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Regulars here suggest slow travel to 1st time Europe visitors--bad advice?

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Regulars here suggest slow travel to 1st time Europe visitors--bad advice?

Old Nov 17th, 2015, 03:56 PM
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Regulars here suggest slow travel to 1st time Europe visitors--bad advice?

I know most everyone here (I included) tends to tell people who are planning first time visits to not try to cram so many places in. That slowing down, less is more, mode of travel is what many people who frequent this forum have become accustomed to since, typically, they have been able to travel a lot in Europe. Many also reside in Europe where they can quite easily plan affordable return visits.

Several things got me thinking recently about whether this slow-it-down and eliminate places advice is always the best. I'm from the US, and I'd had the opportunity to spent two months in Mediterranean Europe in my early twenties. Then, there was a span of about 25 years when we were unable to afford anything like this because we were raising our children.

Our first return trip to Europe was when our youngest was doing a semester abroad in Vienna. We had 19 days on that trip and visited all of these places: 1 night stopover in Iceland on Iceland Air's take-a-break in Iceland program, 2 nights in Luxembourg, a night along the Mosel, a flight to Vienna and then 4 nights in Vienna, 3 nights in Krakow, 2 nights in Budapest, a couple nights along the Danube, 1 night outside of Vienna at Neusiedl am See, 1 night in Slovenia to see some caves whose name I've forgotten, 1 night in southern Italy on our way back up to Austria from Slovenia, and a final night's stay in Munich after dropping off our car before flying out.

So this was 11 places in 19 days and exactly the type of itinerary we'd laugh at posters if they suggested as a plan. We loved the trip, and it was our impetus to return for many more trips. Would I take this on now? No way! But, I think we all need to think back and remember what it was like to be excited by a first trip for people who are trying to fit in as many different places as possible and who do not know if they will be able to return.

On that trip the people whose itinerary we were incredulous about was the couple who had made a once-in-a-lifetime trip to visit their son who was in the military and stationed in Germany. They were riding the ring tram around Vienna to get a feel for the city, and that is where we chatted with them. They had taken the overnight train in to Vienna from somewhere else, had the day in Vienna and then were taking the night train to Venice for a day. They knew that for sure this would be the only time they would ever be able to visit Europe and were gong to make the most of it. I am sure that they appreciated their opportunity and do not regret their trip to this day. Would they have preferred more leisurely trip? Probably. But, people have to deal with the amount of time they have in which to travel whether it is optimal or not.

Shortly after our return from that 19 day trip I also remember reading a story in our local travel section about a couple who had rented a house in rural France for a week. Their goal was just to relax, do some low-key sightseeing, and fit into village life. That article stands out in my mind because I remember wondering to myself why in the world, when there ae so many different exciting place in 'Europe to visit, would anyone want to do that type of trip. Now we are those people who would do exactly that, but it always helps to remember that we were not always that type of traveler.

Just something to think about for many people here who constantly give the slow-down advice.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 04:11 PM
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I think it depends on a lot of factors:

Age, number and budget of the travelers
How many days they have altogether
Specific interests of travelers


My first trip to europe I was 19 - with BF 23 - and we spent more than 5 weeks visiting 8 different places (including a couple of day trips). For me it was a good first taste - but I didn't feel I had enough time anywhere. For instance we only had 4 nights - 3 days - in Paris and that included a day at Versailles.

Now I was a history major and had a lot of interest in every palace, cathedral and museum there was. If people have different interests they may choose to move faster rather than slower.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 04:28 PM
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I agree with your assessment, julies, that not everyone is inclined to slow-travel, for a variety of reasons. My feeling is, as in many things, there's a learning curve and the more we travel the closer we get to a personal ideal. For many, skimming the surface of many places is what they want, on a first trip or a 15th. Others of us prefer more intimate experiences and why I try to include at least a week spent walking from place to place. I came to that in my 50s, and having turned 70 this year, I'm still at it, finding walking the most exciting mode of travel of all.

I learned the value of staying put early on, with a job in Europe for 6 months and the experience changed my life irrevocably. I knew it when it was happening. But I suspect it's my nature and I won't condemn anyone else's style if it happens to be different from my own. Some even find out that home is best and never travel again. I can only hope that leaves the middle seat next to me empty.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 05:23 PM
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Yes, people have very limited time or money or have come a great distance (the Australians, etc.) and so must cram as many places as possible into a visit. But, let's not forget those who don't know their geography. They think that Europe is tiny, about the size of NJ, and that they can see all in a short time. The travelers who annoy me the most here are the ones who think more time should be spent everywhere ! For example, if one were to say, I'm going to spend 2 wks in Toledo. The poster would say, Oh, I was there for 3 wks and thought it deserved even more time. The other people who bother me are the ones who don't bother to read what the OP has written (only going for a week) and then give him an itinerary good for a month's travel. Sometimes this is the same person !
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 05:24 PM
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Depends! I agree that each of us needs to find what works for us in general, and at any particular point in time.

