6 Reasons ‘fast travel’ might be your best option
It’s very common for newer travelers to plan an extremely ambitious itinerary for their first major trip, whether it’s to Europe or Southeast Asia or elsewhere. “Is 5 cities in two weeks too much?” they’ll ask, and at least 90% of the more seasoned travelers will scold them and insist that “two weeks barely is enough for 1 city, much less five!!!11”
Obviously we’ll be getting into some generalizations below, but I’m here to argue that in many cases these ambitious itineraries might be best as they are. People who’ve been to Europe or Southeast Asia 7 or 8 times themselves can easily forget that most people are lucky to go once, at least during the current phase of their life, and that pushing yourself on that one big trip has plenty of its own rewards.
So below are six major reasons why, at least for newer travelers, rushing around might be the best strategy.
1 – Chances are you'll never get to the places you are skipping now
Among seasoned travelers there is a platitude that goes, “Always assume you’ll be coming back,” spouted only to make someone feel better about missing something on their current trip. There’s another variation that says, “Save those other cities or countries for a future trip.” But you know what? For most people, they’ll never be back and their “next trip” might be to Disney World with their kids in 5 years, or at least to a totally different part of the world that interests them.
Two sample itineraries:
- Traveler 1: 6 weeks in France
- Traveler 2: 2 weeks in France, 2 weeks in Italy, 1 week in Spain, and 1 week in Greece, including 4 days on a Greek Island.
Now, let’s say that each traveler intends to do at least a one-month trip every year, but it turns out that a new job or relationship or family situation or lack of finances means that the next trip may never come, at least in this same phase of life?
Would you rather have more detailed memories of France, or more fleeting memories of France, Italy, Spain, and Greece?
The notion that everyone is going to have a chance to spend 6 weeks in each of these 6 countries is wishful thinking at best, or just lying to yourself at worst. For many of us, it’s better to actually assume we won’t be back.
2 – The travel law of diminishing marginal returns
Even if you aren’t familiar with this economic principle, it should be easy to understand here. There is a thrill that comes along with spending the first 48 hours in any new city, but days 3 through 7 will have a lot in common with those first two, so each additional day can feel a bit less valuable the longer you stay in one place. You’ll be walking the same streets and seeing many of the same monuments you did the day before, so while it can feel more comfortable, the excitement you are really after is leaking away.
I can’t even count the number of times when I’ve arrived in a new city and felt overwhelmed and disoriented, but then only 24 hour later I’ve seen the main sights and I practically feel qualified to give walking tours to newcomers. Obviously the size of the city will dictate how quickly you really have the lay of the land, but honestly I feel that two days can even feel a bit slow in some of the smaller ones. I spent four months in Vietnam and on another trip I spent one day in Cologne, Germany. The day in Cologne was more exciting than almost every day in Vietnam, for me.
3 – Familiarity breeds too much familiarity
One of the severe weaknesses with “slow travel” is that the long stays and short hops will absolutely lead to a familiarity with the quirks of the area that will make new sights seem underwhelming.
Again, two sample itineraries:
- Traveler 1: 3 weeks in Italy
- Traveler 2: 3 days in Athens, 4 days in Rome, 2 days in Florence, 1 day in Venice, 2 days in Vienna, 3 days in Prague, 3 days in Berlin, and 3 days in Amsterdam
Traveler 1 is obviously going to know some parts of Italy pretty well, while Traveler 2 is only spending a week hitting the highlights. Traveler 1 gets to sample seafood in Sicily, pizza in Naples, pasta in Rome, pasta with a different sauce in Venice, and a different shape of pasta with a different sauce in Bologna. Traveler 2 gets to sample many of these same things, plus souvlaki in Athens, schnitzel in Vienna, goulash in Prague, currywurst in Berlin, and Vlaamse frites (and weed) in Amsterdam.
You can substitute churches or art museums or Roman ruins for the food items and it adds up to the same thing. Spending a long time in one city or area means that the sights, sounds, people, and cuisine will look quite the same before long.
4 – A cultural vacation is no time to relax anyway
One common argument against moving quickly is that it’s exhausting to switch cities every couple of days. Well, it certainly can be, but it can also be worthwhile anyway. Regardless if you stay within a few cities in one small area or you cover half of Europe in a month, a trip like this is going to be expensive. You’ve come to get as much fun and excitement as you can out of a trip like this, not to relax. If you want to catch up on your reading list and take naps during the day just go to Florida or sit in your backyard instead.
