Travellers might often find themselves short of time for a journey, or at a destination. Business travellers might need to devote most of their time for work.
Even pleasure travellers might want to be time-efficient. Expenses for accommodation and food rack up as a journey gets longer (especially in high-income countries), and returning home for work and daily life is usually necessary.
Weekend journeys and bachelor(ette) parties usually feature ambitious plans, but have a short time to complete them.
Planning and preparation take time before the journey. While the planning itself is a pleasure for some people, a travel agency might make it faster.
A common mistake among new travellers is to be too optimistic about itinerary planning.
Must-do activities at a destination should not fill more than half your schedule on the destination. This is especially true for huge cities with many well-known attractions (such as New York City or Paris). Having a plan of what you want to do and an idea of the "lay of the land" before heading out can also save a lot of time. If you've only got one weekend you can't afford to spend a day just to get oriented.
As intercontinental travel no longer costs a fortune, few destinations are once-in-a-lifetime.
On a multi-stop journey or a road trip, transportation takes much time away from time on the destinations. Detours from your main destination might be a waste of time. If you have a few days in Rome, the historical city centre is enough to keep you busy. Even though Metropolitan Naples has famous attractions such as Vesuvio and Pompeii, it is wise to leave them for another visit.
Public holidays and school vacations are times when many people travel. Plan for this in advance to avoid surprises. Look for websites with this information – for example on school vacations in Germany. Countries such as Germany deliberately stagger their school holiday season to relieve congestion on major North-South routes that bring travellers to popular summer destinations along the North and Baltic Sea Coast and in Italy. Countries like France on the other hand have one single day on which all school kids in the entire country start their summer holidays. Try to avoid traveling on that day if you can.
Carrying, packing and unpacking excessive baggage slows down the journey. Flying without check-in baggage allows you to skip the baggage claim area (unless there is no room for your cabin bag and you are forced to check it in). A heavy suitcase might require detours around staircases and passages.
Remember to add your time to get to airport, check in, get through security, clear border checkpoints, go to baggage claim if necessary, get to the exit and then get from the airport to wherever you're staying; all of this can add a few extra hours to the journey, making driving or taking a train or bus as quick and more flexible on journey start time for medium length journeys. Check which airport is closest to the city centre. Some cities have more than one airport and one may be located just a few kilometres from the city centre while the other airport is located in the suburbs. Airports like Hahn are famously nowhere close to cities they are named after, but even places like Munich Airport can be almost an hour by public transit from the downtown of the city they serve. Others like Taipei Songshan Airport, Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, London City Airport and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport are so close to the city centre that it takes as little as 15 minutes to reach the downtown core of the city.
When buying plane tickets that involve changes of plane, make sure you'll arrive at the second airport in time. It's rarely a smart idea to try to save half an hour by choosing an overly tight connection, because the first plane may get delayed. In the case of severe delays and if you're the only passenger the connecting flight would need to wait for, they often aren't going to wait for you even if the second flight is operated by the same airline and the journey is on the same ticket. Even if you make it to the plane, if you have checked luggage it may get left behind. Missing your connecting flight will even in the best case add hours to your trip, and in the worst case, you could get stuck for days. The same goes to some extent for other forms of transport.
If there is a rail line, particularly high speed rail between two destinations no further than 500 kilometres apart, it is usually faster than flying. In addition, most train stations are in the center of cities or at least much closer to the center than many airports. In Europe and East Asia, railways and airlines are increasingly aggressive in their competition on both speed and price on many busy routes.
When estimating driving time, navigation apps usually assume that the driver will drive at the maximum allowed speed. Considering the risk of slow traffic and severe weather and the need for regular breaks, you might want to dedicate twice the nominal time to reach your destination on long trips, or perhaps even more when driving alone or when there is only one available driver.
Think about what you can do during the journey. Flying may be the quickest way of reaching the destination, but even with a window seat you won't see much of the country. Taking a train or coach may be much slower, but what you can see from the window (or even just the vehicle and the people around you, in more exotic environments) may be a valuable part of the experience. On a business trip, if you have a reserved seat on a train, you may be able to prepare for your meeting for most of the journey. If a train takes four hours in a comfortable seat with reliable Wi-Fi whereas a plane takes the same four hours hustling and bustling around through security and taxis with barely a minute to sit down and get the laptop open, that's a good reason to prefer the train.
In cities, public transportation is usually an efficient method to get around. However, transit systems work very differently. Some have long delays or shutdowns. The schematic route maps also rarely give a realistic impression of the time needed for a journey, although quite a few transit systems provide estimated trip times and schedules on their websites.
Especially when you drive, but for other means of transport as well, avoid rush hours. In most urban areas, these are 7–9 AM, and 4–6 PM. However, for some tourist destinations, such as California's wine country, or any popular beach town, the "rush hour" might start on Friday evening and end on Sunday night. In addition, some big cities, like New York, have extended rush hours that can last most of the afternoon and evening, and any time of day in Paris or Los Angeles is somewhat likely to have bad traffic. In general, even in the rare cases that driving in major cities is faster than public transit, it often tires you faster and leaves you with less energy to do something fun. You can study a map or guidebook on public transit while heading somewhere. You can't do that while driving, but you could delegate this task to a trusty passenger.
