This winter, I have been following some Facebook groups on travel planning for Switzerland. I find them fascinating – not mainly for the information shared, but for the questions being asked. Questions reveal a lot about pre-conceptions and expectations. And sometimes, rather than just giving an answer, I would like to go a step back and question the questions. Here is my condensed grain of salt.

Is it doable?

The most popular question goes like this: « Here is my [3]-day-itinerary in which I have packed all the highlights of Switzerland. Just wondering: can it be done? ».

Of course, you can work it out. Take the SBB app to check the timetables, estimate hiking and driving times using schweizmobil.ch and Google Maps, cut out lunch breaks, stretch the day by getting up at 6am, and speed up museum visits. Make sure you get the max out of every single second of your trip.

But before doing so, you should ask yourself: what do you expect from your holiday in the first place? If all is about checking off must-sees, you’d rather buy the latest virtual-reality-goggles and visit virtually – better bang for the buck! “No no no”, you may object, “I want to have been there (not just have seen it).” Exactly, if you want to BE there, stop running around.

Slowing down your travel may look like a waste. Because you’ll miss some of those places you “must not miss”. But let’s face it: once FOMO takes over, you’re doomed. For traveling to be an enriching experience, you need sufficient time to properly take in a place. Use all your senses, discover, interact. So, instead of asking whether your itinerary is doable, you should ask if it is slow enough. Of course, you need to find the right balance. But as a general recommendation, add quality and reduce quantity. If at the end of your holiday, you feel you had a great time, come back to visit some of the places you missed.

Is this the right base for my day trips?

Individualized mass tourism looks to me like some form of logistics. Tourists seem to be stored overnight in specialized warehouses and then dispatched for the consumption of travel services during the day. It’s tempting to follow that model. Baa!

But think for a moment, what it means: It means that you spend most of your holiday (at least all the time between 5pm and 10am) in touristy places which are, by themselves, boring and overpriced. It also means that your day follows a routine: get up, take a packed means of transport to a popular place, be there with everybody else, and then return on a packed means of transport to your base. It also means that the majority of the people you interact with are other tourists.

Have you ever thought of doing it the other way around? Switzerland has plenty of lodges and hotels right in the mountains. You could actually arrive there during the afternoon, have dinner at this beautiful mountain lake together with local hikers or Alphorn players who happen to be in the same lodge, enjoy the clear sky at night, experience sunrise in the fresh air, have a breakfast with milk from the cows feeding around you. On your way down into the valley, you will feel sorry for the hordes of tourists on their way up.

Luggage seems to be the biggest obstacle to this model of traveling – that’s the answer I usually get when I suggest it. “We can’t do it, because we have the wedding dress with us.” While a wedding may indeed be a good excuse for not traveling light, there are luggage storage facilities in Switzerland. In short: even if you can’t completely let go of the base-day-trip-model, spend at least two nights up in the mountains.

Are there any fun activities for my kids?

Kids and teenagers can get bored on a Switzerland trip. Adding exciting fun activities seems to be easy an solution. Swiss tourism destinations happily comply. There are toboggan runs, zip lines, high-adrenaline vie ferrate, canyoning, paragliding, … However, none of these activities solves the basic challenge: find something you enjoy doing together. 

I have been traveling a lot in Switzerland with my own kids. They are both young adults now. When I ask them today about their best memories, it’s the simple things that come up first – a moment at a mountain lake where they found a new friend, a walk up a hill that turned into a race, a night in a lodge where we told them crazy stories. Kids are not particularly receptive to beautiful scenery – they want to go and discover it. So, my personal recommendation is: venture off the beaten track together and you will automatically stumble into authentic experiences. There are dairymen, animals, strange buildings, waterfalls … You will find that discovering the world (i.e. Switzerland) together is the best that can happen to your family. Even teenagers will exit their social media bubble to blow the alphorn.

By the way, “discover” refers to an ACTIve interACTIon (hence, a true ACTIivity). So-called fun activities are actually passive (pay & things will happen to you) and should therefore be called “passivities”. 

Is it true that a Big Mac costs 20 dollars in Switzerland?

According to the Big Mac Index published by The Economist, Switzerland is currently the world’s most expensive country in terms of US junk food. In January 2024, Swiss prices at McDonald’s stood +43% above the US (in 2013, Swiss prices were more than double US prices). My conclusion: don’t eat a Big Mac in Switzerland. Luckily, you find healthier food at lower prices. 

But it is true that Switzerland is expensive. Living here, I have to deal with it all the time. Some things, e.g. banking fees, are expensive but unavoidable – swallow the pill and move on. Other things are optional. E.g. mountain restaurants are expensive (partly because of the cost of bringing food up to the mountain); but then, having a beer watching the sunset over the snow-covered peaks is priceless. What I really try to avoid, though, are outright rip-offs. In terms of magnitude, this is what busts your travel budget. The classic example is this visitor who eats tasteless convenience food from the supermarket to save money but then spends hundreds of CHF for a “once-in-a-lifetime” day trip (which could have been done at a fraction of the price by public transport). Or have fondue in a tourist trap in summer. Or buy a ridiculous souvenir from one of those posh-looking shops in Touristtown high street. Or stay at a franchise with a famous international brand name. General rule: if the Swiss are not doing it, it’s quite certainly a rip-off.

In the end, what does a day in Switzerland cost? I find that 150-170 CHF per adult person per day, all included (accommodation, transport, some mountain gondolas, healthy food and drinks in restaurants; just add the plane ticket) is a comfortable budget as long as you limit yourself to mountain lodges, 2- or 3-star hotels, and 2nd class train tickets. The sky is the limit if you upgrade.

What’s the weather in August?

Nobody knows! Technically, you find information about the climate for each month, but even this is getting fuzzy. The fact is, you may have sunshine or two weeks of rain whenever you visit (as general advice, try to avoid October, November, and April). If you book your Top of Europe ticket three months in advance, you may find yourself in a snowstorm at 3463 meters above sea level. Always have a plan B!

Switzerland is an outdoor country, and some regions (e.g. the Berner Oberland) offer incredible options for this as long as the weather is more or less ok. When rain keeps pouring, things change. This is when the cancel option for your room up in this mountain town pays off. Zürich, Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, and Basel may not be quite as interesting as Paris or Barcelona, but they are good fallback solutions. There are interesting museums, music clubs, operas, factory visits, and indoor activities. And if you do some research, you will also find a large number of interesting events (e.g. start on the page of Switzerland tourism).

I do wish you lots of sunshine but I strongly recommend you be flexible.

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