Most studies rank the USA dead last in the number of paid vacation days employees receive. The rest of the studies rank Canada last and the US next to last. There are many reasons to be proud of American exceptionalism, but this is not one of them in my opinion. It’s no wonder then that when the typical American gets a week off they often plop down on the couch to rest or check off a list of chores that has been building for over a year.
But sometimes the stars align and we decide to travel abroad, most frequently (and with good reason) to Europe. But so often Americans try to do too much on their vacation; this is especially true on their first trip to Europe.
If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Belgium
Let me try to put this into perspective. Would you enjoy a week off where you went to St. Louis, New York City, Miami, and Philadelphia? I’d bet that for many the answer would be a resounding “No!” Then, pray tell, why would we think that visiting London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Rome in one week would be any more relaxing?
Believe me, I totally understand the urge to see as much as we can while travelling, especially considering the precious few days off most Americans and Canadians have. But if I could only give one piece of travel advice, it would be to resist this temptation with every ounce of strength you have left.
I’m a firm believer in the concept of experiencing vs seeing. Is it logistically possible to visit four European capitals in seven or eight days? Sure it is, but would you have time to experience the sheer joy of sitting at a café on a Roman piazza enjoying a latte and watching the world go by? Most likely not.
I love urban travel and I’ve learned over the years that, while I love sightseeing as much as the next person, I also love to truly get a feel for the city I’m visiting. Therefore I’m a big advocate of one week, one city. I’m also okay with stretching this to two cities if they are in close proximity and can be reached quickly without a trip to the airport.
The reason for this is that every day you travel you typically have little time for anything else. That’s why they are called travel days. For example, you’re in London and you are also going to visit Rome; you have a 2:20 pm flight from Heathrow. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have that morning available to you for sightseeing and you’ll visit the Vatican that afternoon. Here’s what that day would look like. You wake up early, say 7:00 a.m. or so and discover your luggage has exploded in your hotel room over the past couple of days. By the time you shower, repack, and search for your phone charger cord that somehow ended up in your dirty laundry bag it’s already 9:00 a.m.
By now you are completely famished and coffee-starved when you remember that breakfast is served from 7 to 10 every morning. By the time you’re recharged and re-caffeinated it’s now around 10 o’clock. That flight you’ve got is not until 2:20, but Heathrow is not exactly in Westminster you know. You need to be at the airport at least an hour early (1:20) and you need to give yourself an hour as a contingency against the unknown things that always pop up (12:20). You’ve allowed at least on hour to get to the airport (11:20). So, what are you going to do with that hour and twenty minutes you have to spare?
So after all the stress and worry you actually do arrive at Rome Fiumicino airport right on schedule at 4:10 pm, you look at your map of Rome and it looks like a bowl of dropped spaghetti sauced with vowels. It’s rush hour and you can count on a large number of the drivers will be Italian so you don’t actually get to your hotel until around 6:30, your luggage promptly re-explodes, and you’re exhausted and sweaty. So much for sightseeing that day, eh?
Contrast that day with waking up leisurely, having breakfast while reading the Times of London, taking the Tube to Paddington station, and getting a train to Windsor. In Windsor you explore the castle, have a nice lunch by the River Thames, and poke around the bucolic little town. You’re back in London by 4:00 pm and have time for a quick power nap to recharge your batteries; you explore a cool place for dinner, and still have time to take in a play in SoHo that evening.
For my money I say “Arriveriderci Roma.” I’ll catch you next time.