On a road trip, plan your route to avoid passing through large metropolitan areas, unless you are planning to visit them. Above all avoid going through them at rush hour.
Spectator sports, festivals and other big events can also congest traffic. One method is to have accommodation near the venue, or to arrive early and spend time within walking distance. Parades can really ruin traffic, as streets are reserved for festivities, and fireworks displays on major holidays such as New Year's Eve or a country's Independence Day often involve closing large segments of superhighways, so that spectators can set up lawn chairs or stand in the lanes to watch. Many cities have websites that list all scheduled parades for the year.
If you are using large rental car companies, use their member cards. These will have your driving license and credit card on record. After the first time used, you will not need to stand in line at the counter and fill out paperwork. Simply walk directly to your booked car and show member card and license at the exit.
Street food, fast food or a ready-made meal from a supermarket can save time, as well as packing camping food such as sandwiches, bananas, or nutrition bars (with the consideration that baggage slows you down).
Eating in a vehicle saves time, and might in some cases be an enjoyable experience (a gourmet meal in a railroad dining car, or on a cruise ferry). While airline food has become better than its reputation, portions are rather small. Eating in public transportation vehicles and taxis is sometimes prohibited, and usually bad manners.
In many restaurants, there can be a big difference in the waiting time for different dishes. Some fast food restaurants have a screen showing which dishes they have ready and can give you immediately. For instance the fresh fish may take 25 minutes to be cooked from scratch, but the stew may be ready to be dished in the kitchen. The "meal of the day", where such are offered, is usually served quite fast. Usually your group will all be served at once, so one slow dish can hold everybody up. Ask the waiting staff for suggestions to have a quick meal, and say if you want dishes to come as soon as they are ready. However, there are some countries such as Italy where you simply can't expect to have a quick meal in a restaurant. In those places, you should consider going to a bar or snack bar (such as a döner/shawarma or falafel place in some countries) if you want to have a quick hot meal.
A buffet restaurant usually lets guests eat without waiting.
If waiting for a meal is unavoidable, the wait can be a good time to double check your itinerary, message local contacts about plans, use the toilet or take some photos. Prefer a restaurant which is enjoyable in its own right; where you have a comfortable seat without noise or bad smell; ideally a good view or quaint furnishing.
As a general principle, more expensive restaurants are intended for longer visits. A fine dining experience is intended to be around two hours or more.
An empty restaurant looks bad. If there are very few guests, the staff might want to lengthen your stay. Make it clear that you expect a bill as soon as the food is served so your time is spent efficiently.
If you stay more than a day in a city, a guided tour is usually a good starter activity. It gives you an overview of the city, advice on other attractions, and possibly new companions.
Tourist attractions are usually crowded on weekends and holidays. If you have the chance, visit them on weekdays.
Museums and other attractions vary a lot in size, and in the time needed to see them. While a small art collection can be experienced in a few minutes, you could easily spend a week visiting a large institution such as the Louvre.
Always have a bottle of water or juice with you to avoid spending time searching for a place to get it. At the airport remember to purchase after the last security check area, or bring an empty bottle that you can fill at the airport.
High-end hotels have a convenience store or a travel store on site. If not, you should scout out a supermarket or other supply store nearby.
Shopping takes time, and makes baggage heavier. If you want souvenirs or other things to take home, wait until the end of the journey, when you know how much time and money you can spare and have a sense for local price levels, so you minimize the distance you need to carry your souvenirs.
Bargaining, or going between stores to find a better deal, is not always worth it if your time is valuable.
While sleep deprivation is a health hazard (and will usually ruin your travel experience) you could save some time and money if you sleep on a train, bus, plane, or ship. See Sleeper trains, Bus travel and Ferries for advice.
Being well-rested before a journey is usually a good start.
Hotel loyalty cards can save time at check-in. In the morning there is often a wait to check out, particularly in Europe on a business day. Consider checking out and settling your bill the night before when this is possible, then simply handing over your key in the morning (ignoring the queue). Most hotels are fine with this.
Choose where you are going to stay carefully. You may save time if you choose a hotel which is close to public transport connections, perhaps next to an urban rail station which is on several different routes. In huge cities, Wikivoyage provides district articles. They will usually give you a feel for what awaits you in each part of town. If you're looking for avant-garde artists, bars that are open until sunup and a slightly unkempt but charming look, you're better off in Berlin/East Central than in Berlin/Reinickendorf and Spandau meanwhile if "quiet" is what you're after, you should likely avoid Berlin/Mitte.
In many ways, saving time is in opposition and contrast to budget travel, but there are sometimes options that save both time and money.