I travel much faster and harder than many Fodorites, and I find that I have to explain my point of view every time I post an itinerary. But for me, that means moving around a lot in a smallish geographic area, not flitting from city to city just to take the HOHO bus. Some people enjoy very brief “get-a-taste” visits; I don't. Rather than skimming the surface and spending time getting from place to place, I choose to skip some places entirely, even if I am sure I would enjoy them, at least in part because I’ve realized that if I can return to a region, the LAST thing that I am likely to want to do is spend my time on previously traveled paths just so that I can go back and see the things I skipped the first time. In fact, I might end up not returning specifically because it would mean wasting so much time going from place to place.

To each his/her own!
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 05:38 PM
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Bedar wrote: "The travelers who annoy me the most here are the ones who think more time should be spent everywhere !" -- Don't you think there is value to letting people know that they might want to do some advance planning to be sure they'll have time for their priorities? I sure do! And I would think so even if I didn't specifically try to match my time allocations to my interests. It seems to me that just as we all get to travel in different ways, we all get to provide the input we think most useful. Vive la difference!
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 05:42 PM
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Nicely put Julies. My first trips abroad from the US to the Middle East and Europe when I was in my 20s involved multi-month stays, up to a year, and it was a lot of fun. Now, decades later, I live in Europe, and some people around here would faint to get on and off planes and move around like I do, seeing multiple cities in different countries in a couple of days.

So I am really puzzled by assertions that there is some inevitable "slowing down" that comes with ageing. I'm more focused now I what I want to do when I travel. I live in a beautiful part of Europe, so I don't need to go plotz somewhere pretty and drink wine. I can do that at home. I really would rather not go through all the hassle of being away from home with a big impact payoff.

When I read what many regular posters write about their "slow trips", most of them strike me as no more "clue-ful" about getting around every day than the supposedly "clue-less" trips newbies take, and it is surprising to me what a huge amount of time these "slow travelers" -- supposedly looking to have a "deeper" or what have you experience of a foreign place -- spend surrounded by English-speaking experiences, or simply isolated entirely from the central culture they are visiting.

If they aren't spending time on English language food tours, seeking out English language bookstores, looking for other English language activities or settings, they are renting apartments and cars and spending so much time in them they scarcely encounter the workaday world and local culture of the places they to go to.

Apart from not doing much, I don't see (from their own reports) what the "slow travellers" are necessarily getting that people plunging into the thick of things for an intense experience are missing.

After what now feels like a zillion trips, I still screw up opening times sometimes, pick the wrong restaurants, let myself feel pressured into seeing a "must-see" (that I end up hating), drive by some fabulous sight without realising it is there. And many more mistakes. I'm sure if I set out with no ambitions whatsoever to do anything but just exist for weeks in some other location I'd have the "perfect trip", but I'd rather stay home with the cats if that's all travel holds out.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 05:54 PM
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We travel slower now that we are older most days but hit it hard still on some trips. Our last trip we saw very little of our hotel rooms the first week but the second week we had an apartment in Paris. We were out the door by 10 and back by 6 most days. We didn't cram a ton of things in but picked one or two things we wanted to see that day. The rest of the day we did whatever, shop, walk through a cemetery, see a museum, market, cathedral or just sit and drink at a cafe. I loved our apartment and neighborhood so we got in a groove and relaxed.
My next girlfriend trip we are going to rent a house in Westport, Ireland. So much to see and do in that one little spot of heaven. Hiking, island hopping, history and great pubs at night. We have all been several times and this trip we want to enjoy one area. I might still have to go to Dublin for several nights but at least we are based for a week in one spot.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 05:55 PM
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We definitely all travel differently, and I try to be reflective of my own perspective and travel biases when answering questions or helping with itineraries. I spent 10 days in Iceland in the winter, not a standard thing for most tourists, and I'd probably advise most that an express winter stopover is good mileage for seeing the best of the country in winter, even though I had a very different (and enjoyable) experience done more slowly. I wouldn't tell someone to slow down just for the sake of slowing down.

