I decided to put my top tips for planning quick trips down in writing because not everyone has the freedom to just pack up and leave on a whim. Not everyone can spend 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.
Tips for planning quick trips
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 planning quick trips.
Planning ahead is key
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
How to plan a jam-packed itinerary
1. Travel with like-minded travelers.
First and foremost on the list of tips for planning quick trips, 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? Also yes.
Traveling with people who share the same travel desires and ease of waking up in the morning will ensure a trip that runs smoothly with little wasted time.
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.)
2. 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 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.
3. Look up local holidays occurring during your trip
If your trip happens to fall over a major holiday for your destination, that could cause some hiccups. Attractions may be closed (in fact, they probably will be), public transportation may be rerouted, getting around could be difficult, hotels in the city may be all booked, and much more.
Just because you’re not traveling over Christmas or Easter doesn’t mean you won’t be visiting Lisbon during Portugal Day, or Istanbul during Democracy and National Solidarity Day (guiltyyy), or the Czech Republic during St. Wenceslas Day. There are a gazillion national holidays you’ve never heard of, I guarantee it.
My go-to site for seeking out local holidays when traveling is the countries page of officeholidays.com.
4. Prioritize what you want to see and do.
In the spirit of managing expectations: you will not be able to see and 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, sh*t happens. Include museums, activities, restaurants, and anything else your traveler’s heart desires.
If not: You may find you’ve missed one of your top sights in favor of something totally lame your sister heard was cool.
5. Record attraction open days and times.
On that list, record the opening and closing times as well as open and closed days/dates for each attraction and/or activity. This will help narrow down what you do on what days and when because often your schedule might not even be up to you.
Look at that–your general idea of “Maybe we should go to Europe this summer?” is starting to take shape! Sure, croissant is a shape.
6. Chart it all out.
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.
7. Google each attraction or activity.
Narrow your list 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 your list.
8. Create a Google Map around your trip.
Add the location of each attraction/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.
To create a custom Google map:
- Go to maps.google.com
- On the left side of the screen, click on the three lines and then “your places”
- Click on “maps”
- At the bottom click on “create map”
- From there you can add each attraction to the map and bundle each day’s activities by location.
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.
Here’s the map I made for my two days in Florence, Italy:
9. Choose a hotel in the middle of it all.
If the location is a safe one, I prefer to choose a hotel that’s near just about everything I want to do, or at least near a way to get there efficiently.
Staying on the outskirts of town or even outside the main city to save some cash is going to actually cost you tons of time.
How to find the perfect hotel
After you’ve got your Google Map all set up, go to Booking.com, type in your destination city and dates, then on the results page, click on “map view” over on the top right of the page. This will show you all available hotels on a map so you can best choose a hotel or hostel by its location and proximity to everywhere you plan to be in that city.
You can sort by property type, budget, rating, and so much more.
10. On planning meals
If there are some restaurants you really want to eat at–maybe they’re world famous or come highly recommended by a friend–feel free to plan your meals at them and make reservations.
Otherwise, I leave meal-planning more or less up to chance–which is totally unlike me but it totally works. In these cases, you can utilize the advice of your guidebooks depending on your location and mood. Or, better yet, seek the advice of locals for where you should eat.
On dining on the fly while traveling
Getting the advice of locals is great. Asking your hotel concierge or employee can be a bad idea. Often the hotel will get kickbacks from service sent to certain restaurants so you know those opinions are biased. And the restaurants operating under this model are almost always garbage.
- Go where the lines are longest
- Eat where you see the largest crowds
- Go where the people inside don’t all look like tourists
- And never eat next to the city’s largest tourist attractions. These restaurants offer absolute terrible quality at greatly increased prices.
I ordered a charcuterie board from a restaurant next door to the Vatican Museums once and literally got served the meat and cheese slices from an old Lunchable, on a plate. Often you just need to head one or two streets over from the main streets to find something much better.
Lunch at Diego Pops is highly recommended during a weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona.
11. Look up entrance requirements.
Check out the entrance requirements to each attraction/activity you want to visit. Look for information like:
- 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. Many, many museums and attractions worldwide are following this protocol now.
If not, you’ll be forced to wait in line to enter–a line that spans blocks and lasts hours.
Time-saving packing tips
12. Put on each outfit you plan to bring 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 you want to take it a step further (guiltyyy), write on each photo what activity you plan to wear that outfit for.
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?
I promise you, this will save so much time and stress.
13. Pack everything in packing cubes.
Staying organized when you travel is a huge time-saver. I always travel with packing cubes and I will never not travel with them. They have single-handedly changed travel forever.
Personally, I organize mine by tops, bottoms, underwear and socks, one for shoes, another for miscellaneous. The possibilities are endless. There are also toiletry organizers and things to keep my carry-on (i.e. life) together.
If not: I know you know about the hotel/suitcase/wardrobe explosion. Don’t even play.
14. Always 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.
Check out these travel guidebooks:
- Rough Guides – My personal favorite. Great commentary, pictures, suggestions, and information. I love their maps and the way their books are organized.
- Rick Steves – If you like his TV show, you’ll love his guidebooks. Which I do.
- Fodor’s – I also regularly use Fodor’s guidebooks. I love the background information and restaurant suggestions as well as all the helpful information on specific sites.
- Culture Smart! – These pocket-sized guidebooks probably won’t save you a lot of time, but they’re great for getting to know the local customs and culture. I highly recommend picking one up for your next destination. Read my full Culture Smart! guidebooks review here.
How to maximize time during your trip
15. Prioritize time over cost.
An example of this would be taking taxis, Uber, or private airport transfer 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.
Another example would be the benefit of staying at a hotel in the center of it all versus staying at one outside the city. You’ll pay more… but you’ll be able to do more.
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.
16. Ask for the check when your food is delivered.
Gah, I can’t stress this enough. If you’re from the United States, the service you receive at restaurants may be the biggest source of culture shock for you. Few other countries have such a dedication to a high turnover rate as we do. Therefore, 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’ll be free to leave. If not: This. Can. Waste. Hours. Trust me.
17. 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.
I already know what you’re thinking: “That doesn’t sound like much of a vacation.” And you’re right–this is not a vacation. This is seeing as much of the world as possible in as little amount of time as we have available. If you want a “vacation,” just book a resort in The Bahamas and be done with it. You’re in the wrong place if you want relaxation and ‘ritas, lol.
18. 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 and down 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.
I use this light carry-on from Turio that I love. It’s got great organization pockets, a built in TSA-approved lock, and it moves super fast.
19. Keep all of your necessary travel information easily available.
Having all the information you’ll need handy already will save tons of time digging for documents. By this I mean:
- 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.
20. Always pack snacks.
Having to constantly stop for food adds up to a lot of time better spent sightseeing. 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!
21. Stay vigilant in terms of your own safety and property.
Getting pickpocketed or becoming a victim of some other “petty” crime while traveling is so, so common. And if this has not happened to you, just know that finding a police station and filling out a police report in a foreign country wastes 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. This post also has tips to avoiding getting robbed and how to best prepare for it just in case.
22. Know what to do in case you get sick or injured.
Knowing this information ahead of time will save you so much time. Knowing where and how to find the medications you need and what to do in an emergency is a must for any and every trip. Check out my post on dealing with getting sick abroad for everything you need to know on this.
23. 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 actually 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, Mexico City, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and Argentina) that allowed me to store my luggage at a nearby hostel for the day.
Tips for planning quick trips: what to do afterwards
24. Make note of times you think time was the most wasted.
Was it waiting in line for something when you could’ve booked tickets ahead of time? 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.
Do you have any tips for planning quick trips?
Let me know below!
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