Someone accused me recently of “racing around Italy like a mad woman”. Bizarrely, this was after my most casually paced holiday yet – 2 nights in Rome (only because I’d been there twice before), 7 nights in a farm house in Tuscany and a night in Naples to connect with 5 nights in a villa on the Amalfi Coast. Bliss! I had more sleep on that holiday than I get in my normal working week at home, and the 7 nights in Tuscany only had one or two long days of travelling around the countryside. Mad woman material??
It’d be easy for me to write off the comment as foolish and/or sour grapes but there’s actually two very important lessons to learn. The first is that we all have our own idea of slow and fast paced travelling, so don’t let anyone tell you how long you should have in any given city, country or point of interest – that will entirely depend on you, your interests and how you like to travel. And of course, how long you have!
So, how do you decide how long?? For most people, this is decided for them either by annual leave or money constraints, or a bit of both! For me, 3 weeks would have to be my minimum (although I have been guilty of less!). If I lived on the East Coast of the USA however, I would consider going for a city break to somewhere like Paris for as short as a week, but then I am a glutton for travel and the lure of only a 7 hour flight to go somewhere like Paris would simply be too much for me to resist (don’t forget that for me now, it takes more than 24 hours to get there!).
Do your research! Think carefully about what it is you want to see and don’t try and bite off more than you can chew. Buy a guide book and read it cover to cover – do not wait until you’re over there to start reading it! As much as I love and respect Lonely Planet guides, my all time favourite for Europe is Rick Steves. This guys know his bouillabaisse from his bolognese, and his guide books are not a blow-by-blow, absolutely-everything-there-is-to-see-and-do account, but a well considered 3 week “Best of”. He’s also not shy about ranking the sights and telling you which to prioritise and which you can skip – a blessing when you’re in a strange city with limited time.
Obviously you don’t have to limit yourself to just 3 weeks or even stick exactly to his plan, but after many of his guidebooks accompanying my travels, I won’t go to Europe without one. And more and more of my friends are discovering him too! This won’t be much of a surprise to North Americans, as Rick Steves is a travel institution over there, but here in Australia, barely anyone has heard of him – do yourself a favour and track down a supplier of his guides (or else order online now that the Aussie $ is so good at the moment). Then you can start asking yourself, “what would Rick do?”.
Make sure you don’t have too many one night stands! One thing guaranteed to wear you and your nerves, is too many one night stops. The constant packing and unpacking is time consuming, as is the getting from one place to the next so make sure you limit the number of one nighters you plan. Don’t forget you’re going to want time to just wander and explore, people watch, feed the pigeons – it’s not just about planned visits to tourist attractions.
Draw up a budget. Okay so this may seem really anal, but really, everyone should be thinking about this before they’ve even booked their leave. How else will you know if you can really afford to go for as long as you’d like to? Or what if you discovered that you could probably afford another week??
Things to think about when considering your budget (okay some are obvious but I’m sometimes surprised about what people forget to factor in):
- Airfare and all taxes
- Car hire and/or rail pass and/or bus pass
- if hiring a car – road tolls & petrol (this adds up!) and any surcharges (GPS)
- if buying a rail pass – fees for reservations or fast trains
- a per night cost for accommodation (guidebooks can help you with an average)
- 3 meals a day (try and choose accommodation including breakfast)
- Drinks – I don’t know about you but I love ending the day with a bottle of wine or a cold beer (this also adds up!)
- entrance fees into the points of interest you’re intending to visit
- consider a private guide in some cities or historic locations – they can really add to your experience
- activities you’re interested in – ballooning, bungy jumping, skiing, canyoning
- short tours and side trips while you’re there
- Tourist tat – we’re all guilty of that tacky souvenir!
- gifts for people back home if that’s your bag
- for car hire and villa/apartment rental, check the details of any security deposits
- shopping money (ladies!)
There are probably quite a few extras that could be factored into your budget, but by considering these points, you should arrive at a clear idea of how long you can reasonably afford to travel for and how much it will cost you.
Oh, and the second lesson?
Choose your travel companions wisely 🙂