That said, I stand by telling someone to slow down for their first 7 night trip and planning something like 1 night in London, 1 night Paris, 1 night Rome, 1 night Ibiza, 1 night Athens, and oh Morocco if I can get there. That's not slowing down just because, that's an itinerary so nuts it's unfeasible. Not everything has to be 5 night stays in a base, but oftentimes the advice to slow down is helpful and warranted.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 05:59 PM
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Our first trip to Europe, eleven years ago, was an unplanned visit to Rome to connect with our then 19-yr-old daughter who had unexpectedly found a position as an au pair there.

We were thrilled to be crossing the ocean all the way to Italy (from California), and also a little pressed financially. We found an inexpensive apartment way at the end of the metro line, and stayed three weeks. Every day we took the train in to the center of the city and we explored everywhere. We did take a three-day trip to Florence by train, but that was the extent of our extra travels. We got to know our neighbors, and the little elderly lady in the market on our humble street who tried to teach me the Italian words for the vegetables I was buying. I learned about filling my water bottle with cold water from public fountains and not sitting down when I ordered coffee in a small kiosk on the street.

I am so glad we didn't try to see a zillion places for a half-day each. I'm so glad we didn't squander precious days in transit on trains, buses, etc. That trip set the tone for others to come.

And, yes, of course that trip made us want more. Since then, we have returned to Europe numerous times: Spain, France, England, Italy, Greece, Czech Republic, Austria. Every time we have rented apartments and tried to get to know the cities we were staying in.

I suppose one can visit many places briefly within the scope of a single trip, but that's never held any appeal for me.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 06:14 PM
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On our first trip to Europe we spent six months, most of it in Spain. At that time if had spent another week in Paris, we would have spent one month less in Spain.

We travel with the idea that is better to see a few places well, than many poorly.

When people are young, to see many places is a function of age and exuberance. When they are older, I often think it is more like collecting sexual conquests and bragging about it.

Now we often violate our own rules. Although, we are trying to go places we have never visited, we will probably go to Spain next year and see friends and relatives and then see more places we have not seen than we have.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 07:35 PM
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In giving any sort of advice, one needs to size up the advisee.

Those who say they want to see 6 places 1,000 miles apart in 5 days with no account taken of the time necessary to travel between them - well, they probably do need a reality check!

Some people want to linger over every painting in every art gallery - others just want to see the iconic sights.

And at what pace?

I once went on a trip with friends - love 'em to bits - but it was a struggle to get them out of the hotel by 10:00, by 11:00 they asking about lunch, after a long lunch we'd barely got going again when they'd be tired and want to return to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Then it was dinner time... Aargh! No wonder people need 5 days to see one city! ;0)

But yes, when people say 'cut out Venice, just do Rome 4 days and Florence 4 days' I think: "On day 4, walking out of the same hotel onto the same street, with all the iconic sights already seen on multiple occasions over the last 3 days - wouldn't I really give up that 4th day in Florence for one day wandering in Venice, from St Mark's to the Rialto bridge? yes I would!"
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 09:40 PM
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Interesting post julies- I was just asking myself do I really have anything useful to say to someone on their first trip? Frankly I'm not sure if I do. People here love to rag on Rick Steves but I think he's a great resource for first time North American travelers in Europe. I think his advice would be much more relevant than mine, I'm often happy to miss the main sights and we move quite slowly, not because I venerate the idea of "slow travel" but because I often have the luxury of more time and it's not my preference to keep on the go. However, I get that lots of people feel differently and have different constraints - just as you outline so wellFrankly I think of myself as a lazy tourist more than a slow traveller!

Man in Seat 61 - I'm like your "slow" friends! You're entirely right we can know people well and not make great travel companions.

Kja makes lots of great points.I think a mistake that's often presumed and repeated on the board is that those who like to cram things in are "per se" inexperienced traveller. From what I can see some people prefer to move at a pace, others don't. It isn't a matter of authenticity or experience it's about maximizing enjoyment and doing what works for you. After all, the travel we are discussing here is an elective - we all choose to do it.

A key issue in all this is negative judgements and there's some of that here. I don't get it? Why would you judge English language speakers for going on English language tours, it just doesn't seem like egregious behavior? Many people are on holiday to escape their workaday worlds not to recreate them in Europe. There's no hierarchy of authenitcity and it isn't a competition for experience, whether you live in Europe, come from Europe, make long trips or short trips, are first timers, old timers or a frequent posters it's all about good will, helping out strangers who ask for advice on the internet. We're all here talking about something we love to do, we all do it in different ways. People often get contradictory advice and that's great, they have to shift through it, after all suggestions are not proscriptions.

