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Not letting a travel day dominate the whole day

Many posters on this board have discouraged people from trying to do and see too much in one trip, and to avoid going from place to place at too frantic a pace, suggesting that everytime one switches an overnight location that that day is in essence a wasted or lost day in terms of actually seeing and doing things, because that day would be dominated by travelling to the new location, and the time and energy devoted to getting set up in ones new accommodations

I certainly agree to an extent about this, and I too cringe when I see travel ideas that have someone visiting London, Paris, Rome, the Cinque Terre and finishing up at Neuschwanstein, with perhaps a Dachau and Rothenburg side trip thrown in, all done in, say, 12 days. The mere thought of these marathon "if this is Tuesday it must be Belgium" trips is exhausting. However, on our trip last year I feel that we struck a nice balance of fitting in a lot of travelling and new accommodations, and yet not losing any days entirely in spite of travelling. On our 23 day trip starting and ending in Berlin which brought us to Dresden, Prague, Nurnberg, Garmisch, Salzburg, Munich, Erfurt and back to Berlin, we had about 8 days where travelling to a new location was on the agenda, and certainly in those 8 days we didn't have full days of sightseeing, but looking back at them, we came pretty close to doing so.
A good example of this was our trip from Garmisch to Salzburg. We left in mid morning, got to Salzburg in early afternoon, left our luggage at our hotel and spent the entire afternoon touring Salzburg. Looking back I feel we did about as much touring around that day as we would have had we started the day in Salzburg, we just went later into the evening and didn't have an afternoon rest time as we might have had we started the day there.

So for us I think the formula for success was a) only travel so far in one day, like Dresden to Prague, Erfurt to Berlin (in that case with a six hour long layover in Leipzig to see the city for the day) so that one is on a train only for a few hours, b) alter one's rhythm of the day to make up for lost time, in our case it meant having very full afternoons of sightseeing on every single travel day. This worked for us without a problem, and one reason for that was c) having conveniently located hotels or accommodations that did not require a lot of time to get to or to check in to.

Anyway, this pattern worked well for us, the concept of bit size, digestible chunks of travel time spread out over the trip. In hind sight I would say that I wouldn't have been against the idea of having one or two longer travel days, such as a Prague to Vienna leg, and looking back now would actually have done that, but certainly I agree on the idea of limiting long travel days.

Posted by
1316 posts

I agree with you, Rob. Striking a balance is key. And every travel day is certainly not an entire day lost from sightseeing. It depends on the distance, the mode of transport, the types of transfers (e.g. hotel to airport or train station to hotel, vs. direct travel by rental car from hotel to hotel), your ability to avoid getting lost, and your personal energy level. It seems like you got this down perfectly on your trip last year.

Another good way to make the most of travel days is to include stops along the way. Once on a train trip from Kalmar to Stockholm, I had to change trains in Linköping. I had an hour between trains, so I went for a walk and visited the beautiful cathedral. This can be easier in a rental car, as you can plan a series of stops between cities, but it's certainly possible by train.

And train travel can be a good opportunity to strike up conversations with new friends. Some of my most enjoyable travel experiences have been on trains.

Posted by
16781 posts

Shorter travel distances certainly make a difference, and these can be pretty standard when traveling within a country, more often than hopping from one country to the next.

Other strategies can include:
* Get an early start or simply push yourself to make the next activity transition. Fight inertia.
* Bring a sandwich or picnic meal onto the train.
* Don’t be so deathly afraid of missing your transport that you allow yourself too much time cushion.
* Don’t unpack so much as to make repacking difficult.

Posted by
196 posts

I enjoy train travel so if the places I visit are within 8 hours that's how I travel. So if I left at 8 am I could have breakfast and lunch on board and arrive at 4 pm, time enough to walk around and have a nice dinner. To me, taking a train isn't a "wasted" travel day. It's a day to see some of the countryside even if I can't stop for a closer look. On some trips it's possible to break up the travel and hop off for a few hours to see an in-between city. Plus train travel allows me to meet others and maybe learn more about where I'm headed or about a new city to visit on my next trip.

