Most of us don’t travel full-time. Most of us, including me, have only a few weeks of vacation time every year during which we can leave our jobs and real lives behind to visit someplace different. Traveling requires an investment of both time and money. I, for one, want to get a return on that investment by making the most of every travel day. By that I mean spending my vacation days exploring and experiencing a place, not lingering over my morning coffee like I could at home on any ordinary Saturday.
I want you to get a great return on your travel investment too! With that in mind, here are my suggestions for making the most of every travel day.
Do Some Research Before You Go
Have you ever gone to a new place without knowing what you would do or see once you got there? I have, and it didn’t turn out well. I wasted time every morning trying to figure out where to go and what time things opened and how to get there—time I could have spent actually doing those things. It was inefficient, to say the least.
On another trip, to Ireland, my friend and I just missed the one ferry of the day to the Skellig Islands because we hadn’t researched departure times beforehand.
Learn from my mistakes and do a little research before you leave. The magical Internet puts all the information we need at our finger tips. Do a Google search on “things to do in [destination]” and see what comes up. Don’t let the volume of search results overwhelm you, just take the top three to five. You can also check Trip Advisor user reviews for ideas.
As you go, make a list of things that sound interesting. Gradually, your trip will begin to take shape.
I like to keep track of all my research and ideas in a Google doc, which I can access on my phone during the trip. I note addresses, opening and closing times, and entry fees next to each item.
Book Essential Activities Online Ahead of Time
This is another one I learned the hard way. When I went to New Zealand a few years ago with my friend Amanda, she really wanted to do a specific adventure tour at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves. She suggested booking it online in advance but I wanted flexibility to get there whenever we were finished with our other activities, so we didn’t book online. When we arrived, all the tours for the remainder of the afternoon were sold out. Amanda was, understandably, very disappointed and I felt awful for persuading her not to book online ahead of time, thereby causing her to miss out.
Lesson learned: If it’s really a must-do or must-see activity, book it ahead of time whenever possible. The same thing goes with transportation: If you really have to make a train at a specific time, buy your tickets ahead of time. You’ll be less likely to miss it and guaranteed a spot even if you show up at the last minute.
Get Up and Out the Door Early (at Least by 9 a.m.)
I like sleeping in as much as the next guy but I don’t want to be snoozing until 10 a.m. and lounging in the hotel room until lunch time. By that time, I could have toured a historical site or completed half my hike. I can sleep in and watch the morning show at home.
Obviously this might not apply if the point of the trip is to sleep, lounge, relax, doze, etc.—on a beach vacation, for instance. Even then, it’s good to get out of your room for breakfast at a reasonable hour. Don’t you want to spend more time feeling those gentle ocean breezes on your skin?
Have Some Flexibility in Your Itinerary
The days seldom go exactly to plan when you travel. It’s raining when it should be sunny. The museum exhibit you want to see is closed unexpectedly. What you thought would take three hours only took one and now you have extra time on your hands.
You’ll have a better time each travel day if you can roll with these surprises. This is where having a list of activities comes in handy. Your hike got rained out? No problem, you can drive into town and do some shopping instead. Museum A is closed today? You’ll go to Museum B today and try A again tomorrow. The train is delayed? Now you have time for a proper lunch instead of just grabbing a sandwich to eat on-board.
Never feel your day is ruined just because there’s a hiccup in the schedule.
Discuss Expectations with Your Travel Companion(s) BEFORE You Go
Travel styles can vary widely, particularly when it comes to how you spend money. This can become an issue when traveling with someone for the first time, even if you know them well or have taken smaller trips together in the past.
BEFORE you go, when you’re still in the travel planning stage, discuss expectations for lodging, activities, and budget.
Discuss your schedule—do you have to have a tight hour-by-hour itinerary or something more fluid?
If you’re renting a car, who will drive and who will be liable for the insurance coverage?
Learn whether your travel companion is a destination or a journey person. Do they like to travel “broad and shallow,” where you cram in as many highlights as possible, or “narrow and deep,” which means doing more in one place at a slightly slower pace? Does their travel style match yours? If not, where can you both compromise?
Discussing these questions ahead of time will help everyone to set expectations and help you all have a more pleasant trip.
Ask Locals for Recommendations
I admit I’m not always great at this one. I get self-conscious about asking for advice or help, not wanting to seem like the stereotypical dumb tourist. At the same time, I recognize that when I have screwed up my courage to ask for recommendations, I’ve been pleased with the result. I’ve eaten in great restaurants and discovered out-of-the way venues that didn’t come up in my research.
Taxi drivers, restaurant servers, hotel clerks and concierges, and bed and breakfast hosts are all great sources of information. After all, they live there so it stands to reason they’ll know the best places to eat, the best things to see, etc. Taking their suggestions will guarantee you a unique experience, if nothing else.
How do you make the most of every travel day?
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