Man relaxing on beach in Maldives

How to Slow Travel on a Fast Time Budget

I’m a huge advocate of spending a longer time in fewer places, rather than “seeing everything” in a whirlwind of stops. But sometimes circumstances leave you with just not enough time in a destination — perhaps your flights don’t connect well and you’re left stopping over somewhere for just one or two days, or you simply don’t have enough vacation time to get away for longer.

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Rather than feeling pressed to turn yourself into some kind of whirlwind self-led Contiki tour — or worse still, in my opinion, giving in to an all-day tour bus ride — I’ve got some tips and strategies that will help you make the most of your short stay without getting dizzy.

Do More Research Than Usual

Sometimes I love to read all about a destination before I go; sometimes I prefer to just let it unfold in front of me. On a quick trip, you’re often better off doing more research than usual beforehand, so you can plan your stay in advance. I almost cringe as I type this, because I don’t really like planning the day-to-day experiences of a trip in advance, but it really does help when you’re short of time.

Advance research can also be a lot of fun, and in surfing the internet or browsing guidebooks before a trip, I’ve often come across more obscure points of interest that turn out to be highlights of the trip for me, places which I probably never would have found just by showing up and looking around.

View of the Water Near Central Station, Amsterdam
Relaxing Near Central Station, Amsterdam © Kevin Dooley

Pick One or Two Sights to See Properly

Relax and accept that it’s neither necessary or possible to see everything else (no matter what anybody else tells you!)

Personally, I think this is true for any kind of trip you take: less is more, so choose an art gallery, museum or a famous monument that really interests you and spend an entire afternoon there, rather than rushing around to take photos of every well-known statue and tower and then sprinting down the corridors of several museums.

This is where research comes in — you’ll want to have a good overview of the possibilities in your destination before you can narrow your choices down. Once you do, relax and accept that it’s neither necessary or possible to see everything else (no matter what anybody else tells you!).

Being Central Is Key

Often when I travel I’m more than happy to find a hostel or hotel out in the suburbs of a large city. You get to see how the real people live and it’s always a lot cheaper than staying in the centre. But if you’re on a time budget, having somewhere central to sleep becomes much more important. And rather than relying on the hotel website’s marketing blurb (about 90% of them claim to be central, I think!), do some map checking to make sure your accommodation is actually physically close to the places you’d like to see.

Being central also means that on your way to your chosen sights, you’ll be rewarded with some incidental sightseeing too, as you’ll probably stroll past some of the area’s famous tourist spots. And finally, being located in the middle of things means you won’t waste too much precious time on buses or trains — as lovely as this time can be, on a short trip you do need to minimize it.

Make Breakfast An Event

One way I really enjoy maximising my time in a destination is to start the day relatively early and make breakfast an event of its own. This might mean taking a picnic breakfast to a famous park or indulging at a quaint local cafe, or whatever else takes your fancy.

Rather than just throwing down a few pieces of toast before leaving your accommodation, make the effort to get out into the city or town at breakfast time. You’ll see how the residents of the city operate (watching peak hour can give you all kinds of insights!) and you’ll be able to taste a different variety of the local cuisine.

Spend Money to Save Time

I’m really a budget traveler, but there are times when even I can see that it makes sense to spend a little more money to save a heap of time. For example, you might see that in a city with less-than-stellar public transport you’ll save yourself an hour or more by hopping in a taxi instead of taking the bus to get to the museum you’re dying to visit. So do it — even when you’re traveling the phrase “time is money” can ring true.

Airport transfer services might be a similar case (check what services your hostel or hotel offer), and even pre-booking tickets to some popular museums or galleries, giving you the rights to a special line-jumping entrance, could well be worthwhile.

Man relaxing on beach in Maldives
Slowing Down © Nattu

You Can Always Come Back

Traveling to a new place often feels like a once in a lifetime experience, and that’s the reason many travelers fall into the trap of trying to see everything at once, believing that there won’t be another chance in their lives to see them. I always try to think the opposite — that I’m just there for a bit of a taste, and if it’s clear to me that there are a whole lot more interesting things to see, then I can always aim to come back again one day.

Realistically, I know that I won’t have the time or money to return to many of the places I’ve already been to — not when I can choose instead to go somewhere entirely new — but it does make me travel more slowly and not rush around trying to avoid regrets. I’ve definitely got a lot more out of every travel experience where I’ve taken it easy and not felt I was “ticking boxes”, compared to an occasional trip where I’ve actually tried to see everything.

What are some of your best tips for slow traveling when you’re in a time crunch? Let me know in the comments section below!

  1. I really love the idea of spending more time a fewer places. For me this makes me have a reason to come back again rather then trying to visit 10 different places and only have 10 minutes at each. You get burnt out!

    Be central is also another great tip!

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