With travel roaring back, I’m in the midst of planning many customized trips and client experiences. As you look at getting out more, whether it is locally or for travel afar, take the time to plan how to visit sights and attractions in the wisest manner – this week I share some thoughts on ideas to ways to enhance your experience and use your time wisely.
Maximizing your travel experience by cutting the line
When planning a trip and selecting particular sites or visits that you want to incorporate in your itinerary, you want to be very clear about what’s most important to you – and then also be clear on how many of those things are also important to the majority of tourists. The more popular a museum or attraction is, the more critical it is to plan well so you can maximize your experience, which includes maximizing your time.
You waste your time standing around in line just to get tickets to enter, and you waste the experience when visiting during a really crowded time when you can’t see the things you want to see, or you see them with no perspective of why they are important or the learning of the history and notable stories.
Even though I know better, I was a little loose with some of our planning in Paris once and my husband and I we set off on the train to Versailles, only to be greeted by lines that snaked around and around – and every time we seemed to get near the front, the line morphed, and we were in the back again. No Versailles tour for us.
For topics or sites that are of particular interest to you personally, the best option is to have a guide, so you get a deeper understanding of what you are looking at. Whether a private guide or small group tour, a guide can add a level of context that gives you new knowledge and interest. When my husband and I were in St. Petersburg Russia, our guide walked us past the long line of fellow cruisers from our ship, right into the door of the Peterhof Palace. My husband could ask all his history and naval questions, and I had uncrowded rooms to explore and take pictures.
For incredibly popular sites, special access tours can enhance your experience exponentially. The after-hours Colosseum tour or breakfast and before-hours access to the Vatican Museums are worth every penny to be able to visit without the big crowds and enjoy a more personalized tour that is ever possible during regular hours.
When I had a group in Rome a few years ago, our guide’s knowledge to get us into the Papal Audience – steer us past the crowds to the side with fewer people, through security, and then to the best seats – was invaluable; she guided us to the edge seats to be beside the barrier where the Popemobile drives. Instead of being in one long row across, we had our group spread across multiple rows, only using the two seats on the edge of each row next to the barrier, so every single person in the group had a prime view of the Pope as he rode by.
For sites where you may not want a guide, pre-purchasing tickets to highly popular attractions is an absolute requirement to save time on your vacation. The line for tickets at the Eiffel Tower can be hours long, and visitors without tickets to the Accademia Gallery to see the David in Florence will be in a line that goes on for 4 blocks, and that moves very slowly as access is time-controlled.
Even if there is an online booking charge or currency fee, it’s much better to pay the extra to have the tickets in hand and be able to walk right in. You get to walk past all those people waiting in line and go right to the front to enter – that’s the kind of cutting the line that is not only okay but very smart!
There are some museums and attractions where you can be much more flexible as it is easy to buy tickets at the window. One of my favorite sites in Ireland is the Foynes Flying Boat Museum, which I think is so interesting and fun, but they don’t have a long line because most people have never heard of it. Sights that have more limited appeal usually can be booked on the day of your visit.
For your ‘must-do’ sights, consider a small group special access tour for the best experience, and at a minimum ensure your tickets are booked ahead. For your ‘would like to do sights’ I’d still recommend pre-purchasing tickets for extremely popular sights just to have them, and then plan on winging it with less popular sites. If it’s on a ‘Top 10’ list, book the tickets ahead.