The Case Against the Day Trip

I used to write more about alternatives to the day trip. As I write this, I’m reflecting on a late morning bike ride from our cottage near Mont St Michel. We slept in to let our body recover from two long walks and a bike ride. The forecast was relatively clear and the temperature was perfect. Off we went. 3.75 miles to Le Mont. We encountered a bit of wind on the final approach, so it took a bit longer than expected. Upon arrival, we locked up our bikes and took the path towards the back of the island. Up, up, up we climbed. When we reached the first level landing of the abbey, I stopped to take it all in. Since we had walked the ramparts twice recently, I decided we would descend through the main street of town.

There were people everywhere.

Now, I’ve seen videos of this experience – wall-to-wall people making their way up a steep street in search of the abbey at the top of the Mont. And, as it started to rain, I felt disappointed for them. For many of them, this was their one day to experience the marvel of Mont St Michel. Their photos would be marred by thousands of tourists, and today, many would probably remember the rain more than Le Mont. It reminded me of this post that I’ve been drafting in my head for some time.

Journey of Doing - visiting Mont St Michel at night
If you visit Mont St Michel during the middle of the day, you’ll find yourself crossing this bridge with hundreds of other people. It’s not exactly the same view!

Why People Take Day Trips

To some extent, I understand why people take day trips. The US has the shortest vacations in the western world. We are conditioned to a mindset of scarcity. The beaten path is eschewed for hidden gems, being off the beaten path, and checking off the next thing. There isn’t always an abundance of information available about smaller towns, making it hard to see why we would spend more than a few hours somewhere. Tour operators understand this about us, and they seek to meet us where we are. Visit 3 towns in Tuscany in a single day! See the sights of Normandy in a single day! Take a bus to Mont St Michel from Paris in 12 hours (or less)! Check off more places on the never-ending list of places to see before you die!

Journey of Doing - staying in Montefalco, Italy
Montefalco has never been written up in a single guidebook on Italy that I’ve purchased. If I had taken a single day trip to the countryside, I would have missed out on its magic and its wine entirely!

Why We Skip the Day Trip

When we first started traveling, we met a tour guide in Cinque Terre who talked to us about the strain that day trips put on those beautiful, tiny villages in Italy. Not only does it flood a small area with a lot of people, but because the trips are so fast, rarely does one engage with the local economy. It can create a strain on resources without ever giving resources back to the local population. Most daytrippers will come, walk around, buy a souvenir made abroad, and leave without ever enjoying a meal, engaging with a local, or experiencing the magic of a place. Speaking from experience, it’s hard to experience magic when you’re shoved into a small area with thousands of your closest friends.

What we’ve found is that when we slow down – maybe for a night or two – we’re able to start peeling back the layers of a place. (Everything is an onion. Go with me on this!) We book a tour with a local guide who can share what’s important to know about a place. Whether it’s through cooking classes, food tours, or restaurants, we take time to find experiences that can introduce us to local cuisine. And, we’ve always found that there’s a little magic everywhere. Maybe not enough to spend an entire vacation, but more than enough magic to justify spending a bit of time and money in an area. Some of my favorite memories are from exploring towns in the mornings and evenings in between the tour bus schedules. It allows me to take the time to truly be where my feet are.

Journey of Doing - spending a few nights in Cinque Terre
Who remembers the night I scaled the hills of Vernazza after dinner at Gianni Franzi to take this iconic shot? You can’t do that on a day trip!

Tips for Overcoming Travel FOMO

As an avid traveler, it was a bit unsettling to marry a man who didn’t necessarily feel the same way about travel. In fact, Tom’s first trip abroad was our honeymoon in Europe. We actually delayed our honeymoon for 2 years after getting married because of work. When crafting our itinerary, I wanted a balance of places that Tom was excited about visiting, places I thought might pique his interest in traveling, and I wanted to pack in as much as possible because I didn’t know when we would return. The original plan was RomeFlorenceVeniceParis-London-Ireland. When we got to Paris, Tom fell in love with it and we cancelled the London leg of our trip to stay in Paris. That trip ignited Tom’s interest, and we’ve been traveling ever since.

Let Go of the Scarcity Mindset

To get past the fear of missing out during travel, you have to let go of the scarcity mindset. Too often, we’re made to feel bad about going to the same places. We feel like we should only go somewhere once. If you go somewhere and love it, go back! With no sarcasm intended, you do you, boo.

By telling yourself that you can return to a place, you take the pressure off of it. (This leads to a better experience for everyone involved.) You don’t have to see it all in a single go. Focus on the things you are excited about and forget what you’re supposed to do. If someone expresses disbelief that you didn’t see THE THING, be ready to tell them all about what YOU loved about the place. Travel is not solely about THE THING.

Example: the first few times we went to Paris, I didn’t take Tom to the Louvre. We didn’t need to see the Mona Lisa. He was more interested in the Hotel des Invalides. I wanted to take him to see Degas’s ballerinas at the Musee d’Orsay. We both wanted to take a walking tour of Paris at night.