I think the difficulty is when first time traveller get too much of the same advice or any of us suggest that our way is the right way. As julies' post suggests it's always helpful to have some self awareness <it always helps to remember that we were not always that type of traveler>. To be honest the difficulty I sometime have is summoning up the enthusiasm to reply to a question one has seen so many times before and being able to answer with the enthusiasm and interest a newer poster deserves, that's my failing.

As kja says "Vive la difference!"
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 09:56 PM
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I have one comment..unless someone is elderly, or has a terminal illness.. how do they "know" that they will never get back again?

I guess I am especially referring to the 20-40 yr old age bracket...I think its a big jump to assume that even with a possible lifespan of another 40-60 years you could "never" save enough again for a trip.
Now if they say they would not choose to return that would be different.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 10:18 PM
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I usually write that when I was young, I'd cram a lot into trips.

My first big trip alone was in the Us and I 'did' 15 cities in one month. No time for the parks which I 'did' 15 years later.

Now we were hesitating between 2 weeks in Myanmar and 2 weeks in St Martin. Not really the same.
We chose St Martin. Because this year, well yes, I'd like to get into slippers and be very lazy. A little bit of visit and a lot of farniente (we already spent one week there 2 years ago).

I fully agree that it is best to read OP wishes (when OP does that...) some will answer what they would do, with an utter disregard to what OP wrote.

Each to his own... in ways of traveling, as in ways of answering..
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 10:43 PM
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We all have to travel the way that works the best for us...I live in New Zealand and I just want to get back to Europe one day! I visited the UK and Ireland when I was 23 and now 30 years on I feel I am running out of time. Airfare from here is about $2000 return to Paris/London/Rome and I can get 5 weeks holiday from work but the dilemma is how to narrow down the choices to an enjoyable holiday.
I'd love to slow travel and go to Europe every year taking my time in each country but in reality my itinerary will probably be 'busy' because I won't be back.
Sometimes seeing what you really want to see in a city is enough. I had a weekend in Washington DC and my top choice was to visit the Library of Congress (slightly mad of me but I love books and libraries). It was truly beautiful and I am glad I made that choice.
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Old Nov 17th, 2015, 11:13 PM
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I think dysfunctionality comes in when actions do not produce desired results. This can come about by putting together actions not based on reality, using rules of thumb or catchy sayings without thinking its validity or applicability, or even relying on experts who are knowledgeable about their style of travel only.

I often hear about "you will always come back." Other posters may live in a environment where this might be the case. However, in my experience, probably only about 10% of first timers go back to Europe. And for those that do, most end up visiting Europe perhaps maximum of twice in their life time. I estimate less than 1% of my colleagues visit Europe every year. For this reason, I have much sympathy for those who don't think they would go back to Europe. They are probably correct.
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 12:57 AM
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I regularly do "every day a move" holidays across europe. I do them on a bicycle and expect to visit many small towns, villages and cities. I need to plan carefully to ensure there are museums to see etc along the way and we have to limit our visits to keep the journey going.

Do I love this sort of holiday? Yes because everywhere we meet interesting people and see interesting things. Do we pack light? Yes, after a restful breakfast we will be out of the hotel by 9:30 and into our next by 5:00.

But I don't find this works in cars or on trains. I think it comes down to how much gear you take. Whatever the plan, if we have a car the bags just get heavier and heavier.

So I still think, if you are doing your first visit, there is too much "new stuff" language/traffic/timings/rules/smells/food in the way that you have to take time to absorb it.

The last time I travelled more slowly (Libya BTW) it took time to absorb the basics and that is why newbies should chill.
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 01:26 AM
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This is a really good question with really good answers, most of which resolve to "It depends," but well worth reflection anyway.
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Old Nov 18th, 2015, 02:08 AM
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"There's no hierarchy of authenticity and it isn't a competition for experience"

This is just how I feel. Quite a few of these responses reveal a bias for or against a particular style of travel and the people who prefer that style. It is possible that people who propose speedy itineraries do need a reality check, but it is also possible that they are expressing ideas about a trip they would find exciting and enjoyable.

If visiting many places equates to collecting sexual conquests for some people, so what? It is a perfectly legitimate way to get a thrill, and it is a thrill that is neither immoral nor hurtful as collecting sexual conquests can be.

If planning one event a day and enjoying long meals on either end is one's idea of relaxation, then great! Although it is probably best to travel with someone who understands that is your plan and is OK with it.

If people want to travel in a manner that presupposes they will not be back, why fault them for it? They are living for today, tomorrow is uncertain for us all.

If renting apartments and cars gives some people a sense of freedom and independence, why criticize them for spending too much time in them? In fact, why criticize people at all for their vacation choices?
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