A recent reader question spawned a piece of advice which I believe is valuable to every traveler’s sanity: don’t plan to visit any city you won’t stay for at least three days. This is not a hard and fast rule, but should be a guiding principle when charting out your travels. Wondering why? Find out after the jump.
Americans travel too quickly. I understand the pressures: short vacations, long (expensive) flights, the desire to “see it all,” the responsibility to friends and family to take pictures and have fun, etc. Europeans have shorter flights, longer breaks, and a stronger currency — which all contributes positively to a laid-back attitude towards travel. In all our hurry, we’ve forgotten that an essential element of vacationing and ultimately relaxation is time. Structure everything and you’ll never find that romantic cafe, stumble across that unforgettable beach, find the purse you didn’t know you had to have. Even the special moments you can have exploring art galleries, churches and monuments are minimized when you are concerned about checking the next site off your list before lunchtime. Give yourself time to enjoy the things you came to see and experience (and have spent money on) by doing less.
Here’s the ugly part about traveling: the travel. There are plenty of scenic train/bus/boat rides to pass the time pleasantly. However, it doesn’t erase the stress and hassle of packing up, checking out, getting to the station, buying your tickets, getting to the platform, sitting in the right seat, riding for hours, then everything in reverse as you find your way to your new hotel — only to do it all over again the next day. If you sat down and thought hard, I’m sure you would find this one of your least-favorite elements of travel (behind the transatlantic flight in the middle seat between Misbehaving Child and Sweaty Overweight Passenger). Reduce your time in stressful transit by staying in each location longer.
+ You get to know the city and neighborhood where you’re staying better. The owner of your breakfast cafe will learn to recognize you. Navigating local transport becomes almost second nature. Finding grocery stores and bakeries is easier. You have a chance to explore all the restaurants and sites that interest you, not just the ones nearest the city center. These benefits save smart travelers money!
+ Discounts on accommodations start with stays of three nights or more. You can shave up to 20% off room or rental prices when you book a longer stay — always ask! By lengthening your stay, you also have more accommodation options, such as apartment or house rentals, which are a frugal option for families and groups.
+ Unpack, unwind. More time in one location gives you a chance to take the clothes out of your suitcase, to wash and dry them as needed, to spread out mentally and physically. Returning to your accommodation in the evening feels more like “coming home.”
Planning a series of bases rather than non-stop overnights means you visit smaller (typically one-day) cities as daytrips rather than on-the-go. You may end up backtracking once or twice and you probably won’t spend any less time on the train, but you will minimize the hassles associated with hauling and storing your luggage as well as with finding acceptable places to stay (imagine: four hotels instead of ten!).
European cities I have used as bases and the places I have visited from them include:
+ Pisa: Cinque Terre, Siena, Florence
+ Nuremberg: Bamberg, Regensburg (Würzburg also possible)
+ Brno: Moravsky Krumlov, Telc, Hluboka
Next time you’re planning a journey, remember the three-day rule to save yourself stress, time and money for a well-earned vacation.
Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below.