Ideally, travel is a luxurious experience, where you can languorously wander from destination to destination, taking your time to really soak up the local culture. In reality, it’s usually a little bit messier. Budgets are tight, vacation time is sparse, and plans go awry. Make the most of your vacation no matter how short your itinerary. Just remember these tips for maximizing your trip to any city.
1. DOWNLOAD A MAP BEFORE YOU GO.
Try to get a map of the city and its public transportation system to download on your phone before you arrive. That way, even if you don’t have WiFi or cell service, you will still have a method for finding your way around.
2. ASK FOR RECOMMENDATIONS.
Make sure to ask someone local for their tips for the top sights to see. The hotel concierge, your cab driver, or your waiter will probably be able to tell you which tourist traps aren’t worth your time.
3. GET SOME SLEEP.
If your flight is overnight, make sure to arrive feeling your best by getting some shut-eye on the plane. Bring your pillow, eye mask, and ear plugs to create a private sanctuary on the plane.
4. RENT A BIKE.
There’s no better way to get to know a new place than to bike around. It’s faster than walking, but slow enough that you can be tempted by the sight of a house museum or quirky shop. And since you’re the one doing the navigating—not a cab driver—you’ll be able to get your bearings around town more quickly.
5. COME PREPARED.
Do some research before you arrive. Make the most of your short trip with a little bit of planning so you don’t waste precious time flipping through guidebooks or arguing over restaurant choices.
6. CHECK WHEN MUSEUMS ARE OPEN LATE.
To fit a few more destinations into your trip, check if any of your must-see museums have late-night hours. Many museums stay open until 10 or 11 p.m. on certain nights, especially in the summer. As a bonus, many late-night museum events showcase local DJs and musical acts, too.
7. BRING DRY SHAMPOO.
Sometimes, seeing the inside of that castle or making it to that divine brunch seems slightly more important than showering. Pack dry shampoo and baby wipes so that if your jet lag keeps you in bed, you don’t need to waste time in the bathroom.
8. TRY A HOSTEL.
Hostels aren’t just cheap, they’re a great place to meet people and explore parts of the city you might not otherwise see. Hang out in the common areas—they are usually full of fellow travelers looking for fun, and there are usually bulletin boards filled with flyers for local activities and festivals.
9. SKIP THE TOUR...
For the most part, walking tours and guided museum visits are long and regimented. Don’t let your precious vacation time be wasted by that one stranger who won’t stop asking the guide inane questions. Be your own tour guide and skip right to the stuff you really want to see—unless you’ve got a stellar recommendation for a particular tour.
10. ...UNLESS IT'S A BOAT TOUR.
You can’t walk your way around an entire city in just a couple of days without getting exhausted. Trying to make the most of your time every second of the trip can be a recipe for burning out at 3 p.m. on the second day. If you need a break and a few hours to rest your feet, take a boat tour. You’ll get to see a whole different side of the city.
11. GO WITH THE FLOW.
Sure, you can make a diligent list of every single historic statue, edgy museum, and hip restaurant in a single city and plan a minute-by-minute itinerary that will allow you to see it all. But don’t be afraid of a little spontaneity. That little sidewalk cafe you duck into to get out of the rain might be the best meal you eat all trip.