Posted by
3448 posts

Hi Rob,

I completely agree. After taking 11 trips to Europe, the itineraries that I create have almost all train travel limited to 3 hours maximum- usually more like 1 1/2 -2 hours. So after breakfast, we’re on a train and out sightseeing at the new location before or by noon. No wasted day. And, because that’s one of my goals, we have stayed in some fantastic less-touristy locations that we thoroughly enjoy. They usually have interesting museums and sights that aren’t crowded and friendly locals. Le Mans & Angers immediately come to mind from my France trip last year.

I’ll add a longer travel day where it makes sense, i.e. Paris-to-Nice, but that’s the exception.

Switching to a new hotel does not need to “waste a day”. Here’s an excerpt from my last trip report where I was traveling solo and intentionally planned several 1-night stops (and would gladly do the same itinerary again):

“On the spectrum of being organized, I’m on the extreme end, so this is how I facilitated efficient 1-night stops:
I selected lodging very close to the cathedrals. It was a quick reference point from the train station, and Rouen, Le Mans, Angers & Tours had quick tram service. Also, I could wander around town and then easily see which direction to walk to return to my lodging. In France, this was a perfect strategy because that’s also where the light shows at night were located.
Pack light & pack predictably. Everything had a specific place where it belonged, and everything except the toiletry kit stayed inside the suitcase in the exact same spot. My nightgown returned each morning to the suitcase zipper opening.
I could literally be out the door of a hotel in 5-10 minutes, including paying the bill, after finishing a shower & makeup. (I had my hair specifically trimmed, so I didn’t even need to dry it!) The next location was 1-2 hours by train, so I left my suitcase at the lodging by noon and didn’t need to be near the train station the rest of the day.
What I gained with these 1-night stops was the ability to forget about the clock during the day and to enjoy the evening light shows at several locations. I didn’t need to take a train back at the end of the day. I consider personal safety a high priority, so this allowed me to enjoy evening events next to my lodging and not worry about late train travel, plus walking back to a hotel from the train station. Also, during the day, when I wanted to rest my feet for a short break, my lodging was always within 10-15 minutes.“

Posted by
2716 posts

We generally have a rental car and try to keep the total daily travel time to no more than two or three hours. When possible we divide that time into segments stopping a few times between beginning and ending locations. That allows for stopping to smell the roses, so to speak, and enjoying some lesser touristed sights.

Posted by
5109 posts

rob in cal, you've obviously learned from experience what works for you and what it actually takes to move around efficiently. There are so many people who dont take into account the time it takes getting to, and waiting for transportation, or how tiring just traveling can be. Plus considering the habits and expectations of other people you might be traveling with. I think this (realistic planning) is something RS needs to discuss more in his books.

Posted by
2536 posts

One thing I noticed in the different accommodations we stay in, if you are checking into a hotel where breakfast is included it makes it easier to just jump into sightseeing, leisure strolls or long dinners the night you arrive in a new city. If your accommodations are apartments or private homes they do take a bit more time on your arrival day to go to a grocery store for a few breakfast provisions perhaps. Otherwise I’d say it is possible to transition locations and still be efficient in your time if you need to be.

Posted by
1183 posts

I think it's valid advice to warn people that travelling from place to place can eat up a day. However, being an effective planner can get you some of that time back. Do you know when check-in is, or if you can store luggage? That can save you time. How about what you want to see; are there must-sees that are open in the evening that you don't need a full day to visit? Research is your best friend.

Posted by
2317 posts

I think changing locations takes up much of a day, depending on distance travelled and what you need to do to get to/from. Take two examples, both with 4 hour train rides.

  1. You get on the first train which is at 10AM. Ride 4 hours, travel 30 more minutes to your new hotel. You are in by 3:00 after a short train delay, and getting oriented in the train station. You have to check in at a hotel that has a line/have to wait for an airbnb host/have to fill out paperwork. Into your room by 3:30. You might feel the need for a shower after the travel because it's a sweaty day and you spilled wine on your pants. Unpack, head out by 4:30. In this destination, a lot closes at 5. You can take a walk, get oriented, eat dinner. Not quite a wasted day, but pretty limited.

  2. You get on the first train at 8AM. Ride 4 hours, travel 10 minutes to your new hotel. You are there by 12:30. Check in quickly (or drop your luggage, room isn't ready). You don't need a shower, you aren't sweaty or spilling food yet because it's only noon. Head out at 1:00, do whatever you want, everything is open. Return to the room at 4 for a rest, go back out, in this destination things close at 7 and dinner is at 9 or 10, so you have hours of sightseeing ahead if you prefer. Absolutely not a wasted day.

