Photos by Goats on the Road
For our current trip through Eastern Europe, each country is getting a maximum of two weeks. For us, this is considered fast travel. Of course, it's not nearly enough time to fully experience the entire destination, its unique traditions, culture and people, but it's still doable, and we are making the most of our short stays. In this article, I'm going to explain seven amazing tips we use to ensure we're making the most of every moment we spend on the road. Even if it's just a quick visit.
1. Take a Tour
A few years ago when we started "hardcore independently traveling" I never thought I would have recommended going on a tour. But these days we're taking tours quite often. I'm not saying that you should give up your intrepid spirit entirely and head on a group tour of 50 people who rush through 25 countries in 25 days! But if you can hire a guide independently and travel around with him for a while, you may just find that you get a much better understanding of the country through his eyes.
We've been taking wine tours, historical tours, food tours, and walking tours. We're finding that we're learning more about the places we visit in a shorter period of time, because we are utilizing the expertise of locals. Plus, walking tours are a great way to get orientated in the city on your first day there.
2. Only Visit One Town
If you're flying into a country for a short period of time, consider only visiting one city. In five days, you won't have enough time to really experience a country anyways, but that's plenty of time to experiences smaller cities.
Consider sticking to one place and don't try to rush around too much. Learn about the unique culture, dance, traditions (and sometimes even language) in one spot and leave with a more in-depth understanding of the destination than if you had moved on after just 24 hours.
Another thing I never thought I'd recommend. We used to think that overland travel was the best way to go (partially because we thought that air travel was too expensive). However, this simply isn't true. In many countries, the best sites are spread out and very hard to reach during a short trip. If you hop on a plane, you can often reduce your travel time significantly, making it easier to see more places.
4. Couch Surf
We've only couch surfed a couple of times, but we really want to make an effort to try it more often. By staying in a local's home, eating traditional food and hanging out with a resident of the place you're visiting, you'll quickly learn a lot more than you ever would from staying in a hotel or hostel. Couch surfing offers budget travelers a free place to stay, but more importantly, it offers travelers a deeper cultural experience, and a place to learn about the local customs and traditions. Locals always know the best places to eat, drink and visit, so by staying with them, you'll enrich you travel experience significantly.
5. Stay in a Central Location
This is a very important for anyone on a short trip. You don't want to have to hop on a one-hour bus journey or pay for a taxi every time you are looking to be "in the thick of it all." Stay close to the center of town so that you are always a short walk from the best sites, restaurants, nightlife and cafes.
6. Use GPS
If you're only in a place for a few days, the last thing you want to do is spend half of the time getting lost. Set up data roaming on your mobile phone, or pick up a local SIM card and use it for Google Maps. With Google Maps, you can even download city maps to use offline, but you won't be able to see where you are located on the map without data. Coming from a couple that tends to get lost a lot, using Google Maps with data has saved us a lot of time taking the wrong lefts/rights.
7. Pack Less
The time spent waiting for your luggage to arrive at the carousel is precious time that could be spent visiting your destination city! The chances of your luggage being one of the last ones to arrive are pretty high ... or God forbid, it doesn't show up at all. The amount of time and energy you would spend dealing with lost luggage would really cut into your travel time. Pack carry-on only for short trips. You really don't need much if you're going for a week or less. When you arrive, purchase any toiletries, lotions or gels that can't be brought on board the plane.
Don't waste time waiting for your bags. Get out there and explore!