It can definitely feel a bit hectic when you are checking out of hotels every other day, but consider the fact that a 2-week holiday will last a lifetime in your memory. Do you want to have memories of spending 3 hours watching ducks in a Paris park, or memories of the extra cities and sights you tacked on instead?
5 – Ground travel fills in the gaps and is entertaining itself
This one only counts for ground transportation, and trading it for air travel totally disqualifies it, but being able to take in the scenery in between far-off cities can be incredibly entertaining unto itself. Take the Traveler 2 itinerary mentioned above: The Athens to Rome part is probably a cheap flight, but after that you can do them all on the train, or even in cheap buses with Eurolines.
The 436 kilometers between Venice and Vienna include some stunning scenery, which looks nothing like the scenery between Naples and Rome. Knowing the landscape between cities you’ve visited can help build a better understanding of the destinations themselves.
6 – Relative to the cost of the whole trip, the extra stops are cheap and efficient
Many people like to recommend slow travel largely because it’s much cheaper than fast travel. If you look at it a different way, it can actually be more expensive.
Let’s say one person wants to spend 4 weeks in Italy, and a friend wants to use the last week of that trip to visit Paris as well. On that trip, the cheap flight or train ride back and forth to Paris will add a bit to the overall cost, but how much does it cost to fly to Paris from the United States for a week the following year?
The first person is getting an extra week in Italy and they’d have to spend another US$1,000 or so on airfare to make it to Paris the year after. The second person obviously gives up that 4th week in Italy (and based on the law of marginal diminish returns that will be the least-enjoyable week anyway) and for maybe US$100 on EasyJet they’ve spent a magical week in Paris as well. Would this second person want to fly back the following year to spend yet another week in Italy? Maybe, but probably not. Next year it’s Prague, Budapest, Sofia, and Istanbul!
There should be no rules for travel and each person should do what they think will make them happiest. Depending on the circumstances, a slow trip might be perfect for someone, but under other circumstances they might end up better off by hauling ass and seeing as much as possible, perhaps finding great places to return to another day, if it works out that way.
Thanks for this article. I’m planning my first trip to Europe. I’m planning on going to paris for a few days, and then going to Italy and will go to several places in Italy. It is certainly frustrating when going to online forums asking for itinerary advice and mostly everyone responds saying what I’m doing is a bad idea. I don’t know when I’ll be able to return and I want to see as much as I can on this trip. In the next few years, I’ll be going back to school for my masters, planning on starting a family, etc. additionally, I only get about 10 vacation days a year. Maybe in my retirement years I’ll be able to do the slow travel thing, but at this time it’s not an option for me. It was nice to see someone put a positive light on the benefits to fast travel and why it’s the best/only option for some travelers.
I’m glad this helped and I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I wrote this a few years back precisely because I was so tired of seeing travel “snobs” lecturing newer people about how they are doing it wrong if they don’t travel like a rich, unemployed person. -Roger
What an awesome article with rich information! It’s refreshing to see a seasoned traveler be open with the concept of fast travel.
I have to say, a lot of these so called “seasoned” travelers are simply pretentious and full of it while a lot are truly gifted with the way they travel and the information they share with others. I’ve heard some “seasoned” travelers talk about how they travel slowly because they love to learn more about that destination, its culture, people, etc. While it is a noble approach and commendable, the reality is that many of them hardly live like locals or relate with locals that much. For example, a lot of “seasoned” travelers talk about living like locals in Thailand but forget that an average Thai does not have $600 to spend per month on beach front apartment like many seasoned travelers living among them do.
It’s not to say that every Thai lives in poverty or that every traveler lives like that, but the life many travelers paint in blogs about living like locals is far from the life an average local live. The argument about seasoned travelers vs. tourists will cease the day seasoned travelers (myself included) grasp the reality that we are all tourists in the land we are visiting and a 3 months tourist visa does not make one a local even if one starts to feel like it. Of course there are several factors that differentiate seasoned travelers from average tourists, but that’s by the way…
I’m the kind of person that gets bored if I do same thing for too long or hang around the same place for too long unless it’s for a specific reason such as: working on a creative piece, humanitarian work, etc. I really love the feeling of being in a new place, experiences new things, meeting new faces, sampling new dishes and so on. New experiences are part of what drives me to travel! Yes, I love that feeling of familiarity especially when it comes to people but if I spend too much time in a certain place; I start to feel like I’m “stuck” or confined. Simply put, I’m that traveler who spends 7 days in Rome but take 2 separate day trips to Naples and Tuscany not the one who spends 7 weeks discovering Naples or Tuscany.
