Though most of us would love to take a long vacation, trekking across Europe or living in a Tuscan villa for a month, work demands or budget constraints means it's not always possible. There are, however, ways to make more time for those special moments that make trips so memorable.
We're not advocating that you hop from city to city, attraction to attraction, or jam-pack every minute of your itinerary with activities. After all, a trip to Europe should be filled with experiences to be savored, moments to cherish without feeling rushed. That said, consider our tips for cutting the fat from your itinerary and leaving just the good stuff.
Know what you want to see
Are there some must-see monuments and events or activities that you feel you must do? It's okay to cut from your itinerary the popular tourist visit to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, if Monet's paintings at the d'Orsay are what really move you. Or, go ahead and forgo the ferry ride to the glass factory in Murano that all the tour guides recommend, if you would really prefer just to take a gondola ride in Venice.
Which cities do you want to visit? If you're visiting more than one, be sure the distances and travel times between each of them are reasonable for you. Visiting Amsterdam as a day trip from Paris may seem like a good idea while you're sitting at home, but not perhaps when you factor in an eight-hour roundtrip train ride.
Use the services of a travel specialist
Particularly for trips to places you've never been or for complicated itineraries, consider the services of a travel specialist focused solely on your travel style or destination. Perhaps you're a luxury traveler, traveling with kids, or spending your entire vacation in only France. There's a travel specialist for that.
Find the fastest way to travel within Europe
For short hauls between places such as Florence and Venice or Paris and Provence, consider taking the train, particularly if the distances are fewer than four hours way.
Trains cut down the total time it takes to get from point to point. Your trip will start and end right in the center of town, so you can quickly get to your hotel and on to the sights. Further, you avoid the hours spent before a flight getting to the airport (which is often outside the city), checking bags, going through security, and finding your way into the city after the flight.
The same goes for taking the train or subway within a city. Public transit systems, such as the very efficient and extensive Paris Metro or the London Tube, means no searching for parking spots or waiting in traffic. There's nothing more painful than watching first-time travelers to Rome trying to find a parking spot for their rental car on Rome's narrow, cobblestone streets.
Book museum passes in advance to avoid long lines
Unless you travel in late fall or winter, many of the popular attractions such as the Eiffel Tower, Vatican or the Colosseum will have long lines at the entrance, sometimes over an hour. Book entrance passes in advance to avoid the lines.
Also, guided tours include skip-the-line entry to the sights and the guide will even pick you up from your hotel. Booking a tour in advance saves you the time and hassle of having to arrange the tour once you're in Europe or navigating unfamiliar city streets on your own.
Take a Private Tour
You see it all the time in Europe. The tour guide at the front of the group, umbrella or sign in hand, waiting for the stragglers in the back to catch up. With a private tour, you visit the sights at your own pace - lingering freely at what interests you or moving on to the next thing. With a private tour, you never have to wait for others or struggle to keep up with a group.
Plus, on a private tour, you have a personal guide to answer any of your questions and to modify the tour midstream according to your interests. Private tours ensure you see what's important to you and squeeze the most out of your limited travel time.
Bring a GPS and Some Good Maps
Getting lost is the ultimate time waster and often can spoil your travel experience. Rent or buy a GPS before departing for your trip or print off maps. In some places, however, (we're thinking Venice here), spending time getting lost is the best experience of all.