After setting foot on six continents, I am FINALLY making my way to Canada. Vancouver to be exact; VanCity, Gastown, Rain City, Hollywood North, City of Glass. Despite growing up in America’s mid-Atlantic region, I’ve never visited our neighbor to the north, even though it was less than 400 miles away. So for my birthday, I decided to treat myself with a getaway. While it is only for a short trip, I want to be sure I make the most of it. But how do you make the most of a short trip when there is so much to see and do? Glad you asked, dear reader!
While I love to plan and read up on a location, I don’t love to structure my travels that much. I’d rather sketch out a rough plan with some absolute must-sees and then, let whim and chance figure out the rest. When time is limited, this sort of loose planning is the best bet. So, in honor of my pending excursion, and as I sketch things out for Vancouver, here are my top tips for single-location travel planning. I am defining single-location as a trip where you may make day-trips but plan to sleep in one hotel in a central location for the duration.
- Make a list. We all have things we enjoy doing (snorkeling) and things we refuse to do so (bungee jumping again) start there. If you are traveling with someone else, this is especially important. By defining what you really REALLY want to do, you can determine if you have enough time to do it all and then, make the tough choices if your list exceeds your time.
- Scope out locations. Once you decide on your next destination take note of what is easily accessible from where you are staying. Understanding things like where your hotel is in proximity to the must-sees on your list can help you determine timing. It can be disappointing to realize that the world’s largest rubber band ball is more than a 6 hour drive away from the yeti museum. Note: after this step, you may have to revisit step 1 to amend your list.
- Sketch out a wardrobe. I can’t stress it enough, pack light! This is important for any type of travel and is especially true when you are short on time. If you are like me, you may go from museum-hopping one day to hiking through the forest the next day. Having versatile pieces that can take you from city to country and back again is key. Even better, planning which pieces you want to take helps ensure that you are taking only what is essential and haven’t overlooked anything.
- Settle in. I find it very useful to keep my first day relatively free from scheduled things. I like to get to my hotel, suss out the surrounding area, figure out public transit (next tip), and eat. It is not a lot of fun making a mad dash from the airport to a scheduled must-do activity just after you arrive. Relaxing at a local pub or restaurant is a good way to get a feel for your location, especially if you can score a window or sidewalk seat.
- Explore public transit. Get to know your location’s public transit. It may be a tram/rail line, bus routes, subway system, or it may be based on shoe leather. Get a map and figure it out. Not only is this a great way to live like a local, you may find some noteworthy spots to visit along the way. Bonus tip: most airports have a kiosk near baggage claim/ground transportation with maps and brochures for public transit.
- Reserve tickets (if needed). If your time is limited and you have ticket-based things on your list it helps to buy them in advance. Not only can this save you money, it ensures that your spot will be available for the symphony, private vineyard tour, bridge climb, etc.
- Be flexible. This tip seems to make it onto all of the lists I write. 🙂 It may be the most important tip that applies to all sorts of travel-related things. As I write this, I realize it may be the most important tip for how to live life, too! Things go wrong, luggage goes missing (tip: pack light, don’t check), reservations get lost. The best way to handle it is to recognize that life is unpredictable and to be ready for anything. After all, you are traveling for pleasure which most of the world still considers a luxury.
- Let it go. Unless you are relocating to your destination, chances are that you won’t get to partake of everything there is to do. At some point, travel becomes a chore if all you are doing is checking off items to get them all accomplished. When you start to feel rushed, stop! You don’t want a moment from “If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium” (more the 1957 New Yorker cartoon and less the 1969 movie). Look at your list and if you have been able to check off the top 3 things, consider it a success and go buy yourself a drink!
Remember that the true joy of traveling is to be yourself in a new place. To breathe different air. To wake up to a different sunrise. To let unfamiliar sights and sounds wash over you, even if all you do is wander from cafe to pub and back again.
What do you think? Did I forget your favorite tip? Let me know in the comments!