So it depends on time (not always up to you, train schedules vary!), distance from the station, hotel location, hours of things in the destinations, and many other factors.

Posted by
410 posts

We like to arrive at our new destinations mid day or mid afternoon with around 4 hrs maximum travel between locations. You're not too tired when you arrive, and it allows a few hours of daylight to explore the neighbourhood of the new location. We tend to stay in locations for several days, so "lost" time is kept to a minimum. We're pretty organized with our packing, so repacking is not a big issue. You just get organized the night before.

Posted by
2924 posts

If I was visiting places I had been before, or if traveling during long sunlit evenings, I would be tempted to head to the next city late afternoon. As my sightseeing hours are typically 9-5, if I am organized and luggage with already at the train station or at hotel nearby, I am tempted to finish seeing what was left of a place and catch a train after 4....particularly if only a few hours. Either picnic dinner on the train, orsomething simple near by. This works best with hotels rather than apartments, so I don't do this I rarely have hotels.

Posted by
4259 posts

Mira's scenarios put this into good perspective. There are ways to fit a lot into a day besides travel from city to city, but they require planning and scheduling. Jean's tips make sense too. (In my case lack of hair simplifies the drying problem.) So do Laura's.

I notice that no one has mentioned flying, which probably involves the most lost-sightseeing-time per day of any travel mode. Flying makes sense only for long stretches that would otherwise take a whole day multiple days. Trains are another story, can be quick and easy especially if you choose hotels near the stations (but there are tradeoffs there too).

The itineraries that make least sense to me are those where you're moving every day, especially between big cities which each offer a lot (London Monday, Paris Tuesday, Rome Wednesday....). Some early-stage travelers aspire to that kind of mobility (perhaps I exaggerate a little) and should be gently warned off. The word "hit" can offer a clue -- first hit Paris, then Berlin, then Prague, then an uppercut to Vienna.....;-)

Posted by
16996 posts

I believe it is Chani who has mentioned a preference for shifting cities in the evening, after most indoor sights have closed. That makes total sense from a tactical standpoint. Alas, I don't seem to be emotionally equipped to travel that way.

Posted by
407 posts

I could literally be out the door of a hotel in 5-10 minutes, including paying the bill, after finishing a shower & makeup. (I had my hair specifically trimmed, so I didn’t even need to dry it!)

So could I but my travel companions (aka husband & kids) slow me down. :)

Posted by
3448 posts

Jehb2, my husband hates staying at a location for just one night, and I definitely wouldn’t want to be moving at that rate if he was with me - LOL! As you can see from another excerpt from my trip report, it’s important to consider everyone’s travel styles:

“This Aug. 26 - Sept. 18 trip had three distinct sections: 1. Cathedrals/medieval/chateau, 2. the Riviera, 3. Eastern France/Paris. The pace of the first section of this trip is one that I would not suggest normally for a person asking for itinerary help and definitely not the pace I would have set up if my husband was traveling with me. But, it worked so well for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – wouldn’t change anything for those first two weeks of solo travel if I was planning it all over again. “To thine own self be true” applies to travel!
So here we go! Flew into CDG. Rouen – 2 nights, Chartres – 1, Le Mans – 1, Angers – 1, Tours – 2, Paris – 1 (this was for train connections), Nice – 5, Paris – 2. My husband flew into Paris & we went to Nancy – 3, Colmar – 2, & Paris – 3 nights.“

Posted by
968 posts

This question fits with the topic. I’m thinking of RS Noire & South of France tour next Fall (?). It ends in Nice. From Nice I’d take the train to Venice. According to Rome2Rio, which I know is not accurate, straight through it’s about 8 1/2 hours with a 45 minute train change/layover in Milan. Should I use the whole day for travel which gives me the whole next day in Venice? Or travel 4 1/2 hours to Milan, spend the afternoon and night before traveling 3 hours to Venice in the morning? In other words, a long travel day vs two short travel days back to back? I don’t want to fly even if it would save time; the train is a chance to see the countryside. Thanks for the help!

Posted by
4124 posts

I think it is a whole different story when you are traveling with kids or elderly parents.

Posted by
3448 posts

Horsewoofie, if you haven’t stayed in Milan previously, I would do an overnight there. You could stay at Hotel Berna which is popular with our RS Forum and just a block from the Milano Centrale train station. Easy to take the metro a few stops to be at the Duomo, etc. Also, you’re not arriving in Venice exhausted from traveling all day.

I did the Nice-to-Paris train last year and was definitely ready to walk around after that long train ride.

Posted by
979 posts

I always like getting the earliest train for travel days. Pack everything the night before, get to the train station early enough to grab breakfast/snacks and get to my next destination with enough time in the day to explore. We actually enjoy the change of pace on the train to just relax and talk. Once we get to our destination we are drop and out the door people. I do not consider them wasted days as long as I can start early.

Posted by
968 posts

Thanks for your advice and experience Jean. I have not been to Milan and since this is still fantasy planning can easily add a day to Venice.

Posted by
2822 posts

A small comment: travel time should count more than travel distance when it comes to trains. Some places are close in the map, but tracks are slower. Some very high-speed train trips (eg Amsterdam to Paris, Cordoba to Barcelona, or Berlin to München) look long on the map but are quicker than - say - going from Milan to Marseille.

I try not to schedule trips starting so early that I need to mess up significantly with my normal waking time (whatever that will be), all things considered. Personally, I'd rather leave a bit on the earlier side to arrive around midday at the destination. But I always avoid timed tickets or tight-packed schedules for the first day, having spent some hours hauling luggage around stations and/or airports. I do like, however, to make dinner reservations at a place I might be particularly interested in on the first night, if possible/viable.

Posted by
11 posts

For me, the 3 biggest helps are:
1, packing light. Having a bag you can easily throw over your shoulder or maneuver through public transport easily is a game changer. The whole traveling between destinations feels much more effortless and quick. You don’t feel like it’s as much of a travel day when you aren’t sweating and stressed trying to cram your belongings in an overhead compartment, etc.
2 I like to leave late morning when possible. Waking up to early, or not sleeping well bc you are worried about missing an early alarm can throw the rest of the day. Mid morning means sleeping until a decent hour, breakfast/coffee without being rushed and avoiding most of rush hour. Nothing worse than arriving at your New destination Exhausted and feeling not put together.
3. Knowing when to use which form of transportation and when. Sometimes you pay a bit more to Uber or taxi but it means getting to a site before it closes, etc and not backtracking the next day.


Posted by
14003 posts

Acraven's memory is very good. I do prefer to take evening trains between cities. With a full day of sightseeing, by late afternoon I am more than ready for a rest. If it's a long ride I'll pick up something for a picnic supper on the train; if it's shorter I'll wait and have a late leisurely dinner on arrival (works well in Italy and especially in Spain where mealtime is typically pretty late). After many train rides, I've found that the scenery isn't very interesting and is often obscured by trees so I don't feel I'm missing anything by traveling after dark.

The key for me is good planning while taking into account my own foibles (like allowing plenty of extra time for orientation in new places). I'm also very fortunate that the only restrictions I have are self-imposed. I'm retired so my trip can be as long as I want. I usually start by planning a 2 week trip and end up having to drop destinations to keep to a maximum of 3-1/2 weeks. I don't have unlimited means but I have a good amount for annual travel (it's mounting now with nowhere to spend it, sigh) so I don't have to cut corners to lengthen a trip. I can afford to stay in central locations and take taxis which saves a lot of time.

Posted by
655 posts

I used to try to travel either early or later in the day to have a longer period of sightseeing time. But lately what I've done is try to get a train that leaves around noon. Hotel checkouts are usually around 11 so this allows me a couple hours between breakfast and checkout time to sight-see. I pack before I leave for the morning but I still have the room so I don't have to leave the bags at reception and I still have the room to 'freshen up' a bit quickly. I get a picnic lunch for on the train. When I arrive the new hotel check in time is past so again don't have to leave bags, plus I have the room to again, 'freshen up' (whatever that means to you) before going out for the late afternoon/dinner/evening. So basically I'm traveling during those hours between most hotel check-out/check-in times and having lunch.

Posted by
1770 posts

Air travel will kill the day. I try to keep train travel to three hours. A rental car means no transfers from airport or train station and you can stop along the way so it might not be a lost day to travel only.