In just my first 9 days visiting Belgium, I managed 5 day trips to surrounding cities and towns from the city of Ghent. By the end, I was pretty exhausted by the idea of it. It was just too much.
Usually I’m pretty fond of heading out for the day to explore somewhere new nearby and some of my favourite travel moments have come from day trips. Places like Blagaj in Bosnia Herzegovina below, Portofino in Italy above and Parque Tayrona in Colombia are places I either wouldn’t or couldn’t stay at, but saw thanks to a day trip. It really is a great way to add variety to a trip and there are various reasons to take one.
However, by going overboard like I did, by the end I felt myself just repeating the motions and found the practice a little tedious. It didn’t help that most days I was out the door by 8am and back around 8 at night. Doing that day after day can be tiring, but also make you lose touch a little with the place where you’re staying.
Anyway, all of this got me thinking about day trips and what I thought was the best way to go about them.
My Normal Day Trip
It’s normal for me to include a day trip or two when staying in a place for several nights. That way I get to see a little more, all the while coming back to familiar surrounds. On longer stays, I tend to do even more day trips but that is often balanced out by quiet days in between. Ideally, I want to arrive before 10am and not leave before 4pm to ensure a day well spent, but that is naturally subject to circumstances.
I generally pick out a smaller place nearby the destination I’m staying – usually a town or nature spot – where I know of at least one thing of interest. That way, even if you don’t find anything else, you’ve got that one spot guaranteed. In the past I’ve done both fairly planned-out day trips, as well as more laid back, exploring ones. That factor really depends on your travel style, the destination and expectations. However, before going I always have had a solid understanding of how I was getting there and back.
As I travel by public transport primarily, I research my transport options and make sure that I can get there and back with plenty of time to sightsee. Also, it’s pretty important to learn when the last train or bus leaves, as getting stranded somewhere is far from optimal.
When I think of day trips that have worked well, I’ve generally had a good understanding of getting to and from my destination, like from Lisbon or when I visited Dryanovo in Bulgaria. Conversely, one of my worst attempts at a day trip was in Maramureș, Romania, where transport limitations simply meant I had too little time to properly see what I’d hoped to.
Why Take a Day Trip?
There are various reasons why day trips work so well. As I mentioned above, they can be good to help you gain a broader experience than if you stayed in the one place, or add some variety to your itinerary. Sometimes it’s more convenient to simply base yourself in one place, rather than moving from place to place, spending precious time uprooting yourself over and over.
Then there’s the simple fact that some places can really only sustain a short visit. This has certainly not been the case with Belgium, as I’ve found myself feeling rushed and eventually missing out on other things the destinations have had to offer. With a longer trip, it may be possible to return for another visit, but that really requires a leisurely pace which is a rare opportunity.
Day trips like my one to Cologne from Düsseldorf worked so well, because I knew there was the amazing Gothic Cathedral, but then found a bunch of smaller spots to explore as well. Same with my visit to Sagres on Portugal’s Algarve coast, first seeing the fortress before going walkabout along the cliffs. And yet, when I visited the Crooked Forest from Szczecin, even though there was nothing else to do there, I still had the sight of the trees to reward my efforts.
Different to a Day Tour
I do think there’s quite a bit of difference between doing a day trip and a day tour, and that’s not to say that one is better than the other. This mostly comes down to a tour taking the burden of arranging transport – and often the activities – off your hands. I think this means you can often do more with a tour, as they’ve hopefully organised the itinerary down to a fine art. Of course the trade-off there is that you lose the independence and spontaneity that comes with doing your own day trip.
The many day tours I did during my trip to Vietnam, like to Tam Coc and My Son, included far more in one day than I ever could have hoped to do on my own. If things are time critical, then the tour is certainly a great way to go. Also, I never could have hoped to visit somewhere like Lamanai without a tour, so there’s that too.
But they don’t suit every situation. While I’m sure there are day tours you can do from Brașov, I found that visiting places on my own meant I could see them at my own pace and at a fraction of the cost. Degree of difficulty is definitely a factor.
- Try to pick closer day trips to ensure you spend a decent amount of time at your destination.
- Question whether a place is really suited to a day trip, by identifying why you want to go there. General exploring is often far more suitable than a lengthy sightseeing list.
- Always start early and with some understanding of your transportation, for a less stressful day.
- Know when the last bus or train leaves.
- Weigh up the cost of travelling for the day trip against the cost of accommodation there. If there isn’t much difference, it may be better to stay a night or two.
- Consider whether the destination works better as an independent day trip, or as a day tour package. Both have their strengths.
- Don’t cram lots of day trips one after the other, to avoid burnout and a loss of connection with where you are staying.
What are your thoughts on day trips? Any tips or advice that you have that I’ve missed? Please share in the comments below.
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