Travelers who are ridged in their planning tend to miss out on spontaneous new opportunities and experiences, while those that jump in to a trip get stuck doing only a few things. We all fall on toward one end of the spectrum or another, but the smart traveler knows how to balance their tendencies and maximize their travel efficiency.

Travel efficiency is the amount of travel experience you get vs. the total time spent traveling or overhead (like planning). No matter if you’re a planner or an aimless student you can use these rules to work in harmony with your preparation habits and increase your travel efficiency.

  • Plan Ahead – The time you have before you actually begin your journey is yours to spend. Planners can take as much time as they want plotting out the sights and places they’d like to visit. The more spontaneous crowd can look for bargains or network with other travelers during this time.
  • Planners: Make sure that you leave at least 20% of your trip open for new ideas or events. Fill in this time only after you arrive at your destination. If you can’t fill it in, relax using your favorite method (i.e. beach, nap, bar).
  • Spontaneous: Do a tiny bit of research with some Google hacking and pick 3 things (per week) that you really want to do. Getting somewhere without any clue will waste a day or two in a hotel or wandering, especially if you can’t get information or Internet easily.

  • Get Up Early and Go To Bed Late – Time management made simple, get up around 9am and go to bed sometime around 11pm. (Serious travelers only: vacationers sleep all you want). Savvy travelers make up their sleep on airplanes, in airports, and in transit. Consequently these are also the best times to book cheap flights.
  • Planners: You love to get up early anyway, but don’t forget about nightlife or relaxing with a good book at the end of the day.
  • Spontaneous: Take advantage of free hotel breakfasts, fewer crowds, and avoid getting stuck in your hotel room. Oversleeping kills your travel efficiency.
  • Prioritize – Invariably you won’t be able to go to all of the places you planned on; prioritize so you go to the places you really want to go. Always plan as if you won’t get a chance to go back, it will help you sort out the places that are really important to you.
  • Planners: Tend to over plan and get frustrated when all of their plans don’t go…well according to plan. Less stress equals more energy which allows you to enjoy traveling more (read: increased travel efficiency).
  • Spontaneous: Live in the moment and ask yourself if your trip were to end today, where would you go first?

Some more ways to increase your travel efficiency that both planners and adventurers can appreciate.

  • Minimize Your Horsepower: Always use the least amount of transportation required to get to your destination. The bigger and faster a vehicle can move, the more time you’ll waste preparing to use it. Walk to places in walking distance, use a taxi if you can’t walk within a reasonable amount of time and then take the train. Flights are pretty cheap around close European cities, but they’ll cost you more and you’ll miss all the sights in between.
  • Only Sleep (and have sex) in the Hotel Room: Don’t get suckered in by the nice TV in the hotel room or sleep too much more than you do at home. Make up your lost sleep in transit (i.e. while flying, on the train, etc.). to save even more time get creative and have sex somewhere *other* than you hotel room (but don’t get caught 😉
  • Create a Simple Travel Budget: Use the POTS rule to get an upper limit for your expenditures and make your simple travel budget work for you. Spending time trying to figure out conversion rates or how much money you have left is waste to traveling time and mental energy.
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Remember that a preoccupied mind is as bad as a physically wandering around. Keep your mind fresh so that no matter how efficient you end up being you enjoy the trip. Even vacationers can appreciate this fact; a calm mind will return you refreshed from any trip.

[photo by: El Freddy]