Because travel is expensive and time is at a premium, travelers often want to get in as many sights and experiences as they can on their journeys abroad. That means a five- or 10-day trip may be a whirlwind tour of museums, recommended restaurants, and other attractions with little time to stop, rest, and digest as the sun sets on your chosen scene. You may view most of what’s on your “must-see” list through the lens of your camera, and you may only catch notable details later, after you’ve run your photos through the requisite filters and posted them to Instagram. There’s something to be said for making the most of your vacation time, but if it’s possible, staying in one location and really taking it in for a longer period is worthwhile, too, and gives you a completely different experience of the place you’ve planned to visit.
For example, I spent the entire month of February in Rome, which is a vastly different experience than a few days or even a week in this city brimming with culture, history, and food. It was the best way to explore this Italian city. While not everyone can spend that much time in a single place, and not every destination warrants an entire month, even taking more than the recommended minimum duration to explore your destination pays off.
You Feel the Local Rhythm
When you visit a place and spend only a couple of days there, you have no time to get a sense of the local vibe. You visit the recommended sights and go home. But if you spend, for example, two weeks or more in the same city, you begin to understand how it works: when people eat dinner, when rush hour happens, what the happening spots are. You begin to intuitively feel when people start work or begin to end their day, when they have cocktails, cigarette breaks, or coffee. And as you become accustomed to the local patterns, you’ll feel less foreign—your stomach will stop rumbling at the wrong time and you’ll wake up when everyone else does, which will also allow you to notice more because you’ll be moving as the locals move.
It took me awhile to adjust to the later schedule in Rome, particularly given the slight shift in time zone. However, once I finally got it down, I understood the logic behind it. A later start to the day meant later meals, and a relaxed, long evening over wine and snacks was the perfect way to destress after the day.
You Make Your Own Discoveries
Guidebooks and website resources are essential if you’re short on time. But a longer stay means that you can pop into galleries, bars, courtyards, libraries, and shops that you might not otherwise visit due to time constraints. On your way to see the essentials, you might make note of attractions you want to visit on a more relaxed day. Or maybe you discover day trips outside of your destination that you can make room for in your schedule. And because you have some time to spare, you can take chances—maybe that dingey little museum won’t be worthwhile, but maybe it holds overlooked treasures. Maybe that restaurant with weekend brunch is so new that it hasn’t been reviewed yet but has a tempting menu and a terrace.
My month in Rome, which involved a lot of walking, looking, and exploring, meant that I happened on some out-of-the-way or unexpected discoveries. For example, one day I went to the Owl House, an Art Noveau structure decorated with striking stained glass in Villa Torlonia Park. Because it’s outside of the center and takes some effort to get to, it isn’t on the “must-see” lists, but as a result, it also means that fewer tourists go there, allowing those that do to enjoy it at a leisurely pace, take photos, and enjoy the whimsical motifs and details that make this attraction so special.
You Meet People
Tourists look like tourists, and the locals certainly sense that. As a tourist, you’re separated from the population that lives in that place. However, the longer you stay, the more you become acclimated and the more likely it is you can meet people. This occurs through two ways: your daily routine and your extra time. Perhaps, if you are staying in an Airbnb, you see your temporary neighbors often enough that, while they’re still strangers, they become familiar enough to say hello to. And if you don’t have to rush through shops or scarf your lunch, you can pause a moment and have a conversation with the shop assistant or waiter and ask their recommendations or gain information about their offerings.
In Rome, I began to say hello to neighbors and be greeted with familiarity at the restaurants I frequented. Sometimes the waiter would stop to chat a bit or offer something free. As a solo traveler, this was comforting.
You Can Take Your Time
Taking your time may be one of the best aspects of staying in one place at length. Particularly if your trip coincides with a much-needed vacation, a leisurely pace gives you the ability to really relax. Often, a vacation that includes sightseeing means rushing, decision-making, lots of walking, eating on the go, and early mornings. But if you’re spending all of your time in a single location, you may be able to sleep in, enjoy unhurried meals, change your mind about plans according to mood or weather, and simply taking each day at a slower pace.
I certainly took my time during meals or when visiting museums when I was in Rome, and I knew that if I wanted to, I could even visit an attraction I particularly liked more than once. I enjoyed the Etruscan Museum slowly, looking carefully at pieces that caught my eye, sat in the church with the golden mosaics in Trastevere as long as I wanted, and relaxed while waiting in line to see the Vatican Museum. I had prosecco on terraces while people watching, picked through English-language bookstores, and stopped to listen to buskers. It took a book to the park and read in the sunshine. I feel relaxed just thinking about it.
You Can Rest and Reflect
One aspect of travel that we often lack is the ability to really reflect on our experiences. We fill our days so full of sights that we don’t take time to sit and journal about them or make notes so that we remember what we’ve photographed. When you aren’t in a rush, you can take those precious moments to really digest your experiences (possibly over a coffee or a glass of local wine), solidifying your memories so they last longer and ultimately bring more joy.
Too many times, I’ve blown through a place and all I have are some ill-composed photos and a vague memory of some pleasurable sensations mixed up with the stress and hurry leftover from a trip. But I took advantage of my month in Rome: I edited my photos. I journaled. I looked up art pieces that I had viewed and learned about what made them special.
I came away with a sense that I had only scratched the surface, but that I had done Rome, and myself, a service by spending enough time there to peek into its hidden corners and interact with its people, taste its food, and appreciate its routine. So, the experience of lingering longer in your destination city has multiple rewards that you can reap the benefits of years after you have returned home.