Trip Planning for a Short Trip: How to get the most our of your time

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We almost NEVER have as much time when visiting a place as we would like.  Sometimes, we only have a long weekend and are tempted to pack in as much as possible.

Periodically, we have an extended layover in a city and only want to try to get out of the airport for a few hours.

Whether you have only a few hours or just a couple, short days in a place, it is almost always enough time to get out and see something.  This post will give you tips about trip planning so you time so that you can make the most efficient use of the short time that you do have.


If you are looking for other information about planning a trip, please check out these other useful pieces:

My BEST Budget Travel Tip: Rent an Apartment for you Next Trip!

Travel Off the Beaten Path:  6 Tips for Finding Authentic Local Food

Planning for a Trip:  Make Your “Hit the Ground Running Plan” for a Smooth Arrival

Parque Retiro, Madrid, Spain

Ideas for Short Trip Planning:

Tip #1: Set Realistic Expectations:

A short layover will probably not be enough time to visit multiple sights in a city.  Two days is not going to be enough time to thoroughly see all of the tourist spots in a big city like London or Paris.  Prioritize what it is that you want to see most.



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If you only have a few hours, pick one major sight that you want to hit.  If you have a couple days, don’t try to cram seeing everything into that time.  Schedule one or two major attractions per day at most.  If you end up with more time, I am sure you will be able to fill it, but then you won’t be disappointed if you miss something that you had planned to see because you scheduled too much.

It is better to see one thing and enjoy it thoroughly than to see five things and be a frazzled, frustrated mess.

Tip #2: Take a Tour:  

We are independent travelers at heart who generally shun organized tours.  Despite this, if you only have one or two days in a place (or only a few hours) taking a tour can be a great way to get an overview of the city and plan what you would like to see in more detail when you come back next time.

Edinburgh Tour Bus

I have talked to many people who love those double-decker tourist buses that you find in many major cities.  It is a great way to get a good overview of the city, hop on and off at couple sights and get back to the airport in time for your flight.   If you have a second day, you could use the tour to get your bearings on the first day so that you know how to get to where you want to go when you have more time the next day.

These tour buses do not offer much detail (they usually have an audio commentary that you listen to through provided earphones) but they are a great way to get a bird’s eye view of a lot of sights in a short period of time.  They are also ideal if you have people in your party that are mobility impaired and can’t walk the long distances that seeing sights in major cities usually involves.

Another more personable alternative is to take a walking tour.  There are many cities that offer free walking tours (guides do depend on tips on these for their income.  You decide what the tour was worth to you and tip accordingly).

Even if there isn’t a free walking tour, there are generally inexpensive tours available, and they usually leave from a major tourist point that is easy to find and get to.  This can be a great way to get a more street level view of the place that you are in, and will also serve to give you an overview of the city (from a different perspective).  I wrote a post about the pros and cons of free walking tours, you can check it out here.

Tip #3: Just relax and soak up the scenery


Sometimes, when you only have a short amount of time (say, like a few hours) it is best just to go into a city and get a feeling for it.  Just go and walk around, look through the grocery store, sit in a park and have a picnic with locals and try to get a taste of what life is like there.

The full moon rising over Prague, as seen from the Charles Bridge.

You will learn useful logistical tidbits for use when you come back next time, like how to get out of the airport, how to get around on public transit,  what kinds of foods are local to this place.

You will see things that you might not have seen if you had been, for example, rushing to get to, through and out of the Louvre and back to the airport.

Tip #4: Plan, plan, plan

If you do decide that there are things that you want to see in a city and you don’t have much time to do it, do your homework!

  • Figure out how to get to where you want to go.
  • Find out about the ins and outs of getting around on public transit (if you plan on using it).   Find out if public transit is an option that will get you to and from where you want to go in the time that you have.  Sometimes, for a short visit, renting a car or taking taxis can be less time consuming than trying to negotiate public transit (it depends on the city and the time of day).
  • Research the opening and closing times of the places that you want to go and plan accordingly.
  • Print out some detailed (street level) maps and directions before you leave, to have on hand and get you going the right way quickly.

This will help to make sure that you spend your limited time seeing what it is that you want to see and not lost and at the wrong subway stop or wandering on the street.

Segovia Aqueduct

Tip #5: Look at your short time like a preview 

If you only have a short time in a place and you really love what you see, you can always make plans to come back.   Perhaps you find out that the city didn’t really give you the warm fuzzies…there are plenty of other places in the world to travel to, and now you know that the place wasn’t really your thing without planning a whole trip there.
Whenever you go to a place, no matter how short of a time you are there, you learn things about that place that will make it easier for you to return, if you choose to.
Keyword ideas: Short breaks, min breaks, long weekend breaks, mini breaks away,

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Trip Planning for a Short Trip: How to get the most our of your time

9 Responses

  1. Great tips, Shanna! Another recommendation is to pick up one of the city passes (London Pass, Paris Pass, etc.) if you’re visiting a city that has one. We’ve found that they’re kind of annoying if we’re going to be in one place for awhile (as you have to jam pack everything into a few days), but if you’ve only got a few days to begin with it’s perfect. 🙂
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..Monthly Travel Costs for November: Prague, Budapest, Chiang MaiMy Profile

    Christy @ Technosyncratic December 21, 2011 at 11:20 am #
    • Thanks for that idea! Yes, we did get one of the city passes in Paris and Rome and it worked out great! Even if you are just going to break even by buying it, it makes it easy because you don’t need to dig our currency every time you go into a site and it allows you to skip the lines in many places (it saved us at least an hour of waiting in the heat in Rome to get into the Colosseum!)

      Shanna Schultz December 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm #
  2. Great tips, Shanna. My favorite is #1 – set realistic expectations. For me it is quality over quantity. We can’t see it all in one hour or one day. It is better to enjoy and really experience 1 or 2 places in a city, than to rush around trying to see it all and not have a quality experience.

    Nina F December 22, 2011 at 10:55 pm #
    • There are many, many cities that you couldn’t see all of eve if you stayed for a month, so to expect to see everything in one day or even one week can be exhausting. Our wisdom about this has grown over the years, but there are still places where we end up trying to do too much.

      Shanna Schultz December 22, 2011 at 11:05 pm #
  3. I am absolutely HORRIBLE at #1 and #3, particularly on short 3-4 day trips. I have this philosophy that, because I want to see as much of the world as I can (and I ain’t getting any younger), chances are I will not visit any particular destination more than once anytime soon. So I’ve got to squeeze as many amazing experiences out of my time there as possible. We usually end up go-go-going all day, then collapsing in bed at night to wake up early the next day and start again. It leads to some pretty extraordinary adventures, but not exactly what you’d call relaxing…
    Bret @ Green Global Travel recently posted..DESTINATIONS: Top 5 Christmas Light Displays In GeorgiaMy Profile

    Bret @ Green Global Travel December 24, 2011 at 7:14 pm #
    • Yup, we have been guilty of it, too. I think the most exhausting trip we ever did was when we did Rome in only 4 days in the middle of August (incidentally, this was our first big international trip, too.) We saw everything we wanted to see, but it wiped us out!

      Shanna Schultz December 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm #
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