They said I was crazy and I don’t blame them.
Normal people spend their vacations lounging on a beach, strolling an iconic city, or hiking the great outdoors. Me? I load up a backpack and cram as many countries into a 10-day trip as possible.
Two or three countries? Laughable. If I head to Europe, I’m usually checking at least four off of my list. People said that I was crazy, and I don’t blame them, but given our current global situation, my penchant for fast travel is so crazy that it just might be one of the best ways to travel in a post-quarantine world.
While my wife spent years in graduate school, I worked nights and weekend in television. The simple act of having dinner or seeing a movie together was a rarity in our lives, so to compensate, we took advantage of any vacation time we had and set off for Europe.
Our first trip two trips were modest if not a little ambitious. The first, ten days bouncing from Dublin up to Northern Ireland before heading from Scotland down to England. The second, a seven-day cruise to Italy, Croatia, and Greece with an overnight in Belgium.
Then we kicked it up a notch.
The next adventure sent us to Poland. We spent ten days traveling to Hungary, Austria, Bratislava, and the Czech Republic, bookending the trip with layovers in Iceland and the Netherlands. Nine months later, we crossed the ocean again, this time hopping countless flights to tackle Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria, Monaco, and France. Two trips, twenty days, fifteen countries.
With less than a full day in some destinations, many wondered what we realistically had time to see and do. In truth, there were many “must-see” points of interest that we left off our itinerary. We don’t have selfies in front of famous monuments or admission stubs to world-class museums.
But we did have one hell of an adventure every time.
We ate fermented shark in Reykjavik, toured Auschwitz, swam in Budapest’s ancient thermal baths, sailed the Danube, hiked in Slovakia, and were rocked to sleep on a houseboat in Amsterdam – all in a single trip.
We were taught how to bake pastel de natas in Lisbon, savored fika in Gothenburg, marveled at Edvard Munch’s masterpieces in Oslo, explored Bucharest’s post-communist history depicted in street art, pub hopped with a tour guide who showed us the seedier side of Copenhagen, and watched racers test-drive the track on the morning of the Grand Prix in Monaco – all in less than two weeks.
Most importantly, my wife and I made priceless memories while making the most of wherever our journey took us. We traveled light and we traveled fast, but we traveled the world as much as we could, whenever we could.
We’d do it again in a heartbeat and you should too.
But Have You Really Been There?
The stigma of fast travel is that you’re not really visiting a place. You’re simply touching turf just to say you have.
Who gets to decide what counts as a visit? For some, crossing a border is enough. For others, you haven’t reall been to a place until you’ve ventured off of the tourist trail and experienced life as a local. Few will be so bold to claim that you don’t truly know a place until you’ve lived there.
I’ll agree that there is no substitute for slow travel.
Spending days, weeks, even months within one city or country will have a profound impact on your life. Whether it be a backpacking trip or a business trip, the more time you can spend in a place, the better.
But many of us are not so lucky.
Travel is a luxury that few can afford. The time, budget, and logistics required to leave your home country are an impossibility at times. There’s no shame in travel, whether you spend a week wandering around London alone or join a tour-group for a jaunt around the United Kingdom. If one or two meaningful stamps on your passport leaves your travel dreams fulfilled, I’ll drink to that.
But if you’re like me and want to see as much of the world that you can in this lifetime – without completely uprooting your home life – then fast travel is for you.
How to Fast Travel in a Post-Quarantine World
Putting aside the unknowns – self-quarantining upon arrival, passport restrictions, limited travel service to various destinations – fast travel is difficult but doable if you plan it correctly. Here are my tips for building a great trip:
#1: Plan your air travel to and from home first.
You want to spend as little time and money as possible getting to and from your home airport. Look for direct flights to major hubs such as London, Copenhagen, or Paris, preferably on overnight flights so you arrive in-country early enough to explore or board a quick connection.
#2: Create an itinerary that makes sense financially and logistically.
This may not seem practical on paper, though. One leg of our trip was Olso -> Lisbon -> Copenhagen – > Bucharest -> Nice. It sounds convoluted, but in actuality, it saved us hundreds of dollars and hours of layovers that would have trapped us in the airport. Create a spreadsheet and plot multiple routes with travel times and prices. In some cases, an overnight bus ride between countries is a tolerable solution. In other instances, you can carve out just enough time to enjoy an additional country by sliding a 12-hour layover into your itinerary for the price of an overnight hotel stay.
#3: Accept that you can’t do everything.
If you treat the tourist guidebook as a Bible, then there’s no way you’ll see London or Rome in a day. Thankfully, you can still cover a lot of ground and create a memorable trip with a little planning. Research each destination with the intent of matching activities to the overall experience that you desire. Add variety into each city; you’ll definitely get bored only touring museums or searching for Instagram spots. Mix walking tours with cooking lessons. Dedicate a morning to exploring a national park and spend the night attending a live performance at a theater.
#4: Don’t wing it…
Whatever you do, don’t assume you can wander into a city and instantly have the time of your life. Aimless meandering without a plan make you frustrated and tired. This will be even worse if you don’t already know how to navigate public transportation in a cost-effective manner. Lyon’s rail to and from the airport stops service for a few hours overnight. Reykjavik’s bus service from the airport to the city center will put a huge dent in your budget. If you’re not going to plan your activity itinerary, at least plan out your transportation timetables and cost. Getting hit with these surprises in-country can make a simple trip from Point A to Point B quite costly.
#5: …but go with the flow.
My wife and I spent less than 24 hours in Copenhagen. We took a three-hour walking tour then our guide invited us out for a beer that turned into a twelve-hour pub crawl. We didn’t see The Little Mermaid Statue or Nyhavn, but we did have a blast making new friends and talking about Scandinavian culture. Remember, tourists have photographs but travelers have experiences. Connecting with others around the world will always be one of the most rewarding aspects of travel, even if you don’t have the pics to prove it.
#6: Fast travel is ripe for failure.
The only reason we went to Bulgaria is because out flight to Ukraine was cancelled a week before our trip and we needed to get to Bucharest by a certain date. When you fast travel, things will go wrong. Transportation will be delayed or cancelled. Popular attractions will be closed. Weather will ruin plans. Your fatigue will get the best of you. Go into this knowing that fast travel is not easy. It’s painful, it’s stressful, and sometimes, it’s not the best plan. Just keep in mind that these same obstacles are inherent in slow travel as well.
Travel Fast, Travel Slow, Just Travel Soon
The future of travel is uncertain. For a generation of North American men who had the world at their fingertips in 2019, 2020 dealt a crushing blow that will take years of recovery. It remains to be seen how a Canadian or U.S. passport, once a ticket to nearly anywhere in the world, will be welcomed post-COVID19.
Although the world will return to some form of normalcy and invite us to continue our globetrotting, our eyes have been opened to a frightening reality: borders can close overnight and obliterate our travel aspirations, leaving us with nothing but wanderlust.
Travel fast. Travel slow. Whatever you do, travel as soon as you can. Who knows when you’ll get another chance?