A perfect day trip can be the highlight of your vacation. Here are 13 helpful tips, from budgeting to making sure you see what you wanted to see to help you plan for a the perfect day trip! Updated with a bonus tip on taking day-trip tours!

Planning your day trip!

Among the most fun things about planning a vacation is planning your day trip! A good day trip refreshes your travel palate, giving you a change of scene and pace. Not only can you experience something new, but a good day trip will also have you returning to your main destination reinvigorated for exploring.

Planning Your Day Trip

What to do for a day trip?

While I’m researching travel destinations, using my Wanderlust List, I consider day trip possibilities. As much as I love to immerse myself in new places when I travel, getting a feel for a neighborhood, I also look forward to a break from the routine in the form of a day trip, or sometimes even an easy overnight. What’s close enough to my “home” destination, yet different enough to warrant exploring? Are there interesting journeys to take to get there (or, maybe the journey is the day trip itself)?

How to find possible day trip destinations?

Unless I already know about general day trips from a destination, I generally start with Pinterest or Google for my day trip ideas, and sometimes I consult a guidebook (I do still get them and recommend having one on hand).

A simple “day trip from X” search usually yields lots of results from travel blogs, websites, and the like. If there’s a travel blog you like (ahem), you can also just go there and search directly. Start reading up and see what sparks your curiosity.

Tip!

Make a Pinterest board for your destination, and pin your ideas!

When to take your day trip?

I like to take my day trips pretty much right in the middle of my holiday, unless there’s a compelling reason to take it another day (e.g., something you really want to see is only open/happening at a certain time). I like to do this, because usually by the time I return, I’m missing my location and have a renewed sense of gusto for my main destination.

Planning your day trip: 13 Helpful Tips

The following are considerations to make when deciding on your day trip. The best decision for your day trip really depends on you and your travel style.

1. Planning your day trip budget

Let’s get the tedious out of the way first: How much do you want to spend? When planning your day trip, this is really important, because expenses can add up fast. Between transportation, admission fees, food in touristy areas, etc., your day trip is likely to cost more than an average day during the rest of your holiday.

Tip!

As you start planning your day trip, do a little math, as it can help you narrow down possible destinations. More money doesn't necessarily mean more fun!

3. Planning your day trip: what’s there to experience?

Are you a history buff? Or maybe you love art. Or, perhaps you just want to park yourself on the sands of a lovely beach. What do you want to experience? Have these things in mind when you’re doing your planning.

Maybe it’s a choice between a beach and UNESCO sites, as I had to decide when I went to Lisbon. I went with Sintra’s historic beauty, but you might prefer the beaches of Cascais. This is your vacation, so do what you want to do. Just because a place is popular doesn’t mean that you’ll love it.

Tip!

Don’t just pick something because it’s the day trip everyone takes. Take the day trip that’s right for you!

4. Planning your day trip: how much can you experience?

This is a critical part of planning your day trip: How much can you experience/do you want to experience? You have a day or perhaps an overnight (more on that below), so it’s not like you have all the time in the world.

Most popular day trip destinations became popular, because you could wander the old town, or get to the beach and have lunch, or get to the top of the hill in a day. However, even popular destinations often require you to make edits on what you see. What you don’t want to have happen is to come away feeling like you missed everything.

See everything there is to see?

When I went to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, I pretty much saw what there was to see in a leisurely day. Similarly, you can see Old Town Tallin, Estonia, in a day and it’s close to the ferry terminal. I made a conscious choice to mainly stick to Old Town, though I did venture a bit outside the walls.

Or, determine the highlights you’ll see and enjoy

You can also just go somewhere knowing that you’ve barely scratched the surface, but that you saw the things you most wanted to see. Years ago, I did a day trip to Florence, Italy, with my sister.

We planned out a rough itinerary (she was living in Italy at the time and knew Florence well—that helped). We skipped things that would have taken all day and had ourselves a wonderful time. I’ve always wanted to go back.

Valparíso, Chile, also required that I make choices, especially as I went on a Sunday and had limited public transport options. I knew a few things that I really wanted to see, and so I headed in that general direction.

Tip!

Save destinations to your Google Maps to help make the best use of your time!

Valpariso, Chile

5. Planning your day trip: proximity

This is kind of obvious, but sometimes reminding about the obvious is good. A journey is one thing, a slog is another (unless the journey is the point). Make sure that you can get there, have enough time to enjoy yourself, and get back tired, but not destroyed. When picking between two places, don’t discount distance as a factor.

