7 tips to make the most of a short stay

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Every week a new city stretches before us. We’ve spent a few weeks in some (Sydney..) and a few days in other (Panama, Riga..) but on average we spend about 3-5 days in any given city. That’s not a great deal of time to see everything, but we’ve worked out our system pretty well, and we’d like to share what works for us.

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Walking along the Danube in Budapest.
    • Pick a few must-see destinations. We know we’re not going to see everything. Letting go of the feeling that we must see it all is the key to enjoying what we do see. We usually explore the area around the hostel the first night, and for the remaining days we mark down 2-4 areas we’d like to visit around the city, usually concentrated around busy market-type areas, attractions, and food. We mark down our must-sees if we have any. In most cases we try to set aside a day or two for outdoorsy adventures, like a hike nearby. How do we pick where to go? High concentrations of things to do, and recommendations online or from hostels. Traveling has changed with the advent of the internet, and there’s no reason to not take advantage of collective knowledge.
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A highly recommended budget restaurant for crepes in Tallinn. It did not disappoint.
      • Walk, walk all day long. We find we get the most out of a city when we walk as much as we can. We arrive in an area of interest and spend anywhere from a few hours to a whole day just wandering around. If we’ve planned super well, our areas of interest are connected or very near to each other and we can usually metro out to the farthest point and spend the day walking back. If we’ve chosen parts of the city that are pretty far apart, we definitely try to take the metro between them. Otherwise, walking. It’s great. Plus, it keeps us nice and somewhat trim so we can eat all the local food with a little less guilt!
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Spur of the moment decision to donate and paint a brick in Prague.
  • Wake up early. This one is not my favorite, but it works. Getting out the hostel at 8 am and getting out at 10pm are vastly different experiences. We’ve, unfortunately for my late-sleeping self, found that as early as possible is best. In hot cities it’s going to be cool, in popular areas it’ll be less crowded. It works out pretty well with walking most of the time as well – by the time we’re flagging it’s either breakfast or lunch depending on when we left. Despite the early wake up, I’m left feeling way more satisfied at the end of an early day than a late one. We just accomplish so much more.
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Busy tourist areas offer fun experience like being surrounded by bubbles!
  • Poke around in vibrant areas. We normally pick where we want to go based on the density of interesting things. If a spot has a few cafes, several landmarks, a market, and some event for the day, that’s a jackpot. Not only will there be all those advertised things, but there will also be at least a handful of unannounced delights. This picture of a joyous Natalie holding a hedgehog came about because I said “Hey, that guy’s selling comic books” – which led us into a urban art space full of activities in St.Petersburg. For food, if you haven’t picked a place already, follow your nose.
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They had a meet-a-hedgehog event in St.Petersburg!
    • Bring snacks. We always have snacks on hand. Hunger has been the #1 source of discontent on our travels – it makes everything else worse, and is so readily cured. It’s not that there won’t be food – there’s almost always food somewhere nearby. But often there’s no food right where we are, or we happen to have wandered into a district way beyond our budget, or we don’t feel like bread and fried meat again. The snacks are a life saver.  It’s 100% better if they’re local snacks, foods native to the country we’re in or picked up to-go from a local shop.
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Sicilian breaded and fried bread stuffed with mozzarella and tomato sauce, in Prague.
  • Take water. This one is pretty self explanatory, but paradoxically more important in the developed world than in other areas. When there’s no clean running water, vendors sell bottles of water everywhere for very cheap, so it’s ok to buy as you go. In places where there’s clean water in every house bottled water is very expensive, and very often there are fewer water fountains than is healthy for an all-day walking tour.
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This is a veggie burger in Tallinn made of sweet potatoes. It was very, very good.
  • Rest. Resting is absolutely vital and for me at least, transit does not count. I need real, solid, head on pillow time to be at my best. It’s not just for keeping up a good mood, it’s also for avoiding the sick. Traveling across so many different areas and interacting with so many people is a great way to encounter lots of different germs. Less sleep means more sick, means less seeing cool stuff.
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Nothing like a nap in the sun.

Happy efficient travels!

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