Cram it in: The only way to see it all?

Whether you are a meticulous scheduler or more of a spontaneous traveler, managing to see everything you want to see when traveling can be a challenge, particularly when time is scarce. The majority of Americans will only receive one or two weeks of paid vacation time per year. With a bucket list of dream destinations that likely includes at least one location on every continent and families to visit during holidays, most people choose to vacation one week at a time.

So, if you only have a week, including travel times, how do you see it all?

Can you see it all?

The short answer: No.

The long answer: Yes, but maybe no.

I love researching and planning a trip, but I also like to be spontaneous as much as possible. The idea of not knowing what we will discover or the new memories we will gain is exciting to me. However I have learned that careful planning is necessary in some travel situations. When time or money are in short supply, there is a certain amount of scheduling that must occur.

  1. Spreadsheets are your BFF….I repeat, SPREADSHEETS!

    • Type A, research loving travelers have known this for eons. The spreadsheet is going to be the best tool you use. Google Sheets will allow you to make a spreadsheet to share with your traveling companions and anyone can work on it.
    • Spreadsheets will also allow you view at one time everything you are trying to fit into a single day. This makes it easier to adjust your days to allow for more freedom if that is what you are looking for.
    • Color coding will be helpful here as well. I like to change the color of the text in my spreadsheets to represent the type of sites. For example, I might make museums, castles and theaters RED because that would indicate several hours of viewing time needed. Bridges, statues and other monuments will be in BLUE since they will likely be a few minutes for a photo and not much else. Meals, shopping and tours will receive their own colors, with half-day and full-day tours differing slightly (soft purple and dark purple, for example). 
  2. Get a map that lists all the tourist sites for the city you are visiting.

    • We found this great, rainproof map of Boston by Map Easy (they also have many other cities) which was a huge help when planning our first trip there. Streetwise and Popout are some other maps that we love too.
    • Mark where you will be staying on the map and then divide the map into sections of the city. Determine how long it will take to get to each section of the map and identify the locations of each site within the sections.
      • Sometimes the sections will be traditional quadrants, other times you may find that more sections or slightly “sideways” shapes work more efficiently.
    • Spend one day in each area (or half of a day if you don’t have a lot you want to see there.)
      • We like to put all of the sites into a single day in a given area. We may deviate slightly which day we head to which area, and we may find ourselves back in an area on another day. However, we have found that by giving ourselves sort of a loose plan, we can save time and money.
      • You can also prioritize your sections by knowing which days or times entrance is free or reduced cost! 😉
    • Use your map to mark the most important sites so that you can ensure to see those first. Using one color for those “absolutely cannot miss” and another for “would really like to see” sites can help you to budget your time while on the go.
  3. SAVE time in any way that you can.

    • Rent a car for things outside the city center if train travel is longer.
    • Take a scheduled, guided tour to multiple sites in a day or half of a day.
    • Pack a lunch instead of eating every lunch out. End your touring/shopping day with a late dinner.
    • Stay in a centrally located hotel/apartment/hostel.
    • Organize your travel (trains, buses and walking) so that you pass by sites to see on your way to things to visit!
  4. Message boards!

    • Find message boards and travel groups that will share their experiences with you.
    • Ask crucial questions only locals or recent/frequent visitors will know.
      • Can I see most of what the Louvre has to offer in 3 hours time?
      • How long is the guided tour of the castle?
      • Is there a coach tour which will take me to see multiple sites or can I see them on my own?
      • What is a great, takeaway/takeout place for a bite to eat that won’t impact my time too much?
      • Is it worth waiting in line to see________?
  5. Don’t be afraid to deviate from “the plan”.

    • In Scotland we had booked a tour but the meeting time was not clear on our confirmation email, causing us to miss our tour (as it actually left 10 minutes before the scheduled time). We were bummed but they allowed us to take a different tour the next day. We shifted our plans and did our shopping/exploring day a day early. It ended up working out just fine.
    • We assign our stuff to certain days, but often we end up spending more time in one museum or at one site and have to shift other sites to other days or skip them altogether. Being flexible allows you to have some spontaneity while still maintaining some structure.
    • Always leave a day or two that have NOTHING planned. I like to do one in the middle, maybe after a big, busy day of tours and the other at the end, right before our departure day.
      • Have a day to see what you didn’t see, or thought you wouldn’t have time to see.
      • Have a day to wander shops, get souvenirs, eat foods you can’t get at home, and repack.

In all, there will be some things that you will not be able to see. Prioritizing your sites and map will help to minimize the time spent traveling from site to site or at least utilize it for photo opportunities. Reach out to locals or recent travelers to find out what sites you could skip or spend less time visiting. Arrange your days to see as much as you can in one area so you don’t backtrack.

Time is a precious and costly commodity. Setting a schedule and then allowing yourself to deviate from it will provide you with a realistic expectation of what you can manage to see in one trip. At the same time, if you pre-schedule a handful of tours to ensure you see several sites in a single day, which on your own would have taken two days, you are free to move other things around, like a shopping day or a day of hiking.

“Keep your heart open, a suitcase packed and wonder often for the world is wide and adventure awaits.” ~ Emylee

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