My husband and I take a lot of mini trips. He’s self-employed so we find it much easier to set aside 1-3 days than a whole week or two. Plus, taking more frequent trips of shorter duration means that we get to see a lot more places. We’ve experienced New Orleans, Columbus, Nashville, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco this way, just to name a few. So here are my tips for getting the most out of your next short trip.
Unlike longer trips where you can go in relatively unprepared and just feel out the location and ramble along discovering little gems at your leisure, a shorter trip necessitates a bit of foresight. This is not to say you need to know what you are going to do every second you are there, or won’t be able to ramble at all, but you should have an idea of the things you want to hit.
I’m the planner in our relationship so I spend the week before a trip researching. Frommers is always a great resource that can give you a general overview and be a wonderful jumping off point. From there I usually Google something like “in Portland for 2 days, what to do?” Those searches bring up a ton of threads with a million ideas that you can then sort through. If you know someone who lives/lived/has traveled extensively to the place you are going you should also ask them because locals or experienced travelers can usually point you to can’t miss spots that tourists often never see. Monells in Nashville, anyone?
Once I have a list of places, my husband and I sit down and decide the spots we want to make sure to check out. We choose a few main things to do on each day based on when places are open or if there are special events that would be neat to see, filling in the rest of the time with meandering between points of interest and scheduled events.
2. Follow a route
Once you know what you are going to see and when, you need to plan the best route to get you to each location. The worst thing you can do on a short trip is waste time backtracking and crisscrossing a city because you didn’t have a good idea of what things are near each other.
So get out a map and figure out what order you want to do things in to minimize travel time. Places with public transportation systems make this a breeze. For example, New Orleans has a streetcar system so my husband and I would just take it down to the end and walk back, hitting a ton of the spots on our list on the way. But a car can obviously help you see bigger areas. When we were in San Francisco we did a long tour around the outside of the peninsula on a day we had access to a car and then a closer walking tour on the day we didn’t.
3. Be flexible
Even with all this planning you’ve done it’s important to remember that things will come up or go wrong. When that happens it’s important to not freak out and declare your trip ruined, but roll with the punches. Water main break closes the sculpture garden you wanted to see? Yeah, it totally sucks, but now maybe you’ll have time to visit some other place you had initially cut from your list because you didn’t think you’d get to it. Loving your walking tour of the historic part of the city but your itinerary says it’s time to move to the next place? Stay, enjoy the part of the visit that you are loving and cut out or cut short your stay at a place that was on the list because “you have to do it when you are here” but you weren’t super excited about. And always have a list of extra things to do in case you have more time than you anticipated and want to squeeze something else in.
4. Do what you really want to
Short trips don’t afford you the luxury of getting to explore every single crevice of a place. You are going to have to pick and choose. When my husband and I go somewhere we plan our trip according to what we love. We tend to skip museums and theatres and the like because, while they may be amazing, they tend to take a lot of time. We would rather experience three other places rather than one museum. Plus, we adore really getting to know and immerse ourselves in the culture of an area. This often happens walking the streets and eating at a bunch of restaurants and visiting local galleries and neighborhoods, so we tend to keep our visits to these places. But if you love the zoo and couldn’t care less about the capital building, then make that the place that you go. It’s your experience so do what you want to do.
5. Pack light, wear comfortable clothes, and take time to relax
You don’t need a lot on a short trip, but what you do need are shoes you can walk for hours in, because chances are, you’ll be walking for hours. I know those heels you just bought are begging to come along, but the price they will exact on your feet just isn’t worth it. Likewise, you want to make sure you pack and wear clothes that are versatile and will stand up to doing lots of different things in the day. A tube top may not cut it if you’re going to be climbing around the Sutro Baths in San Francisco. And I recommend you do!
Just because your vacation is short doesn’t mean you can’t relax. If you can, hit up some of your preferred spots later in the day and take the morning to sleep in and order room service. Or if you jam-packed your day full of activities don’t force yourself to go out all night if you aren’t really feeling it. There is nothing wrong with drinks and dinner in the hotel bar followed by splurging with an on-demand movie and comfy robe in your room.
What do you think; can you really experience a place in just two days? What are your tips for how to do it?
Brandi is a lawyer in Denver who spends very little time actually lawyering. She can usually be found working for free at a non-profit, hiking up mountains, or bossing her husband around because he made the mistake of asking her for help with his business one time. She’s horribly technologically inept (unless people still use AIM in which case she’s a genius) and takes one bite out of every donut instead of finishing a single donut in its entirety, which is probably a metaphor for something but she hasn’t figured out what it is yet. You can read more from Brandi on her blog, Randi Nickle.