Journey of Doing - the case against the day trip
How I Plan Our Trips:

Once we decide on a destination, I make a list of everything we’re interested in experiencing. That includes sightseeing and tours, restaurants, foods, and wines, and even hotels. If it’s somewhere we’ve been, is there something that we’ll be sad that we didn’t do? That goes at the top of the list, and I build our itinerary around those experiences.

If it’s somewhere we haven’t been, what’s essential to having a more local experience to get a sense of place? Is it a particular sight? Is it food or wine? Or, is it a hotel that I’m genuinely excited about visiting for one reason or another? For example, staying at the Meneghetti wine resort in Istria was a non-negotiable for me on our trip to Croatia. If we were were going to Croatia, we were going to stay at the Meneghetti. In contrast, Tom felt strongly about going to Dubrovnik. He did not want to go to Croatia and not stay in Dubrovnik for a few nights. (The final result was a two-week road trip itinerary from Dubrovnik to Zagreb that included several nights in Istria.)

Journey of Doing - why you shouldn't just take a day trip
Tom got his walls in Dubrovnik.
Journey of Doing - why should skip day trips in favor of better experiences
I got my food and wine experiences in Istria, Croatia.

Understand that Not Every Moment Will be Life Changing

I think a lot of people put pressure on travel. If we’re going to take this time, every moment has to be magical. Travel is hard. Good travel is even more difficult because it will probably push you outside of your comfort zone. You’re navigating new places, new experiences, new things, new food, new everything! And maybe some of those new moments aren’t quite what you thought they would be. That’s okay.

We’ve spent approximately two weeks in Mont St Michel in the last two years. The first time I saw Mont St Michel, it took my breath away. It’s so much bigger than I thought it would be. However, when we arrived on the Mont that first evening, in search of a restaurant or cafe where we could have a glass of cider with a view, I was disappointed. Most things in the Mont are touristy and almost all of them close early. The Mont was empty. I was so disappointed. We returned to our cottage and had dinner outside, which ended up being one of my favorite evenings of our first trip to Mont St Michel.

The next day, when we returned to Mont St Michel, we saw how busy it became during the day. It gave me a greater appreciation for those quiet evenings when we could appreciate the beauty of the architecture, even if it didn’t include a life-changing meal or a glass of cider with a view of the tide coming in. Our evening bike rides to Mont St Michel are the experience and why we keep coming back.

Journey of Doing - benefits of staying a few days in a place
When you take a day trip to a place, you miss the opportunity to discover local gems. This tarte au citron may not have changed my life, but it was a delicious way to end an easy dinner at home!

Managing Travel Expectations

A lot of times, when someone tells me they didn’t love a place, it’s usually for one of two reasons. One, they didn’t have a plan when they arrived and they were disappointed because they didn’t get to have the experience they wanted. (See above!) Or, two, they haven’t managed their expectations. (Don’t believe me? Google Paris Syndrome.) Expectations have a way of manifesting themselves in a few ways. It’s important to remember that not everyone experiences things the same way. Your friend loving a place doesn’t mean you will love it.

One of my most vivid memories from studying abroad was the beauty of the Eiffel Tower. I had grown up studying French and visiting Paris seemed like the next logical step. The Eiffel Tower was more beautiful that I imagined. Nothing had prepared me for the intricacies of the metal work. Watching it slowly light up and sparkle was magical. I didn’t know that it sparkled! It wasn’t that I had put a lot of pressure on this trip to Paris, it was that I was merely excited about the fact that I even had the opportunity to go to Paris! (Travel is a privilege and its easy to forget that.)

Last year, when we went to Porto for a long weekend, we booked it for one major reason: the flight was on sale. I knew a little bit about Porto – the tiles, the famous Port wine, the beauty of the Douro river. We bought a couple of books, I read up on what to see, do, and eat, and we booked several tours. However, I didn’t over plan our itinerary because we didn’t know what to expect in Porto. When we arrived in Porto, our hotel room wasn’t ready, so we went and checked the menus at the restaurants we wanted to visit and made reservations. While I don’t recommend doing this in high season, it allowed us to put together an itinerary that exceeded our expectations. In fact, that trip to Porto got us excited about exploring more new places again because it was such a good trip.

I try to go into every trip with the idea that I’m going to find something beautiful, something new I’m excited about, and something I want to do again. When I go back to places I’ve been before, I try to find a new way of experiencing a place. (New tour, new restaurant, new museum, etc.) I’ve never been disappointed when I do this. It doesn’t mean that every place rises to the top of the list, but it challenges me to look for the positives of an experience, rather than focusing on the negatives.

