One of the reader questions I get asked the most both on the blog and on Instagram is how to know what to see and what to skip when planning a trip and how to know which items are the best to have on your itinerary for a specific destination. This can be a difficult process to figure out, what to see and what to skip, and while some of it is trial and error, here is how I’ve figured out what to see and what not to when I visit destinations and all the travel tips I can offer on the subject.
Do your research and make a short list of spots you might want to see.
The first part of figuring out what to see and what to skip will be doing your research on the destinations that you’ll be encountering on your trip. When I know I’m headed to a certain destination, I go through my archives both on my Pinterest page and on my computer for things I’ve saved on that place. I then make a list of the items I’ve saved that might be of interest to me in that destination and then dig a little deeper. You’ll want to find out more information on locations, on transport to get there and which ones you think will end up being your top items to see. Make a short list of the places that you think might be worthwhile for you in that destination and than as you go through and plan out your itinerary, you can drop those places in as you figure out which days you’ll be doing what.
Look at photos – but look for specific things.
Next, after you have your short list of places and things you might want to see and do, go deeper. Look at photos online, search for the places and then look at the photos not for how beautiful they are but for certain things. Look for things to answer the following questions:
- Does it look crowded?
- What’s around it? Is the neighborhood interesting?
- Can you tell about access to the location? Are there cars around or only foot traffic?
- What’s it look like in different types of weather or different times of the year?
Once you’ve looked a little deeper, you might find that this particular destination might not be worth it during certain times of year or maybe you realize that it’s harder to get to or really crowded. All of that information can inform your decision if it’s a place to see or a place to skip depending on your individual trip.
For example, these photos of Skógafoss Waterfall in Southern Iceland are taken in the same location but look incredibly different in the Summer versus in the Winter. Knowing that, you might decide to either see it or skip it depending on the season. Also notice the difference in the amount of people are there in Summer versus in Winter.
Don’t go see something that doesn’t interest you.
I’m a big believer in doing what you personally want to on a trip. I’m not a “do this just because you’re in ____” kind of person. See places that interest you and don’t do things that don’t. For example, I’m not a big museum person. I love art but honestly, I hate wandering for hours through a massive museum with ten million other people. For that reason, I’m not a huge fan of the Louvre. Have I been? Yea. Would I go back? Only if I had a specific reason probably. Figure out what’s worth it to you to see. For me, I’d rather wander the streets of Paris taking in the architecture and the incredible views and tiny small restaurants and stores than the huge Louvre museum and that’s totally ok. Don’t go see something just because you think you should in a destination. If you’re not into it, find something else that you are into and do that instead.
Know how much time you’ll need at the destination.
Certain places around the world, specifically in famous landmark destinations, will require that you know how much time you’ll need there. This will change the way you see a destination or perhaps which days you might be able to do certain activities depending on how much time you have available. For example, going to the Vatican in Rome requires at least a half day of time, whereas you can go see the Eiffel Tower in Paris for as short of time frame as you want. Certain destinations will require much more time and perhaps will require you to buy tickets beforehand, so do your research and be aware of what the requirements are.
It’s ok to just see the outside of a landmark, instead of going inside or spending a lot of time there.
Some people might balk at this, but I often will go see a landmark in cities around the world and just take a look at the outside instead of buying tickets or take a tour to go inside. And in my book, that’s perfectly alright. Sometimes I find that seeing a monument from the outside, sitting somewhere to just take it in and enjoying it how I like to see it is more powerful for me. For example, I’ve never actually seen the whole interior of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris but I’ve spent a ton of time sitting outside of the famous church, taking it all in and spending time with the building and that feels just as intimate to me.
The point is, people are always going to tell you there is a certain way to travel and a certain list of things to see on a trip. In my opinion, I think travel is more powerful when you do it the way that is the most meaningful for you.
If you’re up for it, go see major landmarks at sunrise or right when they open.
For me, the one thing I’ll never skip on a trip is to get up early and head to famous landmark destinations either at sunrise or early in the day to get there before the crowds. Especially if I’m not sure if I’m up for seeing a place later in the day to battle crowds, it’s often a great way to see it in a much less stressful scenario. If you’re up for getting up early, this is a great way to see famous places without the hassle as well as a beautiful way to start your day!