We’ve all read travel guides and itineraries for the brief trip that spans anywhere from 24–48 hours to weeks, but what if you have only a few hours to spend in a city? Whether it’s on a long layover or a break between meetings, you might want to make the most of your time. I’m a part of a yacht crew, and we often get to travel to exciting places like Nantucket, Antibes, and St. Barts. However, since we are primarily focused on being on call for our guests, we may have a few hours break at most during the day to explore. As a yacht chief stewardess, I’ve figured out some key tips for how to get the most out of limited free time while on guest trips. These tips have also been helpful for personal travel when I’m overwhelmed by the possibilities of a new place and uncertain where to start.
Create an Experience
Don’t try to do it all. Getting the most out of a place when you have limited time involves knowing what you really want. You can get much more out of your three hours if you spend them in one place rather than spread them across several stops. In larger cities, select one neighborhood or area to explore. When looking for a restaurant to have lunch, look at three options and then choose the best of the three rather than waste time being overwhelmed trying to choose the very best of what the place has to offer. When pressed for time, it’s best to skip the most famous attractions—and their lines. If you need relaxation (which is often what I need when I’m busy—whether I admit it or not), choose one place to truly enjoy: a quiet park, a sunny café, or a museum. Sure, a café or a park might not be a tourist destination, but it gives you a better sense of how locals live their daily lives.
Since you never know where you may find yourself in your wanderings, choose an outfit that can be dressed up or down. My favorite travel outfit is a knee-length, stretch-jersey black dress and a lightweight cardigan. It’s dressy enough to visit a cathedral or a nice restaurant and is comfy enough to walk around in or sit in a park. It’s also versatile should the weather change unexpectedly and can be rolled up in a weekender bag without wrinkling. For cold-weather locations, my go-to shoes are a pair of black leather boots. They can be worn with jeans or a dress and provide support, traction, and protection from rain/snow.
Get an idea of the place’s geography and target your time to a specific area. Port towns are often laid out around the waterfront, which is where most of the activity happens. The heart of the historic district of Nantucket, for example, extends inland from the crescent-shaped shore of Nantucket Sound and takes about an hour to walk through. The waterfront is also the starting point for the island’s famous network of bike trails, which provide a great way to see the rest of Nantucket if you don’t have a car.
Skip the knickknacks and T-shirts. For reasonably priced, memorable, and useful gifts, check grocery stores and bookstores. These places often carry local goods, which might include art by regional artists or honey, chocolate, or spice rubs made in the area. Always be sure to bring a lightweight bag for gifts or anything unexpected you might come across. My go-to is an expandable cotton net bag that I can fold up in a pocket when not in use. Be sure to bring a little extra cash for the random market you might come across.
Keep an Open Mind
While it’s important to know what you want when going into your three-hour adventure, it’s also helpful to remain flexible. While en route to your destination, take the time to absorb your surroundings and follow your curiosity. If a leafy alleyway catches your eye, follow it. If the proprietor of an art collective waves at you, consider going in and viewing the place through the lens of local artists. One New Year’s Eve in Key West, we finished with the guests just before midnight and, instead of following the crowds to the famous Duval Street, wandered the side streets and came upon a tiny, family-run cigar bar. None of us had ever had a cigar before, so the shop owner made individual selections for each of us, and we spent the rest of the night listening to their stories about living in Key West and dancing to the DJ of a local radio station who was broadcasting there. Allow yourself to be surprised and for the place to guide you into experiences that you never could have expected!