What do you do when you have limited time to visit a bucket list location? When I had the chance to visit Switzerland for three days, I initially balked at the short window of time. I couldn’t envision how we could possibly truly experience the culture with only seventy-two hours to spare.
I wasn’t just short on time, I was clearly short-sighted! In three days we immersed ourselves in the culture and splendor of Switzerland (with a bonus stop in Lichenstein.) Along the way, I learned a great deal about this amazing country and truly invaluable travel tips, too.
Sign Up for Local Tours
The first, and most beneficial travel tip I have for visiting a country within a short window of time is: Sign up for a full day tour of areas that interest you.
It’s the quickest, most-convenient, least stressful way to cover a lot of territory and experience highlights. You’ll have no worries about getting lost, finding a restaurant, ordering the best food, or even figuring out where to shop for the items you want. On a quality tour, you’ll have an insider’s view, plus recommendations from experts who know the area and the country inside-out.
“Heidiland, The Great Country Tour” through Gray Line is the first tour we chose which covered Zurich, Rapperswil, Toggenburg, Liechtenstein and Heidiland. As country folk, we wanted to get a taste of rural life in Switzerland. We were also attracted to the idea of seeing two countries in one day. During the tour we learned a great deal about the agriculture, tourism, and political structure of the country. Breath-taking views and enchanting moments.
The second tour we chose was “Mountains, Cheese and Chocolates” through Best of Switzerland Tours. We chose to take this tour on a Swiss holiday, which meant the chocolate outlet was closed. Despite this, we still had a fabulous time. We still got our chocolate at other shops along the way our guide directed us to. Plus, we each received a complimentary bar at the end of the tour, nice touch!
Check the Calendar
Which leads to my second tip: When visiting a country on a national holiday, expect businesses to be closed and remain flexible in your itinerary. While we missed doing some things, like visiting the chocolate factory outlet store, we were able to experience once-in-a lifetime events we would not have access to any other time. So while there is a minus, there is often a huge plus.
The drawback to tours is not always having enough time at each location to look around or shop as much as you might like, but when you are on a limited time schedule, it’s a compromise you make. See a lot, stay a little.
However, I did find that each tour allowed us ample time to explore. We got a good sense of the area, particularly the stops where we had extra time to dine. We never felt rushed and all along the way, we were constantly presented with stunning scenery and excellent insights from our tour guide covering a wide array of topics from forestry, government and laws to banking and classroom education.
Full day tour prices can seem a little spendy on the surface. However, when you weigh the cost of the tour against the price of a rental car, gas, maps and tour guide books, they are quite close in cost. We found the tours in Switzerland to be priced lower than the alternatives. Discounts are generally available for children, which lowers the cost of the tour even further.
Relax while you Explore
My third tip, and one I always find beneficial for family travel, is: Let your children (or inner child) lead the way. It’s easy to get caught up in rushing through exhibits, trying to get everyone to pay attention to every detail. (Because you never know when they will need to recall the big celestial clock you just saw on the building, right?!)
The journey is far more rewarding when you let everyone simply point out what they notice. Allow them to get excited by their surroundings. You can still supplement the exploration with the tidbits (like why those clocks are important and what Roman numerals are) along the way.
We control where we are headed, but once we’re there, it’s refreshing to just go with the flow. Don’t put pressure on yourself or your children to see every iota. Over-processing only leads to over-exhaustion. This can often lead to missing things you would have over-looked in your rush to “see it all.”
Additional things I wish I knew before I left home
Be sure to check the currency exchange prior to traveling.
This will come in handy when determining how much you are actually paying for an item or meal.
Avoid high priced currency exchanges at the airports and other locations. A better option is to obtain currency from your bank prior to your trip or to use your ATM card to withdraw local currency. The fees from the ATM are generally far cheaper than visiting an exchange booth service.
When dining out, food prices are quite high.
Expect to spend a good chunk of your budget on food. For example, a reasonable dinner for four exceeded our hotel bill for a night’s stay. A way to help curb costs is to find a hotel with a buffet breakfast included. This will take care of one meal each day, plus often offer you items like apples and bananas that can be tossed in your backpack for snacking later.
Ordering water to your table in Switzerland is spendy!
Most restaurants wanted the American equivalency of $12 for a liter of bottled water. If you enjoy other beverages, it’s generally less expensive to order them and drink water along your travels outside of the restaurant. Grocery stores offer water bottles for significantly less. Many areas also have public water “fountains” where you can fill up your bottles with fresh water.
The public transportation system in Switzerland is excellent and inexpensive.
Using public transportation is a great way to travel in Switzerland. It’s available to and from the airport as well as throughout the cities and country.
However, it can be difficult to navigate, especially when instructions are often not in English! We found that working with our hotel concierge and a transportation map was the best way to ensure we arrived at our desired destinations. When in doubt, we did find plenty of friendly passengers and public transit employees who were very helpful in pointing us in the right direction, too.
Above all, when you have just a few days to visit a dream destination, dive in and enjoy the experience. Soak up all that you reasonably can and you’ll create amazing memories!