6. Planning your day trip: the journey

How are you going to get there and back again? I have absolutely zero desire to go on a cruise ship, but I love a good short-distance boat trip. I’ve taken ferries to many places, but my favorite boat trip on the Danube was the way back from Szentendre, Hungary, back to Budapest. I’d taken the train to get there in the morning, as the boat left exceedingly early in the morning, and it was cold, but I took the boat back. We arrived just in time for the sun to set in Budapest. It was breathtaking.

I very much prefer not to drive places, but if you need to rent a car, take that into account as well.

Tip!

Set an alarm for when you should be heading toward your return trip so you don’t get stuck!

7. Planning your day trip: how will you get around when you’re there?

This is huge faction in planning your day trip. That cool spot that you want to see is soooo close, but if it’s really a drive, and you don’t have a car or a way to get there, you’re going to miss it. Make sure that you know how you’re going to get places.

Popular day trip destinations often have some sort of public transport to get people where they need to go, but don’t make assumptions. Do your homework. Sometimes, there’s fun ways to get around, like tuk tuks, that you can consider part of the adventure. If you’re going to drive, remember to research parking!

Also, make sure that you have a general idea of how much time you’re going to spend getting from one place to another. You don’t want to spend your entire day on a bus (or, maybe you do—I certainly do not!).

Tip!

Make sure that you’ve allowed enough time to get to places you want to go, as there’s no budget buster like desperation!

8. Planning your day trip: do you need to book ahead?

Do you have to plan for your trip, or can you just wake up one morning and decide to go? While I usually know roughly when I’m going to take a day trip, unless I had to book tickets ahead of time or only have one day free in my schedule, I just wing it.

For my day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, for example, I needed to plan and purchase the ticket before I left on my trip. For Valparíso, Chile, I bought my ticket that morning.

9. Planning your day trip: consider timing (festivals, holidays, days of the week, etc.)

When will you be going? Maybe there’s a festival that you could show up for (or avoid entirely if you hate crowds). Local holidays are important to take note of, especially because things might be closed, but also, see festivals.

Also, be aware of the general opening schedule of the place. Some places shut down entirely on Sunday, and not everything is open certain days of the week (show up to Versailles on a Monday, and you are going to be disappointed).

Tip!

Do a little homework to make sure that you won’t miss the very thing that you were there to see

10. Planning your day trip: do you really need an overnight?

Consider an overnight for a place that just might have a little something extra (or, if you want to get dinner someplace special). On recommendation from a friend, I turned my “day trip” to Sintra, Portugal, into an overnight, and I’m so glad that I did.

If you do need an overnight, then also be sure to research hotel costs and budget for it.

Tip!

For quick overnights, book in town and pay a little extra. Don’t waste your precious time trekking back and forth to your cheap lodgings if you can possibly help it!

11. Planning your day trip: remember that a “day trip” can just be to a different part of town

Don’t discount close proximity to your location, if it’s just a short jaunt to something very different. On my way back through Barcelona before heading back home, I toured Gaudi’s Park Güell. I explored there and Gràcia for the day, which made for an adventure that I hadn’t had before. While more of an afternoon than a proper day trip, my adventure in the Buda Hills on the Children’s Railway was also a bit of a palate cleanser.

12. Planning your day trip: what to take?

Ideally, you want to pack light, but still have the essentials. Maybe a backpack, but you don’t want to have to lug everything with you, especially if you’re walking around on foot. If you are doing an overnight, pack a change of clothes, your basic toiletries.

Wear good walking shoes. These do not have to be ugly (and indeed should not be), but they do need to be able to support you on what’s likely to be a busy day! Nothing ruins a good day trip like aching, blistered feet.

Be sure to bring:

  • a small first aid kit (think band aids and ibuprofen);
  • a portable charger for your phone;
  • something warm or something cooler (if needed)
  • water and a light snack, just in case.

Tip!

Take snapshots of your guidebook pages to avoid lugging it around with you! Day trip sections tend to be short

13. Planning your day trip: safety

Always consider safety before going on a day trip, especially if you are a solo traveler. Your risk threshold are unique to you, but be aware of the general conditions, especially if they are dramatically different from your “home destination.”

 

Bonus tip: Consider a day-trip tour!

In the time since I originally wrote this post, I’ve become a day-trip tour convert. Check out my post on taking wonderful day-trip tours!

What about you?

What do you consider when planning your day trips? Let me know in the comments, and be sure to check out the growing Day Trip series!