Journey of Doing - avoiding Paris Syndrome when you travel
The best way to avoid disappointment when you travel to realize that every trip offers an incredible opportunity to embrace the world in a new way.
Train Your Brain to Think Differently

One of the things that Tom and I do every night at dinner is recap our day. Not only does this help us better remember what we’ve learned, but it also focuses our mind on the positive experiences. Sometimes it’s this Amazing Thing we just saw. Other times it’s the excitement of the people we meet and how they share their passions with us and how contagious their excitement is. Maybe it’s the small things, like a really tasty dish or successfully fighting jet lag on our first day abroad. Wherever the day takes us, we try to recap the moments that made it memorable. We’ve been fortunate; we haven’t had a lot of things go wrong on our travels. However, I also wonder if the reason we believe that is because we choose to focus on the good things every day.

Doing this has made me acutely aware of people who complain incessantly. (I don’t like it.) I try not to be that person anymore. Travel days are hard, but look at what you get to do! Trains and planes are late, but you arrive safely. Sometimes a meal doesn’t turn out as you expected, but it refines your palate and helps you understand what you do like. (Real food. I like real food a lot. I miss that when I’m in the US and I really should cook more with real food.)

Journey of Doing - what makes travel good
Not everything has to be elaborate. There’s a lot of beauty in simplicity, too.

The Impact of the Day Trip on Your Travel Budget

You know what I really don’t understand? Why you would pay hundreds of dollars a night to stay in a popular city AND LEAVE THAT CITY for day trips. And, a lot of organized day trips are VERY expensive compared to what you experience. When we first started visiting Tuscany, I thought that we would take day trips from Florence. And then I realized that I could book great hotels in Montalcino for far less than I would spend on a hotel room in Florence. I figured out that it was far better to have a delicious dinner at Osteria Acquacheta and walk back to Palazzo Carletti than it was to have to get in the car and drive back to where I was staying. And, when I started looking at what it costs to visit the D-Day Beaches from Paris compared to what it cost to stay in Bayeux for a few days, it was still a no brainer.

If you want to stretch your travel budget, consider that it may be a lot less expensive to pair a small town with a large city. (This is one of my favorite ways to travel.) Yes, you have to figure out transportation on your own, but the savings of time and money will likely be worth it. Trains from Florence to Cortona aren’t that expensive, and the train is really easy. Once you get there, you can take your time and enjoy all my favorite restaurants in Cortona! (Another cost savings benefit: most things are less expensive in smaller towns!)

Journey of Doing - how to stretch your travel budget
When we went to visit Torino, I found this restaurant that served Southern Italian street food. The most expensive sandwich was (at most) 7 euros. The suppli were half that. It was one of the best meals we had in Italy.

Sustainable Travel vs. One Day Trips

There are a lot of cities and towns in Europe that are in danger of becoming living museums.  You can see a lot of places where AirBnB is pricing locals out of the market and hollowing out city centers.  Cruise ships drop thousands of passengers a day in ports that create a lot of strain on places that don’t necessarily have the infrastructure to support the numbers that are coming. This is why you see so many places fighting back against day trippers. They aren’t fighting against people visiting, but they are trying to preserve parts of their experiences that are being overrun by mass tourism.

By skipping the day trip and spending a few nights in a destination, you can be a part of the solution to mass tourism. Many times, the city taxes on hotels (not AirBnB) are what helps sustain a city’s upkeep, particularly in places that are very expensive to maintain. (Think about Venice – every single thing has to be brought in from the mainland. Everything is constructed with deliberate intention.) While AirBnBs may be cheap for travelers, short term rentals do prevent locals from being able to enter the rental market.  

When you visit a city for a couple of hours, only to walk around, you aren’t engaging the local economy and you are robbing yourself of understanding the essence of places. I encourage you to book local, licensed guides to learn more. Ask questions. Where can you have an authentic meal? Is there a specific souvenir that the area is known for or that a particular artisan creates? What can I see to better understand what is important in this area? What challenges is this place experiencing in the ever changing world? Be curious and engage. Wrestle with the moments that cause you to question your preconceived notions or ideas.

And, as always, look for the good, the positive, and the downright memorable.

Journey of Doing - tips for sustainable tourism
By finding ways to engage with the local economy, you can ensure that others get to have the same experiences you’ve had.

Follow along with Sara!

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  1. I love this advice, Sarah. We easily think we want to fit EVERYTHING into a short amount of time when we travel, but it usually leaves you exhausted and also like you just rushed through the experience. I am a big fan of slowing things down, picking fewer places to see, but really immersing yourself in the experience!

  2. Thank you San!! It’s funny because when I reflected on how I’ve planned trips since I studied abroad… it’s always been about research! I read the Frommer’s Europe by Rail book, highlighted it, annotated it, and would go back to it every week when I would try and figure out what I was doing for the weekend. It’s always been this deliberate idea of finding what was most interesting (to me!) and building around that. (I wish I still had that book just to see what college girl Sara was thinking and see what I’m missing from the OG list, lol.) Now I just feel like there’s so much pressure to see and do (and get the photo) so much that you miss the experience of being somewhere. It’s my hope that people will realize that you can choose what you care most about – and that should be enough for an amazing trip.

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