“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.” It’s a travel quote I see constantly on Pinterest and Instagram. But how many people actually make it everywhere? In truth, hardly anyone. First of all, going “everywhere” is virtually impossible, but even if we just break it down to countries, the chance that the average person will reach all 190+ countries in their lifetime is slim. Many people set travel goals like “25 counties by 25,” but at that rate they won’t even make it to half the world’s countries in their lifetime. How crazy is that?!
The point is, if you want to see the world, you need to go. Now. I’ve been in many cities and countries for only 2-4 days and managed to have amazing, unforgettable experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. That means you can go practically anywhere for a weekend and make it worth the trip. To prove the point that a weekend abroad is worth the lost sleep, I bring you a list of international travel experiences that you only need one day to do. Think about that – if you can do these in a day, imagine what you could do in two?
Out of all the things I’ve seen, the Norwegian fjords still stand out in my mind as beyond incredible. First of all, you feel like you’ve entered a magical world as your cruise sets off. If it’s a clear day, the reflections in the water are breathtaking and you have a prime view of picturesque small towns, nestled away from the world and unreachable by road. And when you board the historic Flam Railway and head into the snowy mountains, you’ll feel as if you’re on the Polar Express. The one day Norway in a Nutshell fjord tour from Bergen to Oslo will take you on trains, buses and boats from 9AM until almost 11PM, but don’t worry about getting fidgety or tired. You shuffle from transportation mode to transportation mode often enough keep things interesting, and since it’s not a particularly active tour it’s not as if you’ll need enormous amounts of energy to sit there, looking on in awe of Norway’s natural gems.
Make the most out of it: The stop in Flam is about 2.5 hours, and while this town is cute it’s very touristy and there isn’t much to actually do. Skip a leisurely lunch – the food’s not that great anyways – and head for a short 1.5 hour hike to Brekkefossen, a waterfall and high point that offers a gorgeous view of Flam from above.
How to get there: The tour can be completed in one day if you’re based in a nearby European city like Copenhagen, but for us Americans a 3-day weekend excursion is probably necessary. Overnight flights are available from Boston and New York to Bergen on Friday evening after office hours, which gives you Saturday as a bonus free day to explore the adorable city before your fjord tour.
I spent 24 hours in Bergen before my tour of the fjords.
On Monday, you can fly home directly from Oslo at 3PM, leaving the morning for sightseeing in the Norwegian capital. See that? We’ve hit up two cities, seen one of nature’s most amazing creations and gotten some exercise in, all in a weekend. Here’s a tip: at the time I published this blog post, both flight legs totaled out to $580 for Memorial Day weekend on Norwegian Airlines. Not bad for a transatlantic trip.
Sound like a tall order for one day? I’m a living testament to the fact that it can be done. Cuenca is a small, sleepy city that’s about an hour’s flight from the capital of Quito. Known primarily for its colorful, historic streets, friendly residents and low crime levels, there aren’t a ton of must-see attractions in Cuenca. That makes it an ideal destination for a short trip, since there’s nothing you’re going to “miss.”
A perfect day in Cuenca combines exploring the beauty of the surrounding mountains with a couple hours of wandering the cobblestone streets, camera in hand. Arrange a two hour horseback riding tour through Centro Ecuestre Bellavista, where the owner, Sebastian, will share his knowledge of horses and take you on a semi-private trail ride through local farmland.
After the ride, take a taxi back to the city where you can easily hit up all the major attractions on foot in a few hours. Grab lunch like a local at Cositas, a delicious and incredibly cheap spot in town that will leave you stuffed for less than $5. Next, head to Plaza Calderon for people watching and to burn off some of lunch’s calories with a climb to the top of the Catedral de la Immaculada. For a $1 donation, you’ll get an up close look at the catheral’s iconic sky-blue cupolas and panoramic views of Cuenca.
Round out the day with a relaxing walk along the Rio Tomebamba and a beer at La Compañia Cerveceria, a local microbrewery located right off the main nightlife street, Calle Large, that serves some of the best beer in Cuenca in a casual atmosphere.
Make the most out of it: Cuenca isn’t exactly a nightlife hotspot, and you’re probably exhausted + sore from all that horseback riding and walking. Skip bar hopping after dark and instead take a taxi to the suburb of Baños, where for $10 per person you can soak in a variety of thermal pools at Piedra de Agua and use their sauna all night. It’s a Friday and Saturday evening relaxation ritual for many cuencanos.
How to get there: Overnight flights are available from New York to Quito or Guayaquil, with an easy one hour connecting flight or four hour bus ride to Cuenca. On the way home on Sunday or Monday night, red eyes are also available back to the States. My flight last year on Memorial Day weekend was $480, and thanks to the sign up bonus from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa card, I didn’t have to pay any of it!
I’m pretty sure telling people you’re going to Morocco for one day would invite some raised eyebrows, but doesn’t it sound glamorous? In reality this beautiful country needs more time to explore, but you can knock out quite a few of Marrakech’s top sights – and sneak in some shopping – in just a day.
If your time in the Moroccan city really is that short, your best bet is to hire a guide through your hostel or hotel for a tour of the medina, unless you want to spend your day wandering around the narrow, twisted and sign-free streets like a lost puppy. Your tour guide will whisk you to all the major shopping areas of the medina, with stops along the way at historical sights like La Palais de la Bahia and Medersa Ben Yousseff, my personal favorite which used to be a religious school.
After the tour, take a taxi on your own to the Jardin Majorelle, a luxurious garden oasis designed by the late fashion legend Yves Saint Laurent. Once you’ve enjoyed the calm, it’s back to the madness: return to Marrakech’s main square, Jemaa el Fna, for the unique experience of dinner in the open air market.
Make the most out of it: For an authentic Moroccan experience, book your overnight stay at a riad instead of a chain hotel. They’re affordable, beautiful and quite luxurious. You can read more about why I love riads here.
How to get there: From New York, the journey will take you about 13 hours via Royal Air Maroc, so ideally I hope you have more than one day to spend in Marrakech! But if you’re based in Europe, you’re in luck: flights from Madrid are just two hours, and you can book for great prices on budget airliner EasyJet.
Obviously it’s not quite cost effective to fly to these destinations for just a day, but my point is that there’s so much you can accomplish in a short time in any destination. Don’t put off trips to exotic locales just because you don’t have enough time to spend a whole week there. After all, you can always go back to a place you loved but you can’t go back in time and visit more places!
Think about it this way: if you start using your two weeks of vacation and four holiday weekends a year to take three-day international trips now, you could visit every country in the world in the next 15 years. Now the funding for that sort of lifestyle isn’t quite something I’ve nailed down yet, but wouldn’t it be a great conversation starter?
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