On my recent trip to New York I took the time to paint as much as possible, but focusing only on quick sketches that capture the mood.
Once I had the essence of the scene in front of me, I would stop and move on. If I am there for painting alone with nothing else planned, I will attempt a ‘real’ painting, not just sketches. If I am pressed for time and can’t spend an hour or more on location, sketches are the way to go.
This decision is best made before the trip. For instance, if traveling with non painters or for other reasons than painting alone, I would pack differently than for a painting trip. For the trip to NY I would squeeze paints and just bring the palette, no paints! That would yield approx 3 to 4 small paintings/ sketches, no more. I knew I wouldn’t have time to do more anyways, so no need to bring all this extra weight!
As I said before, weight is a huge issue when painting plein air. It sounds really good when a manufacturers tells you their easel weighs less than 4 pounds. Those four pounds feel like lead after walking around a city center for two kilometers.
Just like in watercolor painting itself, when it comes to weight, less is more!