So you’re taking a European vacation. You’ve decided on a location, purchased your airline tickets and booked your accommodations, whether it’s a hotel in London, a short-term apartment in Florence, or Tuscany villa rental. You’ve taken care of the “where” and the “how.”
Now comes perhaps the most important question: what?
Namely, what locations are you going to visit, what sights are you going to see, and what activities are you going to participate in?
For many travelers, the answer is “Everything!”
We’ll call this the “supermarket sweep” mentality. Given a limited amount of time, say two or three weeks, travelers feel compelled to pile as much as they possibly can into their metaphorical “shopping carts.” The temptation is to schedule every hour of the day in advance to cram in every Roman ruin, French chateau, Greek temple and hill town in Tuscany.
If this is your inclination, I’d invite you to stop a moment and reconsider. What is it, exactly, that you want out of a European vacation?
Above all, I think most of us want our vacation to be relaxing. We’re going to Europe because we want to escape the hurried pace of our normal lives; to slow down a bit and enjoy life at another pace; to come home rested and rejuvenated. Nobody wants to spend his or her vacation feeling just as stressed as if they had never left work!
Secondly, most people travel to Europe because they are looking for an experience. They want to experience a way of life that is unique and different from their everyday American existence.
So how does trying to see and do “everything” fit in with these two major goals? That’s right… It doesn’t! If you begin your European vacation with a checklist of “famous sights,” you’ll come home with a lot of pictures but no real emotional connection to the places you’ve been. You’ll have spent your time running from one place to the next, worrying about whether you’ll be able to catch the next bus rather than absorbing the significance of that historic monument you just flew by. You’re also likely to get very bored along the way. After awhile, the hundredth medieval masterpiece is going to look exactly like the first.
Conclusion? It’s not so much what you do as how you do it. So here’s how.
Number one: Slow down. Do not plan every day in advance. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t plan some things, but I’d suggest just picking a couple of major sights and aiming for those. As for everything else, educate yourself in advance, and then be flexible. This is especially true if you’re renting a villa in the countryside. You don’t want to spend your entire vacation in the car or on the train, after all! Set aside some time to hang out at your villa, or in a local village. Odds are, you’ll meet some locals and strike up friendships that could last for a lifetime.
Number two: Stop. That’s right. Stop. Find yourself a little cafÃ©, a pizzeria or a pub. Sit down. Order something. Now relax and enjoy your environment. Listen to the locals chatting, even if you can’t understand the language. Talk to a stranger. Take a deep breath and remember the smell of freshly baked bread or slow-roasted lamb. Savor that glass of wine with your feet planted firmly on the fertile land from whence it came.
Number three: Savor. If you slow down and stop during your vacation, you’ll reap the benefits immediately. If you don’t have to be at point A at 10 o’clock sharp, Dad isn’t going to blow up when he can’t figure out the map, and Junior’s emergency potty stop is not going to bring the entire vacation to a halt. More than that, when you discover something amazing, whether it’s on your list of “major interest points” or something you’ve stumbled on by chance, you can relax. You’ve got the leisure and the flexibility to spend all the time you like admiring it.
All right. Perhaps you’re convinced. Perhaps you realize that a great vacation is not about “seeing everything.” But you’ve only got so much time! You’re worried that you’re going to miss something important if you don’t plan ahead!
Well, there’s an easy answer to that. If you don’t see everything, no problem. That just gives you the perfect excuse to go back next year!
Suzanne writes for Rent Villas, a villa and apartment rental site.