A formula for getting the most out of one week (almost) anywhere.
Looking to get as much as possible out of your upcoming international trip? Then you’re in luck. Today, I’ll show you how to see any country in just one week, in just three easy steps. Before I continue, let me say that despite the title of this post, I KNOW you can’t fully see a whole country in a week! But with careful planning and an open mind, you can spend a week just about anywhere that’s new to you, learn a lot about that country and its culture, and still have a great time.
Unfortunately, Americans don’t get much vacation time, so unless my family is going to the Southern Hemisphere, our trips are a week long. With time off so limited, we are after enjoyment and experience as much as education and accomplishment.
After decades of traveling with kids, friends, and family, I’ve crafted a foolproof formula for how to get the most out of visiting a new country. I’ve shared this formula with dozens of friends and clients, and each time, it’s worked beautifully. And when I haven’t followed my own advice (I’m looking at you, Lima), I’ve regretted it.
Let’s dive in and I’ll show you how it works.
STEP ONE: The big city!
Whether it’s Paris, Rome, Istanbul, or beyond, chances are your arrival into your chosen country will be in an iconic city. The key to visiting these big-name cities is to do your homework and determine, beforehand, exactly what you want to see.
Don’t forget to include experiences on your agenda. For example, if you’ve always wanted to sit at a Parisienne cafe and people watch, put it on the list.
As your list grows, ask yourself what you’ll be disappointed NOT to have seen or done once you’re home. Just because your great-aunt spent a day in the Vatican Museum, or at the Tower of London doesn’t mean you have to. Decide what’s important to you and your group, no one else.
If this is a return trip, do something you didn’t do on your last visit, revisit a fondly-remembered venue with your now older, wiser eyes, or feel no guilt in simply passing through. Here at Casa Erica Travel we place a high importance on venturing out of the big cities. We’d even dare to say it’s essential if you want to have a memorable and rewarding trip. (More on that in STEP THREE)
Once you’ve curated your list, determine which activities, if any, you’ll need a tour guide for, and book them as soon as possible. You want that big city time fine-tuned and snugged up.
If this feels too formal and rigid for you, then don’t pre-plan your meals or restaurants, but plan everything else. Your moments for spontaneity and serendipity are coming soon! Don’t worry about feeling like a tourist, or getting to know what the locals know. This is not the time for that!
Make your peace with the fact that this is a surgical strike. If you end up LOVING this city, you can return later in life. You’re trying to get to know a country in a week, not find the best bangers and mash in London. (Also, the best bangers and mash aren’t in London!)
Bottom line, unless there are more than three places for which I want a separate tour guide, I plan to be there for a maximum of two days and two nights, including the day I arrive.
- If your international flight lands in the morning, take advantage of that day to sight see or travel. You can sleep that night!
- If your international flight arrives late at night, include this as one of your nights.
- For purposes of this trip, you will typically need less time in the capital than you think.
STEP TWO : The spot you’ve always wanted to visit.
We all have that one spot we’ve been dying to see. For you it may be riding in a gondola through the canals of Venice, or visiting the Alhambra in Granada. These iconic experiences are usually located in a city, but often not the first place you land when taking an international flight.
Think also, Florence, Strasbourg, Innsbruck, or a location such as the D-Day beaches of Normandy. If what I have dubbed a “second city” (although please know they are not second in my heart) is on the list of places you’re dying to see, then it’s your second stop. If not, you can skip ahead to STEP THREE.
At this second city, unless it’s your main destination on this trip, plan to be there for a day, maybe two MAX. Remember, be realistic about how long you truly need to see what you want. Just because you’ve wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa since you were eight, doesn’t mean it’s going to take more than a few hours.
If you have to fly to your second city, think long and hard about how badly you want to go there. On a one-week trip, air travel is a time killer, so opt for the train if it’s reliable. At least being on a train feels like you’re on an adventure, and you can dreamily gaze at the scenery out the window.
- Can’t avoid a flight to your secondary city? Take the earliest or latest flight out. It’s also worth it to see if you can get your final departure flight out of that city.
STEP THREE: Ask yourself, what kind of experience do I want to have?
Okay friends, here is where trip planning gets interesting! Now that you have the bucket list items down, it’s time to get thoughtful about what sounds like fun!
Close your eyes and take a minute to imagine what sounds AMAZING. Are you tired and wanting to lie on a beach or by the pool at a spa hotel? Are you yearning for nature and a long walk through the woods, or a mountain hike? Do you want to wander around a small city, shopping and eating local food, or get dressed up and sit at a glamorous outdoor cafe while you people watch? Truly take a moment to ask yourself what you’d enjoy doing. This seems so obvious, but so many of us travel with a “Should” list rather than asking ourselves what it is that really makes us happy. You can splurge and go to the French Riviera, but if you want to be riding your bike through the vineyards of Bordeaux, even the best beaches aren’t going to fulfill you.
If you’re wanting to enjoy your travel, picking what you’d like to do is more important than picking the place. Many places will scratch your particular travel itch. If you are enjoying yourself, you will be far more likely to fully embrace the culture of your host country, have a more memorable experience, and keep that travel spark alive.
Now that you’ve done a little soul-searching, and you’ve decided what sounds GREAT, the next step is to (keep your budget in mind, and) start researching locations.
There’s a huge movement in travel to get to lesser known places, such as the beaches of Puglia, or the Rioja wine region of Spain, and I think this is a timely development. It’s a reflection on culture, so many of us have begun to realize that our time is precious, and to trust our intuition. Following the crowd doesn’t often get us what we’re most looking for.
At Casa Erica we believe that it’s these quietly exquisite places that truly have the power to transform the way you see the world. Let’s say you’re in France, you can see how the French live, and get to know their customs, food, culture, art, architecture, politics ANYWHERE in France.
And because you’re much more likely to meet locals when you’re off the beaten path, you’ll probably come away with a far better understanding of that country than you would have after a week in only the big cities.
We tell a funny story in my family….
When I was 13 my parents took our family to Greece. We were at the Parthenon; it was hot and I was hungry. The streets outside the Parthenon had been patched with tar, and it had melted all over my new Candies sandals. (I know, I’m dating myself here.)
I threw a huge 13 year old fit and eventually, my parents sent me and my bad attitude back to the hotel. The hotel was cool and quiet, with delicious gyros for sale at a nearby stand. I spent the rest of the day in my pretty Greek room, scrubbing tar off my shoes, eating gyros, and listening to the chatter on the street below.
When I think back to my favorite young travel memories, the ones that formed my love of travel, that hotel room on that day figures prominently. I was surrounded by the most famous antiquities in the world, yet they had no bearing on how much I ended up loving Athens. Often, it really is the little things.
As much as the sights are important, the experiences are far more so.
Also, I think they sent me home because I was ruining everyone else’s experience, ha!
- If you didn’t pick a second city in Step Two, you’ll have time for two more places, if you did, choose one. Even if you can fit more in, moving hotels more than three times in a week is exhausting, especially with children.
- If you’re in a country for more than a week, lucky you, adjust accordingly.
- Although you’ll usually begin in the primary city, as you’ll land there, It doesn’t matter in which order you go to these places – just don’t backtrack.
So there you have it! My foolproof, three-step plan for seeing one country in a week! Are you looking for a little more hands-on help with planning your trip? Our travel planning services could be just the ticket. Whether you’d like to schedule one hour to go over curated travel recommendations my best tips for your planned destination, or you’d like us to plan the whole trip, we’d be happy to help!