your things packed) and with Global Entry you can skip the entire customs line. I will not travel without these ever again. Also, Global Entry includes TSA Pre✔️!
POSTS WITH TIPS FOR QUICK TRIPS
Below you’ll find my posts that focus on quick trip tips and tricks to help you travel on a time budget–
all the way from what gear to bring, helpful tips for choosing airlines, how to handle emergencies, and my favorite time-saving hacks.
If there’s a specific topic you’d like covered, please feel free to reach out and let me know!
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