The Three-Day Rule

January 14, 2008

in Information, Lodging, Luggage, Travel

A recent reader question spawned a piece of advice which I believe is valuable to every traveler’s sanity: don’t plan to visit any city you won’t stay for at least three days. This is not a hard and fast rule, but should be a guiding principle when charting out your travels. Wondering why? Find out after the jump.

Americans travel too quickly. I understand the pressures: short vacations, long (expensive) flights, the desire to “see it all,” the responsibility to friends and family to take pictures and have fun, etc. Europeans have shorter flights, longer breaks, and a stronger currency — which all contributes positively to a laid-back attitude towards travel. In all our hurry, we’ve forgotten that an essential element of vacationing and ultimately relaxation is time. Structure everything and you’ll never find that romantic cafe, stumble across that unforgettable beach, find the purse you didn’t know you had to have. Even the special moments you can have exploring art galleries, churches and monuments are minimized when you are concerned about checking the next site off your list before lunchtime. Give yourself time to enjoy the things you came to see and experience (and have spent money on) by doing less.

Here’s the ugly part about traveling: the travel. There are plenty of scenic train/bus/boat rides to pass the time pleasantly. However, it doesn’t erase the stress and hassle of packing up, checking out, getting to the station, buying your tickets, getting to the platform, sitting in the right seat, riding for hours, then everything in reverse as you find your way to your new hotel — only to do it all over again the next day. If you sat down and thought hard, I’m sure you would find this one of your least-favorite elements of travel (behind the transatlantic flight in the middle seat between Misbehaving Child and Sweaty Overweight Passenger). Reduce your time in stressful transit by staying in each location longer.

Further benefits:

+ You get to know the city and neighborhood where you’re staying better. The owner of your breakfast cafe will learn to recognize you. Navigating local transport becomes almost second nature. Finding grocery stores and bakeries is easier. You have a chance to explore all the restaurants and sites that interest you, not just the ones nearest the city center. These benefits save smart travelers money!

+ Discounts on accommodations start with stays of three nights or more. You can shave up to 20% off room or rental prices when you book a longer stay — always ask! By lengthening your stay, you also have more accommodation options, such as apartment or house rentals, which are a frugal option for families and groups.

+ Unpack, unwind. More time in one location gives you a chance to take the clothes out of your suitcase, to wash and dry them as needed, to spread out mentally and physically. Returning to your accommodation in the evening feels more like “coming home.”

Planning a series of bases rather than non-stop overnights means you visit smaller (typically one-day) cities as daytrips rather than on-the-go. You may end up backtracking once or twice and you probably won’t spend any less time on the train, but you will minimize the hassles associated with hauling and storing your luggage as well as with finding acceptable places to stay (imagine: four hotels instead of ten!).

European cities I have used as bases and the places I have visited from them include:
+ Pisa: Cinque Terre, Siena, Florence
+ Nuremberg: Bamberg, Regensburg (Würzburg also possible)
+ Brno: Moravsky Krumlov, Telc, Hluboka

Next time you’re planning a journey, remember the three-day rule to save yourself stress, time and money for a well-earned vacation.

Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Gudrun 01.14.08 at 9:46 pm

great suggestions – when we travel (with our kids), we do try to stay more than 3 days in one location, taking day trips if we stay longer. Our whole family enjoys the trip more, and we really enjoy the opportunity to connect in deeper with the local community.


2 Joy 01.15.08 at 7:21 am

I agree. Many people like to speed travel and end up more tired. My husband and I travel locally and slow. we enjoy a lot.

3 foxnomad 01.15.08 at 7:47 pm

I disagree, at least for some circumstances.

Quick 2 day trips can turn layovers into mini-vacations on your way to your main destination.

This generally works only for a single or two (brave) travelers, college students, etc.

4 01.17.08 at 4:13 am

I really like your concept of staying at least three days in a city. Day one often is a bumbling around day. Days two and three get better and better as the city begins to feel familiar.

But there are exceptions. I was in Spain and had to fly home via Lisbon. It seemed a shame to fly in, stay near the airport and then fly to the States in the morning without seeing at least a bit of the city, since I’d never been.

So I booked one extra night and had 24 hours to look around. It was incredibly memorable, if rushed. Took a trolley up a steep hill to a flea market. Walked a lovely mainly boulevard. Even managed a night at a fado place. While I like the idea of the three-day rule, I’m not sure I can always stick to it…

5 Tim Patterson 01.19.08 at 7:31 pm

Right on, nice post – having just finished my first guidebook assignment, I’m sick of writing for people who will just be blowing through town, dropping money, gobbling up a packaged experience and flying home. Travel is about learning, about opening yourself to a new experience and a new perspective.

Again, great post. I’ve added you to my RSS feed and will be back for more.

Tim Patterson


6 Rasa 01.20.08 at 4:18 pm

at least 2 full days – for visiting the most interesting places :) (for Hamburg one long day was not enough :( )
1day – for shopping! :) )) if a city has a lot of shopping centers and discounts… add a few more days.. :) also add more days if you are not alone :) ))

and one more day to unpack/repack – go home or somewhere else!
IMHO, if you can stay more days, just stay, and do not hurry!
Best wishes :)

7 Tyler 01.21.08 at 4:23 am

Great post! One of the best things I’ve learned to tell myself is ’slow down’! We can all learn a little something if we just take a moment to breathe. :)

8 poetloverrebelspy 01.25.08 at 1:39 am

Find further thoughts on this post at This World Traveler.

9 Jason Dragon 03.17.08 at 11:49 am

I just spent a ton of time, about 16 month traveling asia. It was a great trip.

One MAJOR point I would dispute, at least when traveling to third world countries is the Book Long Term idea. I have found that you can NOT book the best deals unless you are there in person. I have found it best to simply book for one night, and spend the time before checkout looking for a good deal for the rest of the stay. I have found places that were better for less than half the price, they simply don’t advertise online and don’t have those marketing expenses. Recently in manila I just walked in about 15 hotels and found a killer deal at a place I have now stayed a few times.

Jason Dragon

10 poetloverrebelspy 03.17.08 at 3:49 pm

Thanks for your comment, Jason.

Flexibility with accommodations is a trade-off that certainly depends on the scope of your trip and the limits of your budget.

When you have 16 months of travel time and will be returning often, it is probably worth it to invest one day hunting out a better place to stay. When you have 16 days and are only staying three nights in Manila, you are likely willing to trade your money, your time and even the quality of the accommodation to be able to see the things you came to see without worrying too much about where you’ll be sleeping. If the pricier place gives you a discount for your longer stay, you may come out even, at least in the money department.

I’m sure personality type plays a role here too — how much uncertainty a traveler can accept before it starts to infringe upon their enjoyment of their vacation.

As with all of my tips, they are not hard and fast rules, rather guidelines garnered from experience. Like all advice you read on the internet, your mileage may vary!

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