I’m not interested in seeing it all or doing it all, I’m interested in being happy. If I fall in love with a destination and feel like I did not spend enough time there, I will happily visit it again a later time and spend more time there. I prefer longing to come back than begging to escape! I once spent 6 weeks in Sweden and while I had incredible amount of F-U-N there, I think a portion of that time could have been better spent elsewhere. I enjoyed EVERYTHING I did in Stockholm, Upsala, Malmo & co, but after a while, I was just mentally done with Sweden. Not in a bad/anti-Sweden way but more so the “I have been here for too long at this given time kind of way” and need to move on. All in all, the BEST kind of travel is YOUR kind of travel… whether it is slow, fast, combined, luxury, budget/backpacker, mixed budget, etc., cheers!
Great comments and very well put. Thank you. -Roger
If the goal is excitement and novelty then obviously fast travel does that better. However part of travel is to learn and connect with cultures and people. Building those connections with a location and its people takes time. Your article focuses on sights and things you see but not on the friends you make among local people which is impossible to do in a fast travel style trip. The purpose of the trip is going to determine fast or slow. If the purpose is excitement then fast travel. If the purpose is to learn and connect with more depth to a place and its people then slow travel.
I don’t disagree with you, but I’d estimate that about 99% of people taking vacations, almost all of which go in groups, do it to see the sights rather than to make local friends. I’ve been traveling slowly for more than half of the last 12 years, and there are tiny numbers of us compared to the people who want to see the famous places they’ve always heard about. -Roger
Fantastic article! Planning a trip to Europe in Jan/Feb and this has to be the best article I’ve read so far (and that’s a lot). It gives me confidence that we’ve chosen the right way for us because time is the most limiting factor we have and I might not get back there.
Thanks for the kind words. I was motivated to write this because most people are unrealistic about their future plans, so packing in as much as possible really does make sense. Cheers. -Roger
Each to his/her own, put you should point out that travel costs associated with ‘fast’ travel will be considerably greater than with the ‘slower’ version. So fast travel is closer to the ‘millionaire’ version of travel than planning on coming back to a place.
Thanks for your comments but I actually don’t even agree with your contention. You really have to compare “fast travel” costs to the costs of multiple trips to be fair. Sure, seeing 10 cities in three countries in three weeks will likely cost more than seeing three cities in the same country in three weeks, but the marginal value is so much higher as well. My argument is that three separate three-week trips would cost MUCH more than seeing all those cities on one trip, and also that the majority of people won’t make many of those additional trips because of the costs involved.
As I’ve said, I prefer to travel slowly when I can, but there are many places I’ve been to where one quick look is all I really need, and other destinations are higher priorities for returns or even a first visit. I appreciate the conversation though, so thank you for taking the time, and I assume you still probably disagree. -Roger
“i’m flat broke but I don’t care I strut right by with my head in the air”
Hi, I am seeing paris rome and barelona by air but then I will be pretty broKe and I will have 15 days to see the rest of europe on eurolines Any help for me? I have been to every North South Central Amerian country and visited most places within those countries as well as a long term traveller but Europe is way too expensive for me so I splurged on the three aforementioned cities but now i feel totally lost as to where I should go! Can you email or respond here I would really appreciate it I am leaving Marh 15 ThanK you, Roger
Since you are in Spain, you’ll find the smaller towns to be less expensive than the big cities, and Portugal is generally cheaper than Spain.
If you are looking to spend a couple days on a bus getting to somewhere much cheaper within Europe then you’ll want to head east. Poland is especially cheap right now because their currency has gone down compared even to the Euro. Krakow is the most interesting place and Wroclaw is another worthwhile place. If you get to the Czech Republic you’ll find that Prague isn’t quite so cheap but the rest of the country is. Go to Cesky Krumlov for a gorgeous and cheap place to hang out. If you can make it to Serbia and/or Bulgaria, things are incredibly cheap for you. One problem is that neither has many really worthwhile sights.
Good luck and let me know if you have other questions I might help with. -Roger
I love this article as well. My husband and I are taking 2 weeks to see France and Italy but we’re making stops in 6 different cities and we’re excited about it. I’m tired of reading people bashing this idea. Guess what, it’s been my dream to do this and we’re not millionaires who can afford to just “go back,” not to mention I’m an antsy person so I think this itinerary works for us! Thanks again.
Absolutely loved this article, I’ve never seen anyone write a blog on the pro’s of fast travel before, its great to read a totally different take on this subject. I agree, people should travel in the way that’s best for them.
This is the concept I used on my round the world trip. I had no idea when I was coming back to these locations and I wanted to see them now. No regrets. I’d like to try out slower travel, but then you run into the finite resource of time.