Do less, have more fun: The Rule of Steves, and a Corollary

I’m fielding more questions from would-be travelers who are planning escapes from Minnesota’s current unrequited love affair with summer. Here is the question of the week:

Question: We are thinking about taking our first trip to Europe. We want to go to London, Paris and Belgium. Can we do it in a week?

Answer: You sure can. But you probably wouldn’t want to.

If there’s one piece of travel advice for which average Joe travel guide guru Rick Steves should be sainted, it’s this: “Assume you’ll return.”

The “assume you’ll return” philosophy is there to help travelers avoid ruining the trip they are taking by trying to pack in too much.

It’s genius advice on several levels. Here are two reasons why, plus a Lisa Corollary to explain why:

Two Reasons

1. First, it’s an ironic truth that more movement is often bad for travel satisfaction. Trying to see too many places with not enough time all but ensures you’ll miss the moments of magic while you’re busy packing, unpacking, waiting around train stations or searching for your next hotel (which is supposed to be right here, but won’t be until you circle the neighborhood a few more times, taking verbal swipes at your dear traveling companion all the way. Don’t deny it. That’s just how it works.)

Fact: Every change of cities — even of hotels — costs a half a day. At the rock-bottom least. So take that into consideration.

Followers of the Rule of Steves reduce the number of must-sees on an itinerary or add days to their trip to guarantee they have time to actually soak in what they came to see. They decide a few stops in Germany and France are enough for one 10-day trip even if they really, really want to see Italy, too. Or they skip one of the three museums on their list so they have more than 20 minutes for each. Those travelers get to avoid some stress and add some space for the magic to fill. They effectively protect the value of their travel time by leaving some dream sites for next time.

2. Second, lots of people think they’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Until, of course, that fantastical destination has its way with them and the travel bug bites for real. Honestly, it’s probably doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. If you can scrape together the time, money and the motivation to do it once, you are likely to be able to manage the feat again. So give yourself permission to not try to see everything at once. Do that and you just might have so much fun that you’ll actually want to go back.

The Lisa Corollary

Even after embracing the Rule of Steves, I continued to struggle with the idea that I was wasting my precious vacation dollars by stretching my trips a few days (my preferred interpretation of the “don’t do too much in too little time” core advice).

But then I did some math. A plane ticket — usually the most expensive purchase of a foreign trip — can be thought of as an asset to be amortized. If your round-trip flight cost $1,000 and you stay five days, your transportation expense is $200 per day. If you stay 10 days, the flight cost falls to $100 per day. In many places you can get a decent hotel room for that price, meaning you could have double the trip, lots more time for your must-sees and some relaxation, with the only fixed added expense being food (which you’d have to eat at home, too). Who would pass up a deal like that?

So back to the question: Can London, Paris and Belgium be visited in a week? Yes, barely. My best advice is to drop one destination for that week, or keep hold of all three dreams — and take at least 10 days to live them out.

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Lisa Schwarz

About Lisa Schwarz

By day, I'm a St. Cloud Times editor guiding coverage of politics, government, public safety and business beats. By night, I'm leading the cubicle jailbreak as the Times Traveler. Follow me on Twitter at and on Facebook at
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