This post is part of the Ask Alex, Travel Question Wednesdays weekly series. To see previous questions click here. To submit your own; tweet it to @AlexBerger, ask it in a comment on this post or send it in by e-mail.
This week’s travel question is from Susanna who asks,
Q. “What pace do you suggest setting for a two week trip in Europe. what I mean is, how long in each city/country?”
A. – Traveling abroad is usually a somewhat expensive and challenging undertaking. For many, your first trip can seem on-par with other major purchases you’ve made: moving into a new apartment, a down-payment on a car, etc. So, it’s only logical that most people want to cram in as many countries and stops as possible. When friends share their itineraries with me it’s not uncommon for them to schedule 7 countries (or more) for a 2 week trip.
Which makes sense. They’re taking a big trip and they want to see as much as humanly possible in the time they have available. Which, I actually support – to a certain degree. In general the advice tends to fall on one side of this issue or the other. “Spend a lot of time in a few locations” vs. “See as much as you can as fast as you can”. Which is inevitably followed by a debate over what counts as “seeing” a destination. If you spent 6 hours in Paris and only saw the Eiffel tower did you “see Paris?” what about 2 days? 2 full weeks? While there is some validity to these types of debates and they can be insightful, I think they neglect a far more important question which needs to be addressed on a case-by-case/personal basis. What is YOUR goal with the trip? Contrary to what many veteran travelers might expect, I actually recommend my friends press forward with their whirlwind tours of Europe in about half the cases. Blasphemy, I know! This is because in talking to them, they’re interested in sampling a lot of different places and then following up with future trips that strive to revisit favorite locations while exploring them greater depth. I look at these trips in the same way I look at ordering a beer sampler during your first visit to a new brewery or a wine tasting. As long as you keep in mind that you’re just sampling a quick taste of each vintage and not familiarizing yourself with its complete history, richness and flavor then you’re in great shape. In fact, it can be a great approach!
On the other hand, I give very different advice to the other half of the group. These are typically friends who are taking a rare trip, one which they don’t plan to follow up on any time soon (though I always hope the trip changes their future plans…radically). These are the friends who have saved up time off over several years and are taking their big trip abroad to Europe or Asia for the first time before going back to their more traditional cruises, or destination/all inclusive beach getaways closer to home. For these friends, it’s very important that they get a rich experience in the places they do visit and I often advise them to aim for potency over diversity. In these cases it’s often good to spend at least 4 days in a city. I also suggest visiting at least one secondary city to go with the inevitable capital they’ve selected. So, if they plan on Italy – I recommend spending a few days in Rome, and then exploring a smaller city like Florence or the Cinque Terra.
Regardless of which approach is right for you, I always suggest you spend at least 1 full day in a city and that you don’t count travel days as city time. Travel eats up energy, it eats up time, and it will detract from the richness of your experience. It’s easy to want to add as many new countries to your passport as possible, but at the end of the day remember that it’s far more important to relish and experience the moment while there, than it is to collect that extra stamp.