How To Get The Most Out Of A Short Vacation

Americans have never been ones to take long vacations. That’s not exactly surprising – after all, the average employee only gets 14 days of paid time off each year. Still, the amount of time we spend on vacation has been dwindling over the years, and now our average vacation is just 3.8 days long.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to take more than four painfully short days off in a row, but if not, never fear. You can still have an amazing getaway as long as you know how to maximize your time. All it takes is a bit of planning and preparation to ensure your short vacation feels like a long one. Here’s how to go about it:

1. Don’t fly too far. It goes without saying that if you try to fly half way around the world, you’re going to have next to no time to actually enjoy your destination. If you only have a few days of vacation, you might want to stick to domestic cities (or nearby international ones, like Montreal). The longer your break, the further afield you can venture.

2. Don’t cross too many time zones. Unless you want to spend your entire vacation feeling groggy and jet lagged, avoid crossing multiple time zones. This means only going short distances in an east-west direction. However, if you travel in a north-south direction, you won’t have any problems. This makes destinations like Central and South America ideal.

3. Travel carry-on only. Who wants to waste precious vacation time standing at baggage claim? Or worse, filling out forms and hunting down essentials because your checked luggage went missing? There’s absolutely no reason you can’t live out of a carry-on bag, especially on a short trip.4. Take internal flights. If you’ll be visiting multiple cities during your vacation, consider taking domestic flights to get from one city to the next, rather than buses or trains, which tend to be cheaper but slower. You’ll have to do the math to see which option is better (since flying involves arriving at the airport early enough to go through security), but don’t rule out flying altogether.

5. Take taxis. Once you’re at your destination, don’t waste time being lost or trying to navigate complicated bus routes. You’ve only got a short time to enjoy your vacation, so spend a few extra bucks on a cab and get to your sights and activities faster.

6. Eat quickly. Eating is one of the great pleasures of travel so I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy your meals. However, if you’ve only got limited time, don’t waste it on a three-hour lunch when you could be out sightseeing instead. Make breakfast and lunch quick meals and save the long, leisurely feast for dinnertime when all the attractions are closed for the day.

7. Group your sightseeing. A little bit of research can go a long way towards saving you time when it comes to sightseeing. Figure out what you want to see in advance, locate those attractions on a map and then group sights and activities that are located close to each other. By visiting one group of attractions at a time, you’ll prevent yourself from running back and forth all over the city.

8. Book tickets to popular sights in advance. If there’s one thing popular attractions have in common, it’s a long line at the ticket counter. Don’t be a fool and waste your short vacation standing in line. Many museums and galleries will let you book tickets ahead of time so you can bypass the long lines and head straight inside. Check the attraction’s website to see if this is an option available to you.

9. Get outside and meet people. Don’t spend your entire vacation in museums. Talk to locals, wander down side streets, and really see a place without the tourist goggles on. It’s the little adventures you have that you’ll really remember once your trip is over, so try to have as many as possible.

10. Allow time for relaxation. It’s tempting to see and do as much as possible but remember that the point of a vacation is also to get some R&R. Make time to do something relaxing each day, whether it’s a massage, a soak in the jacuzzi, or a cocktail by the hotel pool (there’s nothing like a drink with an umbrella in it to make you feel like you’re on vacation). By working some downtime into your schedule, you’ll give yourself the chance to recharge before the next round of sightseeing.

[Photo credit - Flickr